One Day

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.

“Unless I see…”

“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}

Holy Saturday

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.

Palm Sunday

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)

Waking in a Dream

Waking in a Dream

The Psalms are prayers which help give voice to our prayers. To read the words of those who lived thousands of years ago and to read that they experienced life in much the same way (though the circumstances seem vastly different) is in its own way a great comfort. The psalms train our imagination to articulate the experience of the life of faith in God. Psalm 126 is one such psalm.

The author of Psalm 126 makes use of the surprise of a dessert bloom after a spring rain. Practically overnight, the desert, which had been brown and barren, becomes green and blooms. It must be a magnificent surprise and delight. This is the experience of those to whom blessing comes. It is miraculous: “like those who dream.” But that isn’t the psalmist’s current circumstance. Rather, they have had their good fortune taken from them and they are now ‘sowing in tears.’

This sonnet is based upon Psalm 126 which reads,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

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

Wasn’t it just like walking in a dream —
Wonderstruck, eyes shining with delight,
The joyful surprise in the face of what seemed
Impossible, a victory, the wrong made right?

And then there was the long, weary waiting,
The months of work with no compensation,
Suddenly a payday, no more speculating
About the coming joy and salvation.

But again we’re in need; again, overcome;
Our weakness the world counts as shame;
Though famine, fire, and flood overrun,
We still lift our hands and call on Your name:
“Giver of life, Fulfiller of dreams,
Restore our fortunes like Negev’s desert streams.”

© 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.
Photograph: Daviddarom / CC0. Judean Desert in bloom

Waking to Our Fear

Waking to Our Fear

A friend reminded me that today is World Poetry Day, and so I am posting one which I continue to re-work but is based on a scene from Mark’s gospel which continues to both mystify and encourage me.

One night while crossing the Sea of Galilee, the disciples find their boat foundering in one of the severe storms which frequents the Sea of Galilee when the cool air from Mount Hermon rushes down its slopes in the sea’s valley and the warm air rises. Mark 4:35-41 reads,

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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

It was because you wanted to that we
Started for the other side that evening–
Crossing at night Galilee’s fitful sea
When the cool of Mount Hermon comes beating.

And as we’d seen a hundred times before:
You lose when caught in the night-storm’s billow;
Reeling in fear, we pulled and pushed to shore
While you slept sound on the tiller’s pillow.

And shouting, Lord! Don’t you care if we die?
We did as you asked! Ignored our warnings!
Waking to our fear, he spoke to the sky
Which fell still as a spring Sunday morning.

Who are you that into the storm you lead
Permitting despair, that your friends be freed?

© Randall Edwards 2016
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). Jesus Sleeping During the Tempest (Jésus dormant pendant la tempête), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 5 1/2 x 7 11/16 in. (14 x 19.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.101 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.101_PS2.jpg)

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.