Reflections for

Good Friday, Mar 25, 2016

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

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.

Poetry

If God is mostly paradox

So that things contrary to common sense
Seem suddenly truth revealed
And some unappealing sight
Is clearly Imago Dei, devilishly alight
As though lit within at core
By the very darkness we abhor
And symbols of my soul’s best hope are cast
As models of betrayal, despair and death;
Then, Eve’s fruit tasted and offered to Adam
Becomes Mary’s Gift as First Fruit
Of a new covenant of pardon
And the abandoned Garden
Because of Him
Becomes the New Jerusalem;

So, let that mind be also in me,
The one that takes in my off-stage acts,
You know,
Those walk-the-walk naked facts,
Even my sneaky judas-pacts
And transforms them all
Into something nothing short of new,
Like being born,
Like out of any godforsaken Friday
Easter morn.

Poetry

Disposal of the body

So Jesus’ wealthy friends did prove useful in the end.
All four narratives seem to agree on this.
Joseph, after all—the one from Arimathea, not his Dad—
Joseph pulled strings with Pilate. Did he have to call in
a few favors earned in questionable ways
so he could claim possession of the corpse?
Old Nicodemus too, Jesus’ night-shift friend from the Sanhedrin,
Nicodemus makes his own fleeting reprise,
carting along a ton—almost—of fragrant spices,
nard and myrrh (again!), for preservation purposes.
Although where he got such pricey stuff,
late on a holiday Friday afternoon, is never quite explained.
And that convenient, fresh-hewn, garden tomb;
even back in the day, sepulchres such as those
did not come ten-a-penny! Add in all the hired help
they must have needed to get stuff from here to there
and, of course, to roll and seal that massive rock . . .
Whole thing makes you wonder—doesn’t it?—
wonder if that narrow needle’s eye got prized wide open—
camel-size, at least—to accommodate these late allies.

 

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