Peter’s Choice

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” – Acts 10:44

I certainly didn’t expect that.

Look at them. Listen to them. Praising God
in languages I’m pretty sure
they do not understand
(I did that once).

I thought I’d seen and heard it all,
the thunderous voice resounding
on the mountain’s summit,
thousands taught and fed.

The accusation I would soon deny,
soon echoed by my very throat,
“I do not know the man,”
once, twice, thrice.

Familiar voice, familiar face, though
glazed with tears, muted by sobs,
a story I have never told.
It goes too deep.

Tongues a-flickering upon the heads
of friends whose tongues declared
in languages they did not know,
and I, I spoke so, too.

I heard my own untutored voice
declare the truth I had denied,
I knew this Jesus, and I
know his power.

Since then? What miracles! What sorrows.
People healed with no more than
to hear the name of Jesus Christ
roughly spoken in my voice.

The joy of hearing Stephen, face aglow,
speaking with courageous grace;
the anguish then to see him
done to death with stones.

The People of the Way dispersed by Saul,
then – miracle of miracles! – the Saul
who persecuted raised his voice
to praise the name of Christ.

And now I am confronted with a miracle
I hadn’t hoped for (hadn’t asked for)
as Gentiles (Romans for God’s sake)
rejoice in Jesus’ name.

Oh, what to do? I could explain it so:
It looks, I grant you, like the Holy
Spirit, but I’m sure it’s just
enthusiastic show.

Or possibly a consequence of what
they’ve eaten or they’ve drunk.
Too much wine; spoiled food.
Good thing I didn’t eat.

I might not need explain a thing, of course.
The people with me would keep silent
if I did, lest they be left to testify
to what this moment means…

No. No silence. No denial. I have learned…
a bit. “Can anyone withhold the water,”
(with my eyes, I tell them, “No”)
“to baptize the Spirit-filled?”

No silence. No withholding.
God has chosen these to bless.
Bring the water. Cleanse my expectations,
so an expansive future can begin in Jesus’ name.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 10:44-48, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year B, Sixth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Saint Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius by Jan Erasmus Quellinus (late 17th century) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59323889.

Complicated

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

The Bible is complicated – Love one another.
Faith requires discernment – Love one another.
Righteousness needs consideration – Love one another.
Perfection results from preparation – Love one another.

In the meantime, I’ll carry on with what I’ve been doing.

Love one another.

A poem/prayer based on 1 John 4:7-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Head of Christ Carrying the Cross, a wood sculpture by Heinrich Douvermann (ca. 1520-1530) – Photograph from Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur: object 20603132 – photograph number RBA 608 899 – image file mi10859f02a.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37895066

Two Trials

When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” – Acts of the Apostles 4:7

They tried two people for healing.
They tried one man for killing.

They tried two people who had offered new life.
They tried one man for rebuffing offers of aid.

The two people spoke for themselves.
The one man held his silence.

The two people declared a new truth.
The one man maintained an old, old lie.

The two people walked away free.
The one man was imprisoned in his guilt.

But…

One of the two faced other trials.
He died unjustly upside-down on a cross.

How many trials will defend the old, old lie?
How many will die, their lives uncherished?

In sorrow for the death of George Floyd.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 4:5-12, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year B, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The image is a detail from Healing of the Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha by Masolino da Panicale (1424). Photo and crop: Cappella_brancacci, Guarigione_dello_storpio_e_resurrezione_di_Tabita(restaurato),Masolino.jpg: see filename or categoryderivative work: StAnselm (talk) – Cappella_brancacci,_Guarigione_dello_storpio_e_resurrezione_di_Tabita(restaurato),_Masolino.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15047438.

Surprise!

They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. – Luke 24:37

Surprise! I’m back!

Why are you surprised?

Mary Magdalene told you, I know. She’s had her demons,
but she can tell a story. Joanna can, and Mary, too,
and if they couldn’t they had company to share the tale
the angels told them. Oh, but no: you didn’t listen,
did you? You called it just an idle tale?

But why are you surprised?

I walked for miles toward Emmaus.
Cleopas and (sorry, I forget the name)
spent hours with me, fire in our feet
and in our hearts and then I broke the bread.
Which they just told you, right?

So why are you surprised?

You didn’t listen when old Simon there,
my so-rock-headed friend, said, “I’ve seen him!
Jesus lives!” He doesn’t have the gifted tongue
of Mary – no, not yet – but still you might
have done the favor of believing him.

Yes, why are you surprised?

Did I not tell you once and twice and so
and on again, again, again, that death
would come and death would go and I
would rise to come and speak with you?
And you are fearing ghosts, for heaven’s sake.

Sigh. Why are you surprised?

All right. You’ve heard the story thrice, and nope.
So here I am. You see me? Unconvinced.
I’m speaking right? You stubborn… argh.
Try touching. There’s even wounds to see
and feel; there’s bones beneath the skin.

No. You are still surprised.

For pity’s sake, can we move on from this?
I’m hungry. Have you anything to eat?

A poem/prayer based on Luke 24:36-48, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Third Sunday of Easter.

The image is Christ Appearing at the Apostles’ Table by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308) – http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/d/duccio/buoninse/index.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3925674.

One of the fascinating literary features of the Gospels – more in some, less in others – is the way the evangelists let the Twelve stand in for the uncertainties, ignorance, and earnest-but-not-educated yearning of their readers. As a result, the Twelve (Eleven in this passage) have something of a slapstick comedy feel to them. When they become figures of wisdom, authority, and talent in Acts of the Apostles, it comes as something of a literary (if not spiritual, thanks to the Pentecost event) surprise. In tribute to their earnestness which is also ours, I offer this… “Try and catch up with me, will you?” version of Jesus.

Touched

“So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.'” – John 20:25

Stretch out your hand, Jesus.
Mine is stiff and still.
Stretch out your hand, Jesus.
I dare not reach to you or anyone.

I have no need to touch your scars.
I see those well enough.
I have no need to deepen your wounds
(except that I already have).

No, stretch out your hand to me, Jesus.
This season has been long and lonely.
Stretch out your hand, Jesus,
so I may feel your gentle touch.

A poem/prayer based on John 20:19-31, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Second Sunday of Easter.

The image is Reunion – Thomas and Christ by sculptor Ernst Barlach (1926). Photo by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36069401.

All Spirits

For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. – 1 Peter 4:6

I would wish you a restful Holy Saturday, my Savior,
a Sabbath to honor God’s rest in Creation,
a Sabbath to honor the leisure of freedom,
a Sabbath between work done and to be done.

Yet this one verse of Scripture bewildering
rings also with promise and grace,
that your love would encompass not only
the living, but also raise up the dead.

We honor the dead in our memory,
unless we seek to excuse the living,
and then we defame them, abuse them,
discard them as surely as Pilate intended for you.

So Jesus, I pray you forgive my hope
that your Holy Saturday set aside rest
to welcome all spirits, once living, still living,
into the new life for which you had died.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Peter 4:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Holy Saturday.

The image is The Harrowing of Hell by Michael Burghers (1647/8–1727) – Copied from the 1904 work “Plays of our Forefathers” by Charles Mills Gayley, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3434524.

For Good Friday 2021

The video will be available beginning at noon on Good Friday, April 2, 2021.

These eight poems are based on Scriptures associated with “the Seven Last Words of Jesus” – and yes, there are eight lessons. I read the Biblical texts as well as the poems in the video above.

First Reading: Luke 23:26-32

Good days, good days, he said,
but did they seem so green and good
to those who felt the yoke of Rome,
to those whose load was not relieved?

No doubt they felt the burden pressing down,
with no one seized to carry it behind,
but at least they had the means to grieve,
to shed their tears for one the cross would bear.

And surely, they would know that arrow, sword,
and torch would come for them in time
for he was right – in times not good, but not so hard,
they execute the Christ – far worse they did and do

When smoke and fire shrouds the sun.

Second Reading: Matthew 27:33, 34, 37

Rex Iudaeorum,
Basileus Ioudaios,
King of the Jews.
Title of contempt,
laced with bitterness.

Here, says Rome,
we slay pretenders
to the chair
we claim for Caesar,
the imperator.

Princeps senatus,
tribunicia potestas,
autocrator, basileus,
pontifex maximus,
no ruler but Rome.

No ruler but Rome,
except, ungalled,
the one upon
the cross who rules
in deed, rules indeed.

Third Reading: Luke 23:35, 36; 23:34, 39-43

O were the only source of sin my ignorance!
For then I’d claim the mercy of the Savior
freely, pleading only that I did not know
what I was doing.

But no, I must join the second soul suspended,
fully knowing that for all the good I seek to do,
my choices falter, resolution fails.
The ill I would not do – I do.

“Forgive them in their ignorance,” he said.
Forgive me in my knowledge.
May I hear the echo of your reassurance:
“You will be with me in Paradise.”

Fourth Reading: John 19:25-27

Cruel kindness, Christ, to hang before your loved ones
on the cross.

Cruel kindness, Christ, to use your waning breach to place
your mother in another’s care.

Cruel kindness, Christ, to let those loving eyes perceive
your agony.

Cruel kindness, Christ, but on that day, what other kindness
could you share?

Fifth Reading: Luke 23:44-45

No word from Jesus on the cross.
No word, but only clouds to dim the sun.
No word, but only fabric’s failure
and the curtain separating God from us
has plummeted, has torn in tears.

Sixth Reading: Matthew 27:46

A loud voice. A loud voice.
You cried out with a loud voice,
the opening words of David’s song:
“My God, my God, why am I left alone?”

Was no breath left to finish it,
to whisper, “You are holy,…
to you they cried and were saved;…
they were not put to shame”?

But no, they mocked and scorned
(as in the psalm), they shook their heads.
They might have recognized the words.
Did anyone, did even you, recognize their end?

Seventh Reading: John 19:28-30

Theologies of glory lie ahead
in days and years and hearts and minds.
For now, the Maker of the Universe
can only gasp, “I thirst,”
and wonder at the sour taste,
the halting breath,
the sweet-sick scent
of hovering Death.

Eighth Reading: Luke 23:46

One more loud cry, and so
the lungs exhale once more,
to fill no more, and so
the great heart beats no more,
and so the Savior dies.

Cross-posted at holycrosshilo.com

Directions

Thursday of Holy Week, April 1, 2021

[Jesus said,] “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

We’ve struggled, Jesus, really struggled
with all these words, these words.
“Love one another”: Sure, it sounds so good to say
but when the chips are down
what does it mean, you know?

Like who, exactly, should we love?
My life is burdened, Jesus, with
a host of people I have no great feeling for.
I’ll treat them all OK, you know,
but more? They’d take advantage sure.

And should we ask about abusers, Lord?
How do we love the ones who do not love,
who hurt and harm and rape and kill?
What love do they deserve, when they
will just abuse the more, you know?

How can we love the ones who do not love
themselves, who cannot stretch
their circumstance to make their living better? They
absorb the love we give, you know,
and offer nothing in return.

Then there are those who love themselves
alone, or love their wealth, or love their weapons. They
accept so little of the love we give.
They offer only scorn, or pity, or at worst
the flying messengers of death, you know.

Love for the rank unlovable, you ask?
I’ll wait until your back is turned to roll my eyes.
For all the reasons anyone could name,
there are just some, you know,
that not even their mothers could give love.

A complicated mandate, this mandatum,
requiring more than words to get it all
assembled, like a fine-laid piece
of furniture, not just a rough-laid
table like this one tonight, you know.

So Jesus, could you give us illustrations?
A picture and directions? You know?

Why…

Why…

Why are you washing my feet?

A poem/prayer based on John 13:1-17, 31b-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Maundy Thursday.

The image is Christ Washes the Apostles’ Feet, a 12th or 13th century mosaic in Monreale Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Note the Latin “Mandatum” – commandment – at the top of the mosaic. Photo by Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10756980.

A Piece of Bread

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” – John 13:21-27

For centuries your followers have sought to make
the choice of Judas make some sense.
Was he just greedy? Was he bereft of soul?
Did he have some agenda you would not accept?

Despite the Gospel writers’ efforts,
Judas’ treachery remains a mystery.

The greater mystery is how you shared that bread –
the bread we break in honor of your death –
how did you share that piece of bread and know,
and know that he contrived your death?

Who is it, Lord? your closest friend inquired.
You knew. You knew the name as well as you
discerned the anguish that approached, that would
be on its way, when you extended bread.

Were I to know such things, could I extend
a piece of bread as to a trusted confidante,
and breathe, “Do quickly what you do.”
The answer is a clear and easy, “No.”

Yet you released the bread into betrayer’s hand,
and put your life into his hand.
He took his hand into the night
to take your life.

Despite the Gospel writers’ efforts,
Jesus’ love and bravery remain a mystery.

A poem/prayer based on John 13:21-32, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Wednesday of Holy Week.

The image is by unknown artist (ca. 19th century) – http://www.rav.sik.si/sl/e-knjiznica/artoteka/item/zadnja-vecerja-2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17358033.

Destroy the Wisdom of the Wise

Tuesday of Holy Week, March 30, 2021

“…But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

We are practiced and proficient
at crucifying you, O Christ.

Before your squalls e’er cracked
the stable’s musty silence,
you suffered in your people’s
suffering.

How many shall we name?
The Calvaries of Scripture?
Brickworks in Egypt. Assyrian spears.
Mendacious monarchs. False prophets.

The flames of Solomon’s temple.
The ceaselessly repeated prophets’ bark:
“The widows and the orphans
have been left to die.”

We are practiced and proficient
at crucifying you, O Christ.

The hands that drove the nails
into your flesh did so adeptly, trained
by other flinching, bleeding flesh,
and other hopeless moans.

Other hands were just as deft
to rob the poor and call it right,
to crush the power of women and
to burn the Second Temple, too.

For followers of Christ the faith
might mean exclusion from their home,
bereavement from their trade,
and yes, it might mean crucifixion.

We are practiced and proficient
at crucifying you, O Christ.

I’ve been accustomed to using nails
of race and gender privilege,
to seeing nails of emptied magazines
and nails of gender definition.

I’ve mourned and not prevented
nails of poverty and war and greed
from fixing you – your people – to
the crosses that adorn this world.

But never had I thought to see
that foolishness and folly would conspire
to claim the crown of wisdom and
to crucify a host in just a year.

We are practiced and proficient
at crucifying you, O Christ.

No wonder that you wept.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Tuesday of Holy Week.

The image is Vanitas Still Life by Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (17th century) – http://www.Vanitasoceansbridge.com/oil-paintings/product/62477/vanitasstilllife, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8052848.