Nails

There were three

To be killed

That day.

Two were thieves,

Strong young men,

Their lives to be wasted

For their crime.

They wailed,

Writhed, sobbed,

Flailing away

Their final moments

Of movement.

It took four soldiers

To hold them

To their crosses

As the hammering began,

The sturdy masonry nails

Driven

Through resistant flesh,

Through inhuman screams,

To their wooden homes.

 

The third man

Was a prophet,

So they say,

A Messiah even,

Yet he did not

Call on God

To intercede,

To save him

From this pitiable end,

This traitor’s death.

He undressed quietly,

Lay down, sad-eyed,

On his recumbent cross,

Only recoiling

As his flogged back

Met rough, hastily cut wood.

 

He was mine to nail.

I chose the sharpest points,

Placed them with care,

Feeling somehow

His courage deserved reward.

Against habit, training,

Professional detachment,

I looked at him,

Met his dark eyes,

Fear-filled yet calm,

Saw his slightest nod.

I took a breath,

My mallet rose

And fell.

He gasped,

Flinched,

Then held himself

Still

As my hammer-blows

Pinned him

To his death.

 

Slowly the three crosses,

Their agonised burdens,

Were levered

Upright,

Away from cool earth

Into the baking, glaring day.

The preacher,

Pale beneath his tan,

Forced words

From his suffocation:

“Father, forgive them,

They know not

What they do.”

And I, stern soldier,

Practised executioner,

Turned away

And wept.

 

SIA 9 iv 2014

 

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The cloak

In the grey dawn

They surged through the gates,

Eager

For the Passover treat,

The annual redemption

Of a chosen one

By their appointed lord.

 

Tired Pilate,

His shoulders bowed,

Wearied, weighed

By justice

And conscience,

The chief priests

Puffed out with righteousness

Like challenged cockerels,

And between them

The still figure

Of the preacher,

Calm, accepting,

Modest

Amid the grandeur

In his shabby robe.

 

They called him King,

King of the Jews,

Passed his condemnation

Back and forward

Like an unwanted card,

Until planted men,

Priests’ friends,

Scribes’ cousins,

Pliable hangers on,

Coaxed the crowd

To bloodlust.

 

They howled

“Crucify him!”

Baying this blameless man

To traitor’s agony,

Their prize

Redemption and liberty

For blood-soaked rebel Barabbas.

 

The Romans took him,

Flogged him

Just enough for blood,

Little enough for cross-bearing.

From some dusty chest

Soldiers pulled an old cloak,

Tyrian-dyed,

Forced

Crown and sceptre

Of thorn and reed

Upon him,

Spat, mocked,

Knelt

In this king’s

One earthly homage.

 

Dripping blood

He stepped out

In his imperial purple

Into the morning sun.

The worn cloak,

Given new life

By light,

Shone amethyst

About this battered king,

Transfigured in the dawn.

 

SIA 8-9 iv 2014

Cleopas walks to Emmaus

It was a strange thing that I had been following my own nephew, but there it was. We had both been, my wife and I. I can’t tell you how high our hopes were in the days before that Passover – we really really thought that Jesus was going to turn the world upside down. We thought as Messiah he was going to lead a revolt, bring in a new order. We thought we would walk out onto our familiar streets and see the poor and the beggars well fed, honoured. We thought we would see the Romans carrying our packs at a forced march. We thought we would see the toadies and the collaborators forced to serve the rest of us. Every wrong righted, every hurt and insult wiped out as though it had never been.

And then the Passover, the terrible, terrifying bloody death of our leader and of our hopes.

And then the first working day, and the reports of some hysterical women that they had seen angels – well, you can imagine I thought of that! Only a woman would imagine she’s seen an angel – but then the men had actually found the tomb open – and my wife believed the women – she knew them better than I of course. Well, I suppose, some kind of hope, but it sure as anything didn’t lock into our ideas about the way the world should be. And so as we walked to Emmaus, going home, for what else was there to do?

Then, as you do, walking, we fell in with this very ordinary chap. He turned out to be an extraordinary talker. The low sun was diving over the horizon when we got to our home village, and he went to keep on travelling. Not safe to walk at night, what with Romans and robbers, and we wanted to hear more, so we pressed him to come in and have some supper.

Of course before the meal, there needed to be a blessing, a thanksgiving, or as we would say if we were speaking in the Greek most of us have picked up, a eucharist, on the bread and it had to be broken – and it usually belongs to the host to do this, but of course you’d ask the most religious person to do it. This chap was plainly in every real sense a teacher, a Rabbi, and it was only courteous to ask him.

Now, you didn’t know Jesus, but nothing, absolutely nothing was more typical of the man than thanksgiving, blessing, and especially at a meal. And as the chance-met stranger began the prayer, his sleeve fell right back off his hand, and his hand had a new bloody wound. And we heard his voice, in the familiar words. Before our eyes, the stranger became my nephew, whom I should have known from the first, Jesus of Nazareth. There was no doubt. We were totally certain. And as we became certain, so he – went. One glorious moment, joy and certainty. We saw his eyes laughing at us for our bemused expressions, and then he was gone, leaving only the bread lying broken on the table. Only our eyes, astonished. And reverent hands, touching the bread he had touched.

I have travelled long and difficult roads since that night – since we jogged back to Jerusalem, no space for fear of robbers or Romans left in the need to tell the others. Many, many times I have broken the bread for my fellow believers. It has taken me the rest of my life to learn even some of the meaning of what happened to me –

Jesus had died, and he was now alive. Yet, even for him, the pain could not be wiped out. At that table he was not the suffering Lord he had been on his cross. He was the victor, and he broke the bread for us risen and glorious and scarred.

He had brought a new world, oh yes, and we were living in it, and struggling, often, without his constant teaching, but the new world did not wipe out the present world, any more than his resurrection wiped out the holes in his body.

I still long to see a world where the humble are exalted, though I’ve stopped believing it is going to happen very fast. I know that when it does, the scars of the old world can never be wiped out. All we can hope is that we will change them into healing.

I’ve gone on trying to make his world real. I’ve done it as much through the breaking of the bread as anything else. For each time I do it, I see my Lord – risen and with bloody hands, laughing as he slips away.

The Voice of the Lamb- The Harrowing of Hell

image

Will you be there for me,
To walk with me hand in hand?
Will you wait for me,
Or forsake me for the agony of death’s dark grip?

There lie your hopes,
Ensnared like the words of your mouths and the meditations of your hearts,
Your words and deeds are measured and weave a cloth around you,
Strangling you from the day you cried your first breath.

There lies pharaoh’s crown,
Devoured in the deepest tomb,
There lie the dreams of the innocents,
Murdered as they now clutch at their mother’s womb.

Will you arise with me,
There, towards the light?
Or will your hearts remain hardened,
Will you then forever dwell with the serpent of the night?

Via Dolorosa

Yochanan

I ran and hid till morning.

Shortly after dawn I met Shimon on his way out of Jerusalem. He was in great distress.

“I—he—it happened just like he said,” he said, and flung his arms around me.

“Shimon, what’s happened? Are you running away?”

“Yeshua, he—he told me that I would deny him three times before morning.”

I remembered what he was talking about. During supper Yeshua had told us that he was going where we couldn’t follow. Shimon had protested that he would never abandon him, and Yeshua had prophesied.

“I followed them, bar-Kepha and that rat Yudah and the rest, to bar-Kepha’s courtyard. Someone asked me if I was one of Yeshua’s disciples. I wanted to stand up for him, protest his innocence, but they would have killed me, Yochanan. So I told them—I told them, no, not me. Then they asked me again, when I was warming myself by the fire, and I denied him again, but they didn’t believe me, so I repeated myself. Then the cock crowed and I remembered. I betrayed him, Yochanan. I—I’m no better than that bastard Yudah.”

“Shimon,” I said, “none of us is perfect. If Yeshua were here, he would tell you that God is gracious, and to pray for forgiveness. It could have been any one of us: if we don’t lie low now they will kill us like I fear they will him.”

Shimon said nothing, and I watched him walk into the distance. I sat there by the road for a long while. Maryam found me in the late morning.

“They’ve sentenced him,” she said. “He’s to be crucified.”

“What do we do?” I asked. “What can we do now?”

“There is nothing we can do to save him,” she said. “All we can do is go to the place where they will do it and pray for him.”

We sat, not looking at each other, for a long time.

A jeering sound came from the direction of the city, slowly getting louder, and we saw Yeshua walking in front of two other condemned prisoners, and a large crowd behind them.

Even with the heavy burden of a cross, and a crown of thorns that the guards had put on his head cutting into his brow, with the crowd shouting mocking insults, he still had the same quiet dignity. His forehead ran with blood, running in rivulets down his cheeks. My eyes filled with tears. We joined the grim procession, walking beside him, no longer caring who saw us.

A short while later, Yeshua stumbled under the weight of the cross and fell to the ground. I made to help him, but a soldier brushed me aside and picked him roughly up.

Ahead of us was a face I recognized: Maryam bat-Yoaqim, Yeshua’s mother. She ran to him and seized his hands. I tried to imagine what it must be like for her to lose her son like this. She joined us walking with him.

Two people fought their way to the front of the crowd. I recognized them as being among those who had travelled with us near the beginning of our mission. The man picked up the end of Yeshua’s cross. The soldiers conferred to one another, but did not stop him. The woman wiped his face with a fine linen cloth.

Yeshua fell again, his face in the dust. He grimaced, and this time picked himself up without the soldiers’ help. We walked on, until, exhausted and afraid, he fell again and lay prone on the ground. The soldiers shouted at him to get up.

At last we reached the place which is called the Place of the Skull. Yeshua’s clothes were taken from him and we watched, grief-stricken, as he was nailed to the cross. His cross was raised between the other two condemned, and we sat on the ground at the foot of the cross, praying with him.

“Woman,” he said to his mother, “behold your son.” At first I thought he was talking about himself, but I soon realized he meant me, that I should take care of her when he was gone. To me, he said, “Behold your mother.” I swore that I would do all I could for her.

Yeshua’s torture lasted for hours. It tore me up to watch him, but I could not look away. Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, he gave a loud cry. The crowds watching misheard him, or misunderstood him on purpose. They said he was calling for Eliyah, but we heard what he said.

God help us, we heard him.