Categories
poetry

The Incense

This sonnet is based on Isaiah 6:1-8, and is part of a new series on Isaiah titled, Full of His Glory.

I have always been brought up a bit short by the coal touching Isaiah’s lips and his subsequent eagerness to be sent. I can’t get over how painful I imagine it.

Much is made in my circles of the atonement made for Isaiah’s sin and the conviction that the coal must have come from the altar of sacrifice in the Temple’s courtyard. But Isaiah’s explicit mentioning of Uzziah at the beginning leads me to believe that the altar of incense inside the Sanctuary is what he has mind. Though I hold firmly to justification by faith, it seems that there is more going on than the battles of atonement theories.

In Isaiah more generally, but here too, the all too often malady of giving lip service to God while having a heart that is far from him seems to be more at hand. Even here, Isaiah’s preaching will fall on ears that cannot understand and be set before eyes which cannot perceive. Judah’s problem is in the heart. So this brings me back to Isaiah and his lips, and mine if I’m honest.

Burning coals and lips do not go together, but what if the image is not one of atonement but of sanctification. What if Isaiah is the incense who when ignited by God’s Spirit sends up the offering of prayer and praise –rising to heaven and suffusing everything around with the fragrant message of God’s word? What if Isaiah’s heart has been ignited in holiness and zeal and love? That he would rush forward and say, Send Me! Send Me! makes much more sense. So, here’s to Isaiah and hearts set aflame to make lips smoke with prayer and praise.

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

In the year that King Uzziah died I
Saw the Lord seated in His Temple high
Above where he speaks, makes the threshold shake
At the sound of his voice and glory’s weight.

And I shake too and break, for I am one
Who has seen the Holy. I am undone.
Unclean in heart my lips lie, lay claim
To the greedy loves of self, pride, and fame.

But from the altar where Uzziah sinned,
Comes heat and fire born on wings and wind.
I, the incense, the coal touches my lips,
Ignites his word, prayer smokes, calling grips
With grace. My heart aflame, he calls to me
To proclaim His favor, set captives free. 

© 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).

artwork: Marc Chagall, Le prophète Isaïe, 1968–1968.

Categories
poetry

One Day

Life this week has me longing for resurrection. Brutality, disease, folly, and well, sin, has got me longing for that for which I have only had glimpses.

In February, artist Keaton Sapp and I began a project which would take us through Lent and to Easter. As we planned in November of 2019, how could we have imagined how February would turn and March and April play out? Much of life has gotten away from me. Learning about new things and new ways to do old things have also played into the cumulative weariness of this season. I hadn’t even finished my part of the project. I had one more poem to write before the online reception we are planning for next weekend. And then came this week.

It is Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene whose experiences in John’s gospel speak to me of the utter heart break of life without a resurrection. These last weeks, have reminded me of the heart break.

Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, the cry is, “How long, Lord?” That we are still crying, “How long?” does not mean that the waiting is unending. For some, and my hope is with their hope, they have seen with their own eyes the beginning of the new day. And though we still wait, they wait with us, and tell us, “One day….”

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

When will the killing stop? When will the crying
Be given over to joy, tears wiped away?
When will laughter replace our sighing—
The night’s fear cleared by the rise of new day?

When will mothers no longer give their sons
To wars which always take more than their share?
When be armed with grace, not hate, not guns,
Nor left to die by those who don’t care?

Funerals are the last things mothers do
For those whom they’ve carried, delivered, lost—
For those whom they’ve raised and prayed over too;
Their tears are the price paid by love’s cost.

One day with them Surprise shall call in Grace
And Resurrection wipe the tears from our face.

© 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.

Categories
poetry

“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}

Categories
poetry

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.

Categories
poetry

Palm Sunday

It is said that in the Temple on the Sunday in which Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, the Levite singers lead the worshipers by singing Psalm 24. The first part of the psalm asks who may ascend the hill of the Lord? The second half responds with the affirmation and call of the King of glory, to enter in and ascend his throne. It reads,

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah

As passion week begins, here is a sonnet for Palm Sunday which is based on Mark 11:1-11 and draws some of its inspiration from Psalm 24.

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

Behold! your king comes, O Jerusalem
Midst the festal throng, waving palms and praise;
“Son of David!” you cry in unison
Behold your king, with voice Hosannas raise!

This is the sudden coming. Now, the hour;
He rides a donkey’s colt; he brings salvation;
No longer secret but coming in pow’r
To tread his winepress, rescue the nation.

Lift up your heads, O gates! Swing wide, let in
The king who ascends to the Holy Place
The Lamb of God without blemish or sin,
The mighty, strong king of glory and grace.

What heart of stone would not shout his renown?
Who seeing disown? Deny him his crown?

© 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: James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem (Le cortège dans les rues de Jérusalem), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 8 7/8 x 6 15/16 in. (22.5 x 17.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.194 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.194_PS2.jpg)