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.

The Only Way Up

Jonah 1:1-3 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

Out of the depths of unapproachable light
Came the Word to Galilee’s Jonah who
Begrudgingly waited in Gath-Hepher’s night,
And hearing, arose–off in fantasy flew.
Descending in a run to Joppa’s bustling quay,
He trolled the tugs of resentment’s satisfaction.
Boarded and stowed sleeping sadness away
When Reality presses in piercing diffraction.
The Light punched in darkness; Peace brought the storm;
No tactful backing, no escape, only through–
Till the castaway’s will is tossed overboard
And washed by the flood, untwisted, made true.
Awash in the sea God’s messenger drowns.
The only way out is in, the only the way up, down.

(c) Randy Edwards
artwork: Peter Paul Rubens

O King of Nations

The seventh in a series of sonnets based on the Great O Antiphons. This sonnet is based on the antiphon, O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations). The translation reads: “O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.”

The antiphon is based on several passages from the Old Testament including the following.
Hag. 2:7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.
Is. 28:16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

O King of Nations, for whom we long and desire
Come to your creation, square it and right
Mend the marred, rebuild, and never tire
Till darkness is shaken, pull down the night.
As carpenter and joiner, he dovetails and makes one,
Bridges as keystone the pillared-arched ceiling,
Tears down hostility, makes righteousness run,
And cross-armed gathers in mercy and healing.
In concretion and cohesion, held fast by this King
Sustained by His pervasive presence and power
Made a people of his own sealed in promise as a ring
Wedded beneath his love’s banner and bower.
The King of our desiring has climbed into the clay
Creation’s cornerstone is laid Christmas day.

(c) Randy Edwards

artwork: Egerton MS 3277 2nd half of 14th century; Psalter and Hours (the ‘Bohun Psalter’)

O Root of Jesse II

This sonnet is based on the Great O Antiphon prayer, O Root of Jesse which reads:
“O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”

Isaiah 11:1 in in part the source of the prayer, and it reads, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

There could be nothing so hopeless as a tree’s
Stump from which top and green has been
Cut and which no longer has leaves
And for its diminution is no longer seen.
O Root of Jesse, the stump from which
Springs hope and joy and peace
Which makes those cut off rich
Who had no reputation but least
Yet even now from the lifeless wood,
Hangs our hope in wondrous love,
And deep in earth when hope should
Be lost, the olive branch is born in the dove.
Come now Root of Jesse, and bring
The peace and joy of which we long and sing.

(c)Randy Edwards
artwork: The Jesse Tree in the Lambeth Psalter, unknown English miniaturist, c.1140s

O Key of David

This is the fourth in a series of sonnets based on the Great O Antiphons. This sonnet is based on the Antiphon, “O Key of David” which reads, “O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Is. 22:22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

Isiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Is. 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

O Key of David, set my bound will free:
Unlock every barred way;
Open the prison in the heart of me;
Lead me into the light of day.
Come to me as the rising sun;
Unclasp with liberating light;
Mount your chariot your courses run
And bring me out of darkest night.
Resentment rusted, my bound heart–
Unable to release the catch.
Your love opens with a locksmith’s art
As tumbled tears let go the latch.
And bid you enter my frozen soul
Filling with freedom, making me whole.

(c) Randy Edwards
artwork: from The Queen Mary Apocalypse, England (London or East Anglia), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B. xv, f. 38v