Holy Week 2020: Holy Saturday

Speak to the spirits in prison, Jesus.
Speak to them words of release.

Speak to the souls behind bars, Savior.
Tell them that they might be free,
free of the cell and the guards,
free of addiction and need.

Speak to the ones kept at home, Jesus.
Tell them that this time will end.
Assure them that illnesses pass,
even if we cannot know the day.

Speak to the ones in the shackles
of greed and of greed and of greed.
Tell them their souls need not bow
to the folly of selfish pursuit.

Speak to the ones whose emotions
cannot be controlled by their minds.
Speak peace, reassurance, and comfort.
Grant them a shoulder to cry.

Speak to the braggarts and blowhards.
Persuade them the curse of their pride,
a torrent of crass self-deception
in which the Truth often dies.

Speak to the spirits in prison, Jesus.
Let all human souls find release.

The image is a detail from the upper right panel of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10895578.

Holy Week 2020: Good Friday

Why am I here?
Why are we here?
Why watch and ache with anguish?
Why watch and hear your anguish?

My heart skipped every time
the hammer fell. One hand. Two.
Place a nail against your feet.
Beat (no beat). Beat (no beat). Beat (no beat).

Then as the upright rose I held
my breath. The rough beam stopped
and swayed and fell abruptly.
My lungs seized at your groan.

Since then… Jeers, then silence.
Rattling dice. My God, the guards
are making plans for dinner
as above them you hang dying.

Silence, then jeers. A little
conversation now between
the three who hang and groan
and breathe their lives away.

Why am I here?
Why are we here?
Mary and Mary and Mary
(our parents shared a common taste):

We share a common taste.
We know what true love is.
We know what healing is.
We know it hangs a-dying there.

Why are we here?
Why are you there?
See, that’s the reason in the end:
Where else could you or I be?

The image is a photo of “The Three Marys” by Master of the Rimini Crucifixion, found in the National Museum in Warsaw – Photo: Own work (BurgererSF), CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20397119.

Holy Week 2020: Maundy Thursday

[Jesus said,] “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

In any other year, O God, it would seem
simple enough. Remove shoes. Remove socks.
Place feet in water. Lave. Bathe.
Dry with towel.

For those few, at least, who are willing.

It was always a deceptive ease.
I rarely found the willing in an
abundance overwhelming.
“I’ll keep my dirty feet.”

Rather than let them be cleansed.

And so it falls once more
as it did so long ago.
Too few will take on “dirty work;”
too few will be cleaned.

Both cleaned and cleaners scorned.

Cleanse us, Lord, of our disdain
for cleaned and cleaners both.
May we find kinship with
forgiven and forgivers.

Perhaps you’d better wash our head and hands as well.

The image is of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, a mosaic in the Duomo di Monreale, Monreale, Sicily, Italy. Photo by Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10756980.

Holy Week 2020: Wednesday

[Jesus said,] “You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead…” (Matthew 23:27)

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. (John 13:21-26)

How might we betray you today, Jesus?

Might we eat from your dish on a holy night,
and dash from the meal to enrich ourselves,
not this time with spirit and with truth,
but this time with the thirty coins of death?

Or might we claim the role of shepherds,
offering polluted grace with unwashed hands,
ready to speak in judgement, not forgiveness,
our churches filled with dusty bones?

How might we betray you today, Jesus?
Truly we are an unimaginative people.
In nearly two millennia, we find
no more creative means to turn from you.

The artist of this image is unknown, believed to be 19th century German – Dr. Fischer Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17819714.

Holy Week 2020: Tuesday

“No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)

I’ve got some questions, Jesus.

When will this pandemic end?
How can I prevent it from slaying people I love?
How can I keep safe from illness myself?
How can I persuade the idiots
who know the answers to these questions
and do the opposite?
How do I manage my anger
that calls my fellow creatures, “idiots”?

Will you answer those questions, Jesus?

Admittedly, I know the answers to questions
two and three. Four I’m not so clear on.
Five I’ve had to work so hard at; so, so hard.
And one: well, does it matter, really,
just how long it lasts, as long as we
respond with deep compassion?

So are my questions answered,
leaving only this:

Will you stay with me, Jesus,
in this isolation?
Will you stay with me, Jesus,
as your friends would not do?
Will you stay with me, Jesus,
despite my budding tears?
Will you stay with me, Jesus,
whatever life or death may bring?

(And I am answered: “Yes.”)

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Holy Week 2020: Monday

It’s all right, Jesus.
You don’t have to look.
We know what’s in the Temple –
our temples, not the one
in Jerusalem –
just the same thing you saw
that overwhelmed your soul
with rage and summoned you
to drive the money changers out.

We know what’s in the temple.
The demons that will place
economy ahead of life.
The devils that will hoard
the PPEs until they get
a higher price.
The monsters who once profited
from home foreclosures now
have charge of the nation’s wealth.

You warned us, Jesus, and we…
We have learned nothing.
People will die for others’ wealth.
People will die for others’ hubris.
People will die for others’ greed.
People will die for others’ faith,
a faith you long ago rejected.
People will die, and die, and die.
For God’s sake, Jesus, drive them all away.

The image is Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple by Gaetano Previati – https://www.dorotheum.com/en/auctions/current-auctions/kataloge/list-lots-detail/auktion/12991-19th-century-paintings-and-watercolours/lotID/146/lot/2337326-gaetano-previati.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65830821.

These were my thoughts last year… Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose…

Go into the Village

Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied…”

Send me into the village, Jesus.
I’d really like something useful to do.
Hanging around you lately
has been something of a strain.

First we had those children bugging you –
well, us – and then you missed
the perfect chance to call a
wealthy ruler as disciple.

You might have promised we would have
a seat of power in glory, but…
we’re mighty low on dinners, Lord.
I’d even eat a camel.

I’m also less than charmed to hear
that God is like the sorriest
employer ever known, who pays
all workers just the same.

And then, sweet Jesus, you would go
and say that we are on our way
into this city so that we can watch
you die. I just can’t even.

So give me something useful I can do.
Amidst the cheers and hollers,
above the leafy carpet,
I still hear your words to James and John:

“You will indeed drink my cup.”

Ah, Jesus.

You didn’t mean a royal chalice, did you?

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 21:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Palm Sunday.

Painting by Lars Wikström/Ryttare (1800–1865) – Biblia Dalecarlica 1965, målat av Lars Ryttare 1830., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6823191.

Prophesy to the Bones

Ezekiel once stood upon the city wall.
He stood, he gazed. I’m sure he wept.
For on that day he saw an army
terrible and merciless. It filled the valley,
all the valleys, that encircle Zion.
He stood. He gazed. I’m sure he wept.

When You showed him all those desiccated bones,
O God, what fashion did the valley take
in his imagination? Kidron?
The Outer Valley? Or Gehenna?
Or had You mercy enough to make it look
like a Babylonian valley spanned with gardens?

I doubt it mattered. Ezekiel wept, I’m sure,
upon the wall. I’m sure he wept the see
even an unfamiliar valley overflowing
with the dead. Bones so dry, dry as dust,
unmoistened even by the flood of tears
of a priest and prophet’s grief.

Command me, Holy One, to prophesy
and promise to the dusty bones that they
shall live again. Command me, Holy One,
to summon up the spirit breath to bind
with sinew all these bones. For then shall I
appreciate the salt of joyful tears.

A poem/prayer based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Fifth Sunday in Lent.

Photo of a detail of the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem by Deror avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4085158.

No Explanation; No Blame

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

All you need do, Redeemer, is explain.
Explain the suffering, the illness, the
dis-ease. Explain the disabilities,
ill fortunes, and abuse. Explain it all
so we may know the cause, the source, the blame.

In truth, we are less interested to see
the sufferer healed. We gain a measure of
self-satisfaction in our judgments, yes?
And leave the sad afflicted in the sad
result of “their own failed and sorry lives.”

But you, Redeemer, will not settle for
the sadness of our satisfaction. You
insist that we lay down our judgment, hear
the voices we would silence. You insist
we act as healers in the suffering world.

May we take your direction in this time:

[Jesus said] to him, “Go, wash…” (from John 9:7)

A poem/prayer based on John 9:1-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday in Lent.

The image is Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë (The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.173_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957455.

Sir, I See

Faster than a speeding teacher,
more focused than a paralytic healed,
more attentive than a crowd full of dinner:
Look! By the well! It’s a foreigner!
It’s a woman! It’s…
Me!

Could it be me, dear Jesus, so to grasp my thirst
so earnestly, so honestly,
to hold it up before you in its naked need?
Could it be me to have you take so seriously
all my urgent questions, still to leave me
speeding house to house, in all my
comic-fictive strength, inviting:

“Come and see! For I’ve been known
in strength and weakness, height and depth.
Come and see! For only you (and you and you)
and I together can determine once for all:
Could this One truly be the Christ?”

Could it be me?

A poem/prayer based on John 4:5-42, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Third Sunday in Lent.

Photo of a mosaic in Sant’Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, by © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52650776.