Christmas 10: Sit at my right hand

7b818795922b4199b9b098dd1a29d5ce
Caravaggio, “Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence”, 1609.

“The LORD says to my Lord…” (Psalm 110:1). These are surely some of the more mysterious words to appear in the Bible. Who is the second Lord to whom the writer, King David, is referring? Who could even be understood to be David’s Lord apart from God, the LORD? David, after all, was king of all Israel; no-one beside God was higher than him. And yet he looks to another Lord who will be made king over everything and who, mysteriously, will also be a priest forever too. In Jesus, the mystery is, if not resolved, at least given flesh so we can behold it.

Today’s piece is Vivaldi’s powerful setting of Psalm 110, entitled “Dixit Dominus” (“The LORD says”) after the first two Latin words in the psalm. I’ve chosen Caravaggio’s strange Nativity scene, which anachronistically features Saints Francis and Lawrence, to help us to reflect on the wonder that this mighty king chose to come as a tiny baby. Caravaggio’s famous chiaroscuro lighting manages to hihglight Jesus’ face without resorting to the artistic cliches of his day. The presence of two saints known for their love of the poor seems fitting for this simple, peasant scene into which the king of all creation chose to come to earth.

Sit at my right hand

All earth is your footstool;
soon so will your enemies be too.
Yet You sit at our feet, minuscule, helpless,
Creator on the floor of creation,
infinite made finite,
the dew of your youth around you on the hay.

Judge of the nations: the nations come
to see your defenseless form, to catch
the future glory in your minute moment.
Where is your sceptre? You drink
from your mother’s breast; cannot
yet lift your head, nor fight.

Await the voice: “Sit at my right hand.”
But first you will cry, “I thirst”,
and, “It is finished,” and, “My God,
my God, why?” Heaven surrounds you,
but first the sword and the nails.
First the manger, this moment in eternity’s grasp.

Break O’Day

Written Easter Sunday in Pyengana, Tasmania
Dedicated to the people of Break O’Day Parish, St Helens

Drink from the brook. The day sparkles the hills in their joy.
Look to the mountains: there comes your help.
Springing forth from caves with rolled-away stones
breaks the day, breaks the day.
Singing in haze, this resurrection joy
breaks away the old death;
drink the life.

image

The Womb of the Morning

(Written on Holy Saturday in Bicheno, Tasmania)

The oath must still hold true yet waiting dries expectation;
the dew of your youth evaporates in the tomb.
Now: what the LORD said to David’s Lord is unchanged,
but the rods of foes seem the triumphant ones today.
Only Pilate’s wife regrets the washing of hands; only women weep.
Only in secret do we take your body to its tomb.
In the morning, with spices and sorrow we will greet
your right hand and your nail-torn feet,
with your king’s footstool too heavy to roll away,
and something like morning tackling deadened hearts.
Drink by the brook as you wait, if you can;
silence might hold some promise in this night of nights.
Come dream.