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.

Sweet-Scented Dust

Monday of Holy Week, March 29, 2021

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. – John 12:3

Oh, Jesus, must you say such shocking things?
She had, indeed, done such a precious thing for you,
so tender and so intimate, so grateful
for the love you bore for her and Martha.
For after all, you brought their brother back.

And now, with scent of spikenard rising in the house,
you spike the words of Judas, keeper of the purse,
by speaking of the day you would be laid to rest,
a tragedy that perfume could not sweeten, not
with rivers poured upon your lifeless corpse.

Oh, pause now, Jesus, for you shock us once again,
for must we ever have the poor with us?
Could not the rivers of the scent we’ve not poured out
transform this world into a paradise on earth?
Perhaps they could – but bottled they remain.

Except for this one jar unstopped above your feet,
the oil dripping from your soles into the earthen floor,
still warm from your still-pumping heart,
now rising to enchant your breath, their breath, our breath,
sweet-scented dust inhaled to death and life.

A poem/prayer based on John 12:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Monday of Holy Week.

The image is Mary Magdalene Anoints the Savior’s Feet by Dominik Mosler (before 1880) – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82653427.

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: 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…

Holy Week 2019: Saturday

Tossed aside.

I’ve been used so many times,
endured the burden
of enduring agony.

Now my grain is cracked,
my edges splintering.
I cannot grasp a nail.

Tossed aside.

If I had sap to weep
I’d weep. Instead, the blood
congeals in jagged rust.

I’m not alone. The man
whose life I finished last
now lies nearby:

Tossed aside.

His brow no longer bleeds.
My sap no longer flows.
We wait alone together.

We wait a day that I can bloom.
We wait a day that he can run.
We wait a day we are no longer

Tossed aside.

Photo of ‘ohia lehua by Eric Anderson.

Holy Week 2019: Thursday

Mosaic of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice

I’m sorry, guys, I’m not in the mood.
For a solemn celebration
I’ve got solemn down, for sure.
Celebration: not so much.

The liberation gained in ancient days
is wonderful. The trials, though,
of my own present day,
have just begun.

You can call me “Debbie Downer”
if you like. It’s fine.
If you knew what I know, well:
how about I share?

But when I share, you don’t believe,
as “It is I?” transforms to “Never me!”
As if it took a prophet’s insight
to unveil your fears.

Can we do this, just this, tonight?
Can I confess my love for you
and you, for once, accept it?
Can you confess your love for me?

Perhaps you can’t. At least
with cleaner feet you’ll sleep
while I am praying:
on cleaner feet you’ll run.

The image is a mosaic in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice, by Unknown – Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15611336