What Now Can Be Done?

What Now Can Be Done?

This is seventh in the series, “The Stations of the Cross” and takes its inspiration from artist, Keaton Sapp’s addition to the series which is titled, “The Earth Shook.”

Throughout the series Keaton has make use of the symbol of a fig tree to tell the story of Jesus’ passion. The Stations of the Cross, themselves are a pilgrimage of sorts in which one may walk the story of Jesus’ last hours. Both Keaton and I have take some liberties with the specific stations we have picked, but if you look back, I think you see how the series unfolds and aligns with the passion narrative in the gospels — particularly the Gospel of Matthew.

Here is Keaton’s seventh station which portrays the death of Jesus.

Seventh StationMatthew 27:51-61 is the scriptural reference for the death of Christ. It reads,

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The poem which I’ve written is as much about Keaton’s artwork as it is about Christ’s death. In this way, the poem may be described as ekphrastic. The type of tree which is called the Tree of Life in Genesis is not disclosed, but what if that tree were a fig tree?

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

When all was new, lovely, shimmering bright,
When the balmy breeze of evening
Blew and satisfied the care, full, keening
Of longing, when all was clear and light,
The man took from his wife the fruit of the tree
And pulled sin and death down on you an me.

They hid themselves there among the leaves;
Naked, they covered themselves for shame
And blushing in regret and shifting blame,
They took the Maker’s making, hiding with trees
The good, lush life which they’d been given—
Hid through subtlety, rather than shriven.

Into the woods and weeds they were sent
To live as exiles cast from that place
Cursing and crying for mercy and grace.
Bowed over, broken, by their sin bent,
They bear their burden: the pain of birth,
To hoe the hard dirt, sow, reap from the earth.

The Maker came to his children cast out
Sowing blessing, life, bearing fruit to them,
But they took: on a tree’s hill, murdered him,
And mocked his suff’ring with curses and shouts.
What now can be done? Can life bud with bloom?
Is any hope left, when hope’s sealed in a tomb?

© Randall Edwards 2020.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.
Artwork: © Keaton Sapp 2020, “The Earth Shook” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Leaves Fall

Leaves Fall

Keaton Sapp’s Sixth Station in his series, The Stations of the Cross is titled, “The Descent.” It is based on Matthew 27:45-50 which reads,

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

Keaton has used the image of a fig tree to depict the passion narrative. It is an appropriate allusion as the prophets make use of the image to depict Israel herself.

In the sonnet which I’ve composed in response to Keaton’s work, I was reminded that in John’s depiction of the heavenly city in Revelation, trees flank both sides of the river of life. In this wood of life (no longer merely a tree but trees), the trees bear fruit each month and the leaves of the tree are for healing. This city park of peace is a beautiful image for me. Revelation 22:1-2 reads,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The death of Jesus is so tragic, and yet his death brings healing to the nations, brings healing to me. In this pandemic age and eastertide, this image is a comfort.

You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

From the tree’s height life falls as leaves let go
To dying by mere single, small, slow drops—
A cascade of inevitable blows:
First, breathing strains, then the beating heart stops.

Down, down, down, leaves fall and cover the ground;
One by one life leaves, litters the hill;
The tree’s arms grow bare, his bark burnt and browned
By death’s dark shadow and winter’s cold chill.

But in a future city’s heart days hence,
A grove of trees stand along a river bright;
Their leaves wind with salvation’s sweet fragrance,
Shimmer dappled blessing and spangled light.
And those leaves fall with healing not with death,
Love blows with blessing full of living breath.

© Randall Edwards 2020.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.
Artwork: © Keaton Sapp 2020, “The Crucifixion” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

“Unless I see…”

“Unless I see…”

We read in John 20, that the apostle Thomas was not present with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. And even though they told him, he would not believe. In John 20:25 we read,

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Thomas seemed resolved that Jesus’ mission to Jerusalem was one that would end in Jesus’ death. He was resolved himself to die with Jesus. Being resolved to die with does not mean that Thomas understood that Jesus came to die for. I imagine that this was an important distinction because it seems to me that receiving news of the resurrection would entail first receiving the reality that he came to die.

You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

‘Unless I see the marks the nails left,
The scars of his hands, place my fingers in
Those iron wounds, place my hand in the cleft
Of his side where the spear went in?
I’ll not believe. I’ll not be taken in.

I was ready to lose my life in off’ring,
Gladly die with him, give everything.’

‘Thomas, I know you would’ve gladly given
Your life with me if you could. Nor do I
Doubt that you would’ve resisted, striven,
Remained true, not run away, nor in fear fly,
You’d have stayed by my side, lent a hand, died.

Embrace my death, but more, my life receive
Take my hands, touch my side, see, live, believe.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: Béla Iványi-Grünwald [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. {PD-1923}

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is one of my favorite days. There is a slowness and calm from the business of the week and the events of Thursday and Friday. It seems to me to be a pensive day.

This sonnet, titled, ‘Arise’ takes for its inspiration Psalm 124 which is one of the Songs of Ascent. In this pandemic day in between the devastation of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection, marks a pilgrimage of sorts. In the midst of those “in-betweens” a reminder that the Lord is one who saves when there is no other hope or help sustains and strengthens. Psalm 124 reads,

If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

In Psalm 124 David makes use of the Exodus as his image for God’s deliverance. But as I read the psalm, it seemed to me that Lazarus’ story could also be used to filled out and imagine the psalm’s meaning.

I hope you have had a blessed Holy Saturday. Hope to see you at the garden tomb tomorrow. You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Here beyond, there is rejoicing and peace;
Death’s dull dank as a cloud gave way
To the balmy breeze of victory and grace
Which billows my shroud fills my new day.
For defeat as a dragon had swallowed me whole;
As a flood, fear flashed, swept courage away;
The jaw of death’s teeth, held, ground my soul;
Hopeless as a dove snared, my doomsday.
Had it not been for the Lord the Name high above;
The Name above all, WHO IS, WILL, AND WAS
The Name who spoke mine, called me in love
Out of the mouth, from the jaw, snare, and flood.
“Lazarus, come forth!” my Savior called me,
Fly from the earth! Arise! You are free!

© Randall Edwards 2017
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.

Another Tree

Another Tree

At Grace Kernersville, Artist Keaton Sapp has installed the fifth piece in his series, “The Stations of the Cross.” His pen and ink drawing is titled, “The Crucifixion.” Through the series, Keaton tells the story of Jesus’ passion week through the image of a fig tree. The imagery of the violence of the crucifixion is clear in these drawings.

crucifixion

Jesus’ suffering in the crucifixion in some way gives an answer to the question of whether our own sacrifices are of any value. The question asked by the disciples when Mary anoints Jesus at the beginning of Passion Week, “Why all this waste?” is often echoed in our hearts, “Is this just a waste or is this doing any good?”

When under the pressure of a great trial and in the midst of even greater need, the cynicism of whether there is any meaning or point creeps into our hearts and minds. We begin to imagine that there is no point or meaning. Granted, we may never come to see a point as to why something has happened, but that does not mean that whether we respond in faith is of no meaning or value. If Passion Week means anything, if Good Friday and Easter Sunday mean anything, they do mean, that faith in God is not in vain. What Jesus sets out to do, he accomplishes. His accomplishment is validated by his resurrection, and his victory means our victory, that our ‘labor in the Lord is not in vain’ (1Cor 15:58).

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

I wonder sometimes if I might be
A pointless, fruitless, cursed fig tree,
If my waiting in faith matters at all,
If blessing from heav’n will ever fall.

Will in this moment of sacrifice,
In receiving the cup, laying down life–
Will it matter at all? Will anyone care,
Or see the burden which I freely bear?

Men kick with boots, on The Holy, tread;
Crown with thorns; thresh with flail; beat till red;
Crush the tender leaf; snuff out the wick;
Step upon the broken; beat and kick;
And break in anger; uproot and tear
The life from Him who is life — is dear.
These men raise up another tree
To take in hand their own destiny.

Laid at the root is judgment’s ax.
I see now You hear, know what I ask;
For me You bore the blade, were cut down
That You might rise, share with me Your crown.

The punishment which brings me peace
Was born by You whom I counted least
That doing good I shall never be
Fruitless in faith, as a cursed fig tree.

© Randall Edwards 2020.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.
Artwork: © Keaton Sapp 2020, “The Crucifixion” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.