A Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 5)

(John 11: 1-45)

Lord, if you had been here
when the cancer became untreatable,
when the clot travelled the artery,

when the mudslide left the mountain,
when the airplane met the sea,

when the heart ceased its drumming
and the tired marcher rested
from its long parade,

Lord, if you had been here
in the hospital room,
the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street,

if you had been here
when it happened
in the evening,
in the morning,
in the afternoon,

if you had been here
when it was too soon,
when it was too quick,
when it was too late,
when it took too long,

Lord, if you had been here
for our brother,
the loved one
who passed beyond our reach

would death have won?

But you have been here.
Here by the bedside,
by the roadside,
by the graveside,
by our side
in the confining caves of grief.

You are here
where tears remain wet
on hurt faces.
You are here
where hearts remain
shrouded by the pain
you feel with us,
and for us as well.

You were there at
the grave of Lazarus,
irretrievably lost to
his family and friends,
but not lost to you;
gone beyond
their loving reach
but not yours.

You were there
and the stone
was removed from the tomb.
You were there
with your shout
and the air
held its breath.
You were there
and burial cloths were unbound
and lost Lazarus
opened his eyes
to the sun.

And you are here, Lord,
in the hospital room,
in the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street.
You are here
drying tears on hurt faces,
setting free the bound ones
from the shrouds of death,
leading us out
of whatever caves are confining us
and reminding us
that in you
death will not triumph:

your love
that has no limits
has won.

Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 4)

(John 9: 1-41)

Judging, condemning and affixing blame –
things we like to do, but not why Christ came.
“Who sinned – this man? Parents?” disciples ask,
as if pinning blame is the crucial task.
But the crucial task, according to Christ,
is to heal the afflicted, to bring sight
to blind eyes and give new strength to the weak,
new beginnings to life where only the bleak

shadows of death once had been – maybe spend
less time deciding who’s at fault and end
debates about sin. Better to worry,
Jesus says, about doing good: hurry
to help while it’s day, for that is God’s work
and God’s way. So he takes clay, the dirt
from which we are made, spits, makes mud, applies
the raw mixture to the born-blind man’s eyes,

has him wash. And the beggar is made new:
he sees! Imagine the dazzle of hue
and shape and texture; miraculous song
of colour, of movement; the faces long
guessed-at now plain – the world reborn for him.
Some things still take time to become less dim
(like the blindness of prejudice in those
who knew him) but see how the beggar grows

in boldness and faith: an inspiration
to all who know that the new creation
is often grown into a bit at a time.
Jesus brings us new sight: new heart and mind,
but sometimes it’s slowly we understand,
and don’t always have all answers at hand.
Yet this man responds to Christ when he calls,
which is what God seeks from us, most of all.

And I am blind clay, unable to see
until you, O Lord, re-mud, remake me.

Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 3)

(John 4: 5-42)

You can’t hide from your need for water.
From the others – the ones whose eyes
are like their words, whose words have felt

like bones, like stones in the chest –
from them you hide till noon, the heat
as hard as earth baked by the sun:

from that too there is no hiding,
like your shame, the cindering pain
of your mistakes, the regret of every

failure, the ruined relationships
lying heavy on your heart
as a jar full of water in your hands.

You can’t escape that weight.
You have carried it and carried it,
the freight of shame that shrinks you

in your attempt to hide from even
your need for the acceptance
that your heart craves like water,

that deeper need that will not let you go.
And neither do the eyes of the man
who meets you at the well this heated

day: his eyes that hold to yours with
no hostility, with no judgment;
that are gentle, calm as waters

in a deep well. Your habitual distrust
of men, strangers, the Jews
is hard-baked, yet – how strange – you

feel no need to hide, no sense of danger,
just curiosity when he asks you for water
just as if no gulf exists

between you to cross. Stranger still
his words that follow, promising
a gift of living water which will

satisfy forever, gushing up into life
that is eternal. How his words echo
within you, as in an empty well

where unhealed ache lies parched
like withered ground, where your deep
need for love has gone unfilled.

How quick your answer in reply: Sir,
give me now this water, that I
may no more need this well – and

that the well of need within me
may be filled.
And here it is, in the way
he gives it – he opens up your pain,

he confronts with you the shame
that has held you prisoner, but
from him no condemnation

of the failures that have fractured
your life. How like a flowing river
is this unflinching acceptance,

how like a thirst being quenched
this taste of love. Now there is
no more need for hiding; and let

the jar you took to the well be left
for later. That other weight you carried
has been left there too, and in its

place this lightness, this freedom
of breath, of being, that from now
will be carrying you in words of call:

The Christ who meets you at your well
is for the world.

Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 2)

(John 3: 1-17)

You are returning from
seeing the rabbi
from Nazareth,
making your way past
doorways of shadows,
past the street corners’
intersecting griefs,
past the windows
where ghosts lean out
to question the sky lit by
the same stars that held
promise for Abraham
so long ago.

Long ago you stopped
asking the stars for clarity.
Long ago your heart
became evening,
gray and empty
as old promises
of a new kingdom
of God.
Long years you’ve seen
the same twilight
in faces at the temple.
When, and how – you hear
saddened eyes asking –
will our dying hopes
be lifted?
When, O Lord, will
we see new life?

You have asked
those questions,
searched parchment
for answers.
But tonight you walked
these streets to meet
this new rabbi,
this one who breaks patterns,
this challenger of authority,
this maker of wine
from simple water,

to hear words like
a light flickering
at the edges
of sight,
a lamp kindled inside
a side room:

Be born of the Spirit, of
the wind,
he tells you,
to see
the kingdom of God

as if to say that
the kingdom
you long for is
not a thing that you touch
as much as something
like the wind
that touches you –

For the Son of Man,
Jesus says,
will be lifted up
like Moses’ sign
in the desert
to save from their dying
those who believe.

Can words become stars
of fresh promise?
Can the wind bring
new breath to the earth?
Can someone whose heart
ceased dreaming long ago
begin again with this
listening tonight?

. . . You are returning
from seeing the rabbi
from Nazareth.
still hold onto
shadows. Streets remain
intersected by grief.
Your mind remains filled
with many questions.
But the fragrant air is moving.
It stirs leaves
on many branches.
You can almost imagine it
making dust into starlight;
and somehow the shadows
seem less daunting.

You feel almost as if
breath itself has taken
new shape within you:
the shape that hope forms
when it is growing anew.
For you may not understand
all that he means by
being lifted,
but you believe he brings
the kingdom, nonetheless:
the kingdom that is
life with the nature
of the eternal:
the life that is God’s Spirit
touching you.

Do not wonder
at that which stirs
within you, Nicodemus.

It is your heart
becoming morning
once again.

Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 1)

(Matthew 4: 1-11)

It is the empty time just before morning,
the light just beginning to touch
the tops of the hills,
just beginning to palm the skins
of the desert stones.

First one stone and then another
begins to change colour as
in slow grandeur
the sun lifts
into red-orange sky.
First one stone and then another
emerges from shadow,
small solitudes of darkness
in the solitude of wilderness
in the emptiness of early morning.

Jesus is awake, blankets clutched
to keep out the cold
while he sits and watches stars
fade in the spreading dawn.
Hunger gnaws at his belly
like a dog chewing a bone.
Looking at a stone, he thinks,
How like a loaf of bread
this rock appears.
How comforting such
food would be. . .

Lifting his head in the direction
of the Holy City, Jesus pictures
the sunrise on the rooftops
of the Temple,
gleaming in the light like
the spires of marble mountains.
He imagines his feet astride
that proud building’s pinnacle
and himself not weak but mighty,
not being hungry but full,
not vulnerable,
not breakable should I fall. . .

The wind begins to rise, stirs
the dry and scrawny grasses.
Jesus ponders the passage
of time, the rise and fall
of kingdoms, the tides
of marching armies,
the endless quests for power
that sweep up people and nations
like sands in a desert wind.
He imagines himself
at the head of
a host of armoured thousands,
lands and nations to serve me
like the Pharoahs, like David,
like Caesar ruling from Rome. . .

Jesus sighs, and stands and stretches,
a solitary and hungry
yet somehow satisfied man,
and folds the dusty blankets.

He will not bid the stones
turn to bread today
to ease his pressing hunger:
for the hungry and poor
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

He will not evade
frail humanness today,
or deny his utter mortality,
for even the mighty
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

He will not seek
the throne of a kingdom today,
selfish wealth or glory:
for the outcasts and hurting
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

Day has come to the wilderness around him.
The sun is full and blazing.
Saying, “Get away
from me, Satan,”

Jesus starts to walk from
the desert testing
toward the towns and the cities
where his ministry of love
will begin.

His feet leave firm prints in the sand.