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.

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)