Come to the Table

Come to the Table

The Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly is June 12-16 in Greensboro, NC.  The week’s theme is “Come to the Table.” The phrase itself comes from the sentiment in the Parable of the Narrow Door in Luke 13:22-30 which reads,

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

I began a project last spring to write a sonnet for the Assembly to be used as the organizers saw fit. I was encouraged to have been asked and set about exploring the themes of the parable.

At first I wanted to understand the parable which (as many of Jesus’ parables are) a little distressing. The first two poems I wrote were to understand the meaning of parable itself. The first sonnet concerned itself with the door itself.

The Narrow Door 1
Someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
And Jesus perceiving, told a parable of a door.
“Do all you can, strive to find your way through
Into the King’s presence and peace forevermore.”
“Be wary, the door shall not always stay open,
And many will come late expecting they’re in.
And even though they’ve listened, supped, and broken
Bread at a table, yet they remain what they had been.”

Though the door is narrow its beauty now I see:
Through its humble casing, I cannot carry pride;
Its head’s as tall as a man hung on a tree;
Its sill spans the breadth of his arms open wide.
Through this door all are welcome, are seated with a ring.
To find plenty of room and fullness at the table of our King.

In the second sonnet I further considered the door. In the first, I imagined what the door what it was, how wide and high. In the second, I tried to imagine the sorts of doors beyond which one may be shut. This poem is a bit more personal to me. The parable’s exclusive message cuts against our contemporary inclusivity and opportunity. Nevertheless, lines are and will be drawn. Doors will be opened and closed, and though it may seem harsh, there is no way around it. The parable’s irony is viewed when one reads it through the lens of Jesus. Jesus himself is one who will be shut into the darkness by a door — he who should’ve had every door open to him. Yet in obedience to the Father and love for the ‘shut out,’ he laid down his privilege that he might take our place. As I considered that irony, I also considered the apparent hopelessness of the stone door of a tomb. How final did that door’s closing seem?

The Narrow Door 2
“Will those who are saved be few?” a man asked.
“Will you by the narrow door make your way in?
Will you in humility, serve, be last?
Or set your conditions, remain in your sin?”

“But what if that door is closed, sealed tight?
What if it’s too late? What if life has withdrawn?
What if the darkness overcomes the light?
Is there hope beyond hope? Hope yet for the dawn?”

The Greatest has come, has departed as least;
Though favored with fame, was abandoned by fans;
He offered himself a sacrifice and a feast,
And opens a new door through the marks of his hands.
To His table be welcomed, come all East and West
Where the unknown are exalted; the weary, given rest.

Since the theme was not “come through the door” but the Come to the Table, I began to imagine the sorts of tables from which the Lord called his disciples and calls us. The account of the calling of Levi away from his tax collecting booth and to host Jesus at a dinner table captured my imagination. The Pharisees who are scandalized by the scene of this dinner party reminded me of the table of Psalm 23 in which we are promised that the Lord sets a table before me “in the presence of mine enemies.”

Levi’s Table
He stopped at my table, stood and stared
At me and the extorted wealth I’d taken;
He discerned in me how poor and scared
That my collector’s kingdom would fin’lly be shaken.
He called, “Follow me.”  I arose and followed after,
Abandoned booth and scales, cast them each aside,
And welcomed to my home light and love and laughter;
No longer marking other’s debts in the ledger of my pride.

And reclining with this Rabbi, at the table of the least
While my betters stood despising, scoffing from outside,
My Master “in the presence of mine enemies” set a feast
Of lordly leisure and promise: to never leave my side.
My mission now is to carry news, calling from east and west,
“Come to the table of this King, be found, be filled and rest.”

Lastly, I settled on considering the sorts of tables to which God has called his people and around which he has gathered them. Specifically, I was captivated by the table upon which Abraham was to offer Isaac, the tables around which the Israelites gathered in Egypt at Passover, and the table to which Jesus instituted the Last Supper to which he invites us to “come and taste that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).

Come to the Table
“Come to the table my son, my laughter,
Take wood and knife and let us walk away
Up into His provision.” When Isaac calls after,
“Without a lamb? Do we only go to pray?”
“Come to the table;” stand packed and waiting
Holding your staff, eating pilgrim’s bread
List’ning to the stories of God’s emancipating
Which leaves the darkened kingdom’s firstborn dead.
“Come to the table; long have I waited
To celebrate this Passover with you;
Which I give and pour in love consecrated:
The meal of my body, my body to renew.”
“I am the narrow door, the ram provided, the lamb, slain;
Come you humble, to my table, be filled, rejoice, and reign.”

If helpful, here is an playlist in which you may listen to me read each of the poems.
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© Randy Edwards 2016.
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.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

Perichoresis” is a Trinitarian term describing the the interplay in the Godhead of mutual love and honor. It means “around” (peri-) and “move toward”(-chorein). It is oftentimes described in terms of a dance.

Dr. Timothy Keller in his book, Jesus the King, writes about perichoresis as it manifest at Jesus’ baptism in this way,

Mark is giving us a glimpse into the very heart of reality, the meaning of life, the essence of the universe. According to the Bible, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit glorify one another. Jesus says in his prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (John 17:4-5). Each person of the Trinity glorifies the other.
In the words of my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, “In Christianity God is not a static thing … but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”

I make use of several images of the Trinity in this sonnet. The first is of the Godhead at the beginning, in creation. The second is at Jesus’ baptism, when again, the Spirit hovered over the waters, to alight on Christ (who is the Word made flesh), and the Father decrees. The third is the joy of our inclusion in that dance of love and honor reflected in sign by our own baptism.

You may read about Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-11 which reads,

In those days Jesus scame from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Before time and light there IS, Three in One;
When darkness was not yet as darkness is;
Before stars took their place, before moon and sun,
Three danced as One in perichoresis.
From the top midst the wild world’s ruin
Chaos threatens to overcome the light
The Allemande-Three at Jordan breaks in,
“You’re my beloved in whom I delight!”
The Three’s contra dance, the world’s hall shakes;
The Father calling, pours praise from the skies.
The Spirit alights, enfolds with embrace;
As the Word steps to, with fire, baptize.
Let the Caller of Dawn in baptism call me
Gathered in the swing of the dancing Trinity.

© 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: Baptism of Christ; Fécamp Psalter; c. 1180; Manuscript (76 F 13), Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

Falling Fire

Falling Fire

This is a sonnet for Pentecost and is based upon the account of the same in Acts chapter 2.

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

Suddenly like a mighty, rushing wind,
Love fell upon us as fire and flame,
Winding and binding, empowering to send
Us to the nations proclaiming his Name.
The exalted Name above all others,
The only Name by which one may be saved
Whose salvation unites, makes enemies brothers
Whose dying gives life, frees the enslaved.
And Water of Life, a river flowing
Effulgence, increase, pours, spilling over
Enwraps, enfolding as a breeze blowing
Wells up in love as beloved and lover.
Falling fire in tongues, Babel’s blather breaks
Resounds His own word whose voice Kadesh shakes.

© Randy Edwards 2017.
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: Jean Restout le jeune (1692–1768) Oil on canvas 1732.

Woe to You

Woe to You

This sonnet is based upon Luke 11:37-12:3 where Jesus pronounces woes upon the Pharisees and lawyers. The passage reads,

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

12:1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

For both the Pharisees and the lawyers (scribes), the glory they seek or the power of counsel they offer only leads to one place: death. It will be the glory of unmarked graves for the Pharisees who love to sit in the seat of honor and be greeted in the marketplace, and it will be judgment and accountability for the oppression and bloodshed which the scribe’s counsel leads to and inspires. Neither the scrupulous avoidance of taboos, nor rigorous application of legal guidance will lead to liberty, purity, and life. One has come however, who will make clean, who will honor with love and bring light even into the darkness of death.

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

He invited the teacher to dinner
In a pious show of hospitality;
“But not washing?” He thought him a sinner;
“A dirty messiah? How could he be?”
When the scribes claimed he was being too hard,
He opened the door to their brutality–
Who rather than unlock, hindered and barred;
Instead of loosing the lock, losing the key.
The honor you lust, is as unmarked graves
Woe to you who wash in that devotion;
Shackled to self, you’ll sink ‘neath those waves
Swallowed by night in pride’s pitiless ocean.
But in the dirt of his death, becoming sin, He makes right
Washes free the tomb’s terror, and floods us in light.

© Randall Edwards 2017
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.
Artist: James Tissot, Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens (Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees), between 1886 and 1894, opaque watercolor.

Jericho Road

Jericho Road

This poem is based upon Luke 10:21-42 which includes the parable of the Good Samaritan and the account of Jesus in Martha and Mary’s house. It’s my belief that Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer (the context of Jesus telling the parable) and his visit with Martha both took place on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and comprise two scenes for the same instruction. In the case of both the lawyer testing Jesus and Martha who is testy with Jesus, they have failed to see who stands before them and what He could offer them should they ask. The lawyer feels the desire to justify himself (“Who is my neighbor?”) and Martha is distracted with much serving (“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”). The passages begin with this provocative invitation of Jesus speaking privately with his disciples, which we have the benefit of overhearing, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Luke 10:23,24).

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

He had long sought these things to see,
But being blinded by self-justification,
The lawyer tried with an inquiry
To test the teacher’s sophistication–
A subtle attempt at trickery
By explanation.

She had long listened, labored in care
For a word of mercy for her sibling’s wants;
Though she served, worked, managed affairs,
Death’s specter yet threatens and haunts.
She thirsts for life to well-up somewhere–
A free flowing font.

Help arrived in time on the Jericho Road
To this lawyer and sister hung’ring in need
Whose own back is for their burdens bowed,
Who for distractions and excuses bleeds:
A Samaritan to carry the load
Whose own body feeds.

© Randy Edwards 2017
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.

Artist: Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Cristo en casa de Marta y María), c.1618, oil on canvas.

Easter Collect

Easter Collect

The Collect for Easter week in the Anglican church reads,

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Here’s a sonnet based upon those words, and if it’s helpful you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Sin and death is overcome;
The old order vanquished; ruin undone
By the mighty resurrection of the Son.
Victorious King, by your resurrection
You silenced the Accuser’s every objection
To renew and remake us in your perfection.
Lord of all life, who is life and power,
Whose glory fades not, unlike grass or flower,
Shine through us unveild, from this very hour.
May we to sin through Your dying, die;
Through Your death live, be made alive.
Buried with You, in Your rising, rise
To reign with You in humility,
In love, light, and life for all eternity.

© Randy Edwards 2017
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: Giotto (1266–1337), No. 37 Scenes from the Life of Christ; Resurrection (Noli me tangere); Date between 1304 and 1306; fresco; Scrovegni Chapel.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Here are two previously reposted poems for Easter Sunday.
The first is a villanelle inspired by the prayer, Need of Jesus, which is included in Banner of Truth’s collection of puritan prayers, Valley of Vision.

In particular I meditate upon Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint Jesus’ body. Dealing with the confusion of the empty tomb, she weeps not only for her grief for Jesus’ death, but the double wounding of not being able to honor him in preparing his body. Thinking she is talking with the garden’s gardener, Jesus speaks, calling her by name, “Mary!” and she sees that she has been speaking with Jesus — that realization must have been as bright as the dawn of creation.

If it’s helpful you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

I am blind, be Thou my light.
Speak, call me into New Creation’s Day,
And seeing Thee, I shall love aright.

My heart bedeviled with the night
Is faithless, wanders, loves to stray
I am blind, be Thou my light.

Rescue me; employ Thy might;
Leave no unclean spirits to remain
And seeing Thee, I shall love aright.

Raised upon Golgotha’s height,
God’s Lovingkindness, the world did slay;
I am blind, be Thou my light.

Now this morn, the end of night–
With spice to dress at dawn’s first ray,
And seeing Thee, I shall love aright.

My called name turns dark to sight;
Fear and sadness gives way to say,
“I was blind, Thou art my light!”
And seeing Thee, I love aright.

© Randy Edwards 2016

The second poem is entitled, We Had Hoped, and is based upon the encounter Clops and the other disciple had with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and in particular Luke 24:21 which reads,

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.

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

When death closes the door and hope is shut
Behind a stone — sealed from every light,
When the tears of loss tear the heart and cut,
The wound is darkness, and happiness, trite.
We had hoped that he was the one to save,
And redeem Israel from bondage and pain,
But three days ago we laid hope in a grave,
And now every plan and purpose is vain.
“We had hoped,” we told the one who joined our
Weary walk, and his question broke the wound
Open again. Our sad hearts, drained of power
When hope died and was buried in the ground.
But hope sparked anew with each word he said;
Blindness became seeing when he broke bread.

© Randy Edwards 2016

These poems are 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.