Reflections for

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Apr 24, 2016

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Poetry

In the beginning

Everything in the world begins with a yes.
                                     
Clarice Lispecter

For Bishop Tom

In the beginning there is only Yes,
infinitesimal, infinite, invisible
seed sprouting in the swirling dark,
the slow integration, expanding,
extending, the sudden explosion
into light—baby, blossom, universe,
all beginnings are the same—and Yes
to a world begun before words where
nothing separates this from that, and
Yes to the senses alive before language,
bird song, leaf shadow, skin touching
skin, and Yes to Tom whose injured
brain erases speaking, reading, names,
but through hands cupped upon bent
heads, his unimpeded heart pours forth
with nothing to restrict the flow of Yes
in beginning and Yes in the end.

This is an updated version of the poem that appears in the print edition.

Poetry

What shall we say?

A triptych for Thomas G. Long
teacher, preacher, presbyter
(on the occasion of his retirement from Candler School of Theology)

I

The etymology is perilous:
pulpit from pulpitum, meaning scaffold,
by which we come, at length, to catafalque
those f’s and a’s, like tongue and groove boards,
like rope enough to hang, or hoist, or let
a corpse down to its permanent repose.
One platform’s raised; one frames a coffin’s rest.
So, first the elocution, then the wake?
Like lamentations or the case of Job—
that vexing, god-awful, comfortless book.
And yet we rise to the occasion,
Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
A bit of scripture, a psalm or poem,
something that happened in the week just past;
we try to weave them all together as
if to say a loving God’s in charge.
As if we were certain of a loving God.
We see by faith. We live in hope. We love.
Or play the odds, as Pascal did. We fall.
Sometimes it all seems quite impossible.
And yet we rise again and walk the plank,
and sing into oblivion good news:
Unto God the glory, all praise, all thanks!
while nodding congregants loll in their pews.


II

Imagine Tom out on the fire escape,
between the world at large and inner life,
edging the proscenium, downstage right.
whilst curios and characters and shades

unveil themselves as dancing beauties do.
I have tricks in my pocket, things up my sleeve!
Upstage, sheer curtains rise, transparencies:
Truth in the pleasant guise of illusion.

Like John on Patmos, John the Harbinger—
voices crying out of the wilderness—
Make straight ye the Lord’s way! quoth Isaiah.
Eschatology and Apocalypse:

Think Esmeralda in the cathedral,
Jim Hawkins in the rigging, chased by Hands
or Ishmael, just flotsam at the end,
alone, before God and all these people.

Or Montaigne in his tower library:
“the whole of Man’s estate in every man.”
Or Yeats pacing the boards at Ballylee:
“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

Thus, exegetes and preachers on their own
hold forth, against a never-ceasing din
of second-guessing, out there on their limbs:
Have faith! Behold, the mystery! Behold!


III

That fresco of the Sermon on the Mount
by Fra Angelico (dear brother John)
shows Jesus semi-circled by his men,
gilt-haloed Galileans, but for one,
who will betray him later with a kiss.
Atop their sandstone tuffets, rapt, engaged,
he’s going on about beatitudes,
fulfillments of the law, the words to pray.
Outside the frame, unseen, a multitude
leans in to listen to the hermeneutics,
which are not without some challenges, to wit:
though we be smitten, turn the other cheek,
go the second mile, love our enemies;
while we’re forgiven only so much as
we forgive those who trespass against us.
A certain eye-for-eyeness to that scheme,
a tooth-for-toothedness. A quid pro quo?
As if, to finally get, we must let go?
Sometimes it’s so, sometimes it isn’t? So,
what shall we say to these things? Who’s to know?
Say who abides in love abides in God.
Say God is love. Love God. Love one another.
Say grace is undeserved and plentiful.
Say if we’re saved, it’s mostly from ourselves.

Books

A New Heaven and a New Earth, by J. Richard Middleton

Spring books

These days, we need a strong current of theological explication of Christian eschatology. Richard Middleton has stepped forward—and his book doesn't even mention zombies.

 

Revised Common Lectionary © 1992 the Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.