A Kiss

A Kiss

This sonnet is the Third Station in the Lent series, The Stations of the Cross, and is entitled, A Kiss. Artist, Keaton Sapp’s drawing of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot is striking. The contrast between dark and light together with the intimacy of a kiss and the gesture’s betrayal make Jesus’ passion all the more tragic.

The garden betrayal of Jesus is an unwinding of the first Adam’s betrayal. The intimate depiction of Adam’s creation bears the personal touch of God’s hand work and the intimacy of a kiss as life is breathed into the man. God forms him as a potter shapes clay, and God suscitates the man in a manner which mirrors a shepherd who breaths life into a newborn lamb. Genesis 2:7-9 reads,

…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Not long after man’s creation, a serpent enters the garden, deceives the woman and leads the man into sin. After the sin and betrayal of the first man and woman, innocence is lost, death enters creation, and they are cut off from life with God.

Matthew’s gospel account of the betrayal, mirrors the first sin, but it is Jesus who obeys, is seized, and cast out. The friendly greeting of love hides the hidden motive of Judas who has sold his rabbi and friend for thirty pieces of silver. Matthew 26:47-50 reads,

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

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

God took what He made, shaped by His own hand,
Held him close, kissed with life, and made him breathe;
Took his hand, placed him in, made him to stand
In the heart of the Garden with the Tree.

But Man took the fruit, would not trust or wait
To be given that which could not be bought;
They sold themselves, and were cast through the gate
To die in the wild, toil for what they lost.

The God-Man came to the Garden at night,
Seek His Father’s will, Keep faith, not forsake;
Touch his lips to the curse, make all things right;
Take the cup, drink its dregs, sin’s power break.

Hung on a tree, the fruit which buys love’s bliss:
Is sold for silver, betrayed with a kiss.

© 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 Kiss.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Watch with Me

Watch with Me

This ekphrastic poem is based on the Second Station of the Cross piece drawn by Keaton Sapp entitled, “Watch with Me.” It is part of a larger collection which is being installed at Grace Kernersville through Lent. The entire exhibit will be the pieces which will form Stations of the Cross which may be walked during Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The picture and poem are based on Matthew 26:36-45 which reads,

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The picture which Keaton has drawn, reminded me of the words from Psalm 121:3-6. It reads,

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

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

Come a little further and stay with me.
Let us watch and pray ‘neath the orchard tree.
Leave me not alone here in my crying;
My soul is breaking, of sorrow dying.

Kneeling in prayer in the grove, he bent down,
Set aside his will, set aside his crown,
Prayed, Father, please let this cup pass from me,
Yet not my will be done, but your will be.

Weak, we fell asleep, did not understand
That we slept in the shade of God’s right hand
Who watches, who neither slumbers nor sleeps,
Who is our shield, who ever-prays and keeps.

In this garden, he kept his word of love.
Arose and faced the serpent as a dove.

© 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 Anointing.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Thou Saw First

Thou Saw First

This poem is the first in a series of poems for Lent entitled, The Stations of the Cross and is a part of a larger project entitled the same. The collection as a whole will form a composition in which people may use to walk the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and Holy Saturday at Grace Kernersville. You may read more about the exhibit HERE.

The poems I am writing are largely ekphrastic and draw from the artist whose work comprises the Stations of Cross exhibit. Artist, Keaton Sapp, has decided to depict the events of Jesus’ last hours through the motif of a fig tree. In so doing, I have found my own imagination more engaged, and I hope those who see the art and walk the Stations later will find it inspiring as well.

The First Station which Keaton has drawn is entitled, “The Anointing,” and is based on Matthew 26:6-13 which reads,

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

I have always been captivated by Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus prior to his entry into Jerusalem. The disciples rebuke of her extravagant gift shows that they neither have an awareness of the beauty of her gesture but also of what he was about to do. Though Jesus is the anointed, it is Mary, the anointer, who has captured my imagination. In addition to the passage in Matthew 26, the image of Aaron’s anointing and the ministry of his priesthood came to mind, and so I also draw from Psalm 133. You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

The crack of thy alabaster flask snapped
Us out of our drowsy, self-concerned daze —
Out of the day’s worries which had snared, trapped.

The odor of the heavy, earth perfume
Enfolded us, wrapped ‘round and filled the room.

The oil thou poured on his head dripped slowly,
Not like the water he would later pour
On our feet to wash, to make us holy.

This scent embedded in hearts the free grace
Of him who touched our soles with love’s fragrance.

But the scent did not o’erwhelm common sense;
This gesture must have been worth thousands.
Why this gift of kingly extravagance?

It was a waste, could have been used for more;
It should have been sold, used to help the poor.

But thou alone saw what we were blind to
That the High Priest’s blessing had come to us—
Blessing had fallen as Mount Hermon’s dew.

Through thy tears thou saw the fullness of love
While we complained, standing over as judge.

Thou saw it all, Mary. Thou poured it out.
And we complained, we questioned thy right—
We sounded like those who later would flout.

We hail thee now, for the love thou poured, gave
Thou saw first among those our Savior saved.

© 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 Anointing.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A couple of years ago I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service as a pastor. I was surprised at how imposing the ashes effected me. There is something deeply intimate with touching a person’s face. And to smear ashes on their face and look them in the eye and speak the words in Genesis 3:19,”…you are dust, and to dust you shall return” was especially sobering. The event inspired the following sonnet which is entitled, “You Are Dust.”

May God bless you as you embark on your pilgrimage to Easter.

“Remember, you are dust,” I say. You bow
Your head toward me standing face to face;
With my trembling thumb I reach, touch your brow
To impose in ash this symbol of grace.

“You are dust,” words every father has told
Every child whom death and dearth drove down,
Deep into earth, where neither young or old,
Wear gems or gold but wear an ashen crown.

“And to dust you shall return,” I say
Crossing your forehead in imposition;
He sends you forth on this Wednesday
Into the wilderness of His transposition.
Where the hopeless hope, through dust and ash rise
When death’s door is broken, opened to sky.

© 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.
Photo: by Hazel Kuehn Photography of original abstract weaving by Jennifer Edwards which is a part of her series, Ashes to Eternity.

Mary of Bethany

Mary of Bethany

This sonnet is based on John 12:1-3. which recalls the moment Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus both as coming king but more significantly as one whose mission was to die for the sins of his people. This event occurred on the day before the triumphal procession or Palm Sunday.

Carolyn Custis James was the first, who many years ago, drew my attention to the first great Christian theologian, Mary of Bethany. There is much in Mary’s experience with Jesus that is full of pathos: her sitting at Jesus’ feet, her brother, Lazarus’ resurrection, and here, her pouring out of her material wealth in a gesture of love and recognition for who Jesus was and what he was to do.

He came at last, but too late for healing
My brother for days, sealed up behind stone
My heart grieved between riot and reeling
With a shout he healed, gave life to these bones.
Now from my alabaster heart, broken
Pours the fragrant passion of love and life
Upon his feet, a running devotion
For my savior bearing my sin and strife.
But worse than I feared my king did for me
Faced death in silence as a Pascal Lamb
My stone-heart breaks again, tears flow free
Is there yet hope for this child of Abraham?
My treasure now in a stone vial is sealed
Awaiting a breaking when love is revealed.

© 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: James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Meal in the House of the Pharisee (Le repas chez le pharisien), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 4 13/16 x 8 1/8 in. (12.2 x 20.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.120 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.120_PS2.jpg)

The Annunciation

The Annunciation

Yesterday, March 25th, was the Feast of the Annunciation which remembers Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell of God’s plan for her. It also marks nine months before Christmas.

This sonnet is based on Luke 1:26-35. I have been taken with Malcolm Guite’s sonnet of the same event in which his last line says, “The Word himself is waiting on her word.” I love that. Meekness meets meekness.

In addition, another imagining that I have been taken with is Henry Ossawa Tanner‘s painting of the moment. In a predawn, lamplit moment, as a young maiden in an obscure village is interrupted in her prayers, an angel appears and speaks. The expression on the woman’s face is one of wonder, modesty, and curiosity if not a little skepticism. Yet she takes her calling in hand, not grasping in self-will or determination, but in humble faith saying, “Let it be to me as thou has spoken.”

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

In a no-where’s stillness while at thy prayers,
By thy lamp’s light came a presence holy
Who drew thy life into cosmic affairs
Mary, the Nazarene maiden lowly.

Gabriel hails, Lo, the Lord is with thee,
Favored one. Blessed, be ye not afraid,
For at thy word new creation is conceived
From thy womb’s waters the world is remade.

Mary, in this moment ‘neath Nazareth’s sky
We await thy word when all words come true
When thy meek willingness undoes the lie
By bearing the Son who makes all things new

Taking in hand what is giv’n unto thee,
As thou hast spoken, let it be unto me.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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: Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain]

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration

This sonnet is based upon Luke 9:28-36 and Mark 9:2-8 which tells of Jesus’ Transfiguration.

On the Mountain’s predawn height, time’s ticked line
Is stretched round upon itself from the thin
Experience of events to entwine
The moment all is new, when we begin.
The Face of Love shines in burning likeness;
His hands clasped in prayer this hour of the turn
T’ward his departure where in that brightness
Two have stepped through time from God’s Mount to learn.
Three others now awake enter the cloud
The disciples hear the Majesty bless
With choosing, loving, and delight enshroud.
Commending they listen, his word possess.
And what of us, shall we enter that ring
Exalt in his Glory, join the dance and sing?

© Randy 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: Transfiguration of Christ, Bellini, 1490