Saturday, March 17, 2018

The World Turned Upside Down

How little we understood at the time! We loved him, as far as we were able in the smallness of our understanding, he touched places inside us that no one else had ever touched, and there was the tang of deep truth and wisdom in everything he said. But half the time (alright, to some extent most of the time) we simply didn’t have a clue what he really meant. Every time he turned our world upside down, we tried, with ridiculous futility, to turn it back the proper way and then figure out where his words fitted in. I still remember the look in his eyes when we missed the whole point yet again and again and again. But he never gave up on us, and showed us that God is patient with us beyond our wildest dreams.

And this, of course, was the most topsy-turvy night of all, and I am still moved beyond tears when I remember any detail of it. It was the night that began with God kneeling at our feet.

It was Passover, and we were there in an upper room in Jerusalem. The food and wine were on the table, and we had begun the familiar ritual, the recalling of God’s great act of liberation, when Jesus rose from the table and took off his outer garment. He had our complete attention, but none of us were prepared for what happened next. He tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and commenced to work his way around the table, washing our feet – the job normally allotted to the lowliest servant, a slave’s job really. And he was the master! We should have been washing his feet, not the other way round! (So why didn’t we? That question was to haunt me for a long time afterwards, because I already knew the shameful answer. We were far too concerned with trying to score points in some obscure competition to prove which of us was the greatest. None of was willing to demean ourselves. But he, who was our Lord and our God, had no hesitation at all.

We were embarrassed, no, ashamed. With one simple action he was laying bare the hidden places of our hearts. Of course, I had to be the one to put it into words, to cry out, in the arrogance I mistook for humility, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!” But when he told me that I had no share in him if I did not let him wash me, I backed down, extravagantly demanding that he wash my hands and my head as well! When would I learn to simply obey, to know that what he gave was just exactly right?

I understand now, as much as I can while I walk this earth, and, yes, I weep with the wonder of it. Yes, he meant us to learn servanthood from his example, and that is true forever, but there was something even more. We had to humble ourselves to accept his gift, we had to be prepared to accept the cleansing he would bring us by humbling himself beyond even servanthood, becoming nothing and dying, in our place, as an outcast and a criminal. We are the servants of God, and the servants of one another, because God himself first became the servant of us, and truly turned the whole world upside down.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Befriending Job

In the places grief has hollowed out
We will tread with silent reverence
For God has been here first.
We will shed tears unashamed,
For all buried seeds need water.
In the divine devising
The tomb and the womb are one.

Wait, wait for the promise!

We shall not deploy the pebbles
Of our well-digested clich├ęs
Lest we insult the truth
With our shallow, easy words;
Lest we deny the dignity
That every sufferer bears;
Lest our mouths should drip futility
And blaspheme the name of God.

Learn to stand in the silence!

Let us own only one small arc
Of the terrible path of justice
Is shown in this world
And we cannot see the whole.
All that we know
Is the one who stood at the brink,
Hands scarred and bleeding,
And bent back its shape to mercy.
That is enough.

Be still in his presence!

And, till the dawn shall break,
Weep with those who weep …

Thursday, March 08, 2018


An attempt to use the French resistance in WWII as a metaphor for resisting temptation

Evil strums in the blood
It stalks the streets,
Beats down defences with its banal face
Becomes our ordinary
Just a shrug
The simple act of look the other way
The simple act of grabbing what you can.
There is always a reason
For the dumb collaboration of the weary heart,
The weak one step too far.

There is another way,
Gritty, alone,
Compelled by love,
The courage that is born
From deeper fears:
The life that dares to live.
Here, beating hearts
Acknowledge both the terror and the stakes,
And calculate
The worth that’s past all price,
The love that makes all other loves look pale.
Blazing against the ancient lie that says
There is a middle ground,
A compromise,
Between two kingdoms utterly opposed.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Test

He never did enjoy that steep, uphill climb from Jericho back to Jerusalem. But sometimes a man just has make the journey and attend to his affairs. It wasn’t really a choice for anyone who valued wealth and status. So he had spent a couple of days down in Jericho, doing what had to be done, and now it was time to make the journey back. He would make an early start, it was going to be hot today, and besides, he had overheard a Samaritan merchant in the inn talking about moving on to Jerusalem tomorrow, and he didn’t want to be stuck anywhere near him! The man was everything he most despised: a mongrel Jew who would claim to be an heir of Abraham despite his mixed race, a despiser of the true Temple (the Samaritans had their own centre of worship), an offender against all that was most holy, against all that gave his own life, as a priest, meaning and purpose. He shuddered, realising that he hated the Samaritans even more than the Romans.

And so he set off, pondering why God allowed both the Romans and the Samaritans to continue in existence. Surely it was time for the Messiah to come? And if He delayed, was that because Israel was falling short of keeping every syllable of the law?

He had been going for three or four hours when he saw what looked like a heap of rags lying by the side of the road. As he drew closer, he realised that it was a man, badly beaten, with torn clothes and crusted blood. Not a pretty sight.  Despite the heat, he drew his cloak around himself tightly, a reflexive gesture of self-protection. The bandits must be active around here, he thought to himself. The Romans did patrol the road (yes, they were definitely not as bad as the Samaritans), but in those steep and rocky cliffs were a labyrinth of caves where those who knew their way could escape pursuit, and where Roman armour was a disadvantage.  Momentarily he wondered if he should help the traveller, but then he shook his head, disappointed in himself for ever considering such a silly, sentimental idea.  There were robbers around, this was not a place where it was safe to linger. And there was always the possibility that the man was not hurt at all, but merely faking it as a bait to lure other travellers, and went they bent down to assist him he would leap up and grab them while other robbers swarmed out from their hiding place to attack them. Definitely this wasn’t a safe place. Besides, and this was another thought, if the man was a genuine victim, he might be dead, and touching a dead body was a source of ritual uncleanness. Much better, much safer, to hurry on and pretend he’d never seen him.

He did not know that he had failed the test. He did not know that love was the fulfilment of the law. He did not know that the despised Samaritan, coming along later, would do everything he had failed to do, and more. He did not know that it was the Samaritan, and not himself, a priest of Israel, who would be commended by God himself. He returned to his barren piety, his pettifogging rules, and never guessed that even then the longed for Messiah, Saviour of Jew and Gentile alike, was walking in their midst, the glory of God in human flesh.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Palm Branch

I am a palm branch lifted
I am a palm branch laid
Down on the stones of the city,
Dusty and sore afraid

Oh how the triumph chorus
Swells in my heart and soul:
Longing for final victory
Longing to be made whole.

Anticipation shivers
Here comes the Saviour king
Jerusalem is thrilling
Her loudest praise to sing.

Yet soon the songs grow silent
Under a darkening sky
All the hosannas falter
This king has come to die.

Palm branches lie forgotten
Soon to be swept away
Only the broken pieces
Torn and dismembered, stay.

Soon are the streets re-crowded,
Soon comes another cry:
No more resounds “Hosanna!”
Now it is “Crucify!”

Only the crushed and broken
Recognise such a king,
Walk through the nights of terror
To see what day will bring.

Waiting the tender promise
Of resurrection morn
It is death and darkness
Our one real hope is born.

I am a palm branch laid down
Under a donkey’s feet
Knowing that in his mercy
I shall be made complete.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Obedience isn’t easy. Sometimes it goes with the flow of things, or the exaltation that comes with bone-deep certainty. But other times it cuts against the grain of a person’s soul, scraping it raw like the rough stone of reality pushed up hard against it, stabbing it deep like the surgeon’s knife that must still remove the deadly tumour whether there is pain relief or not. But the one who steps forward, in and through that pain, finds such a glory of love on the other side that the light flows in them and through them, down to us on the far side of the years.

Picture a man, grey with the terrible burden of hope deferred, walking heavily up the mountain with a young lad by his side, carrying alone the terrible knowledge that the life of this long-promised child is required of him. He does not yet know that the angel of the Lord shall halt the proceedings, or that the ram caught in the thicket shall die in the child’s stead, a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God who will one day die for all, but he walks wearily up the hill. For how can he say no to such a God, even when his heart is breaking?

Moving forward in time, picture another man, barefoot in the desert because he has been ordered to take off his shoes on holy ground. He stands before the bush that burns but is not consumed, questioning the command he has been given by the transcendent God who meets him there. Who is he, a long time fugitive from Egypt, to appear before the throne of Pharaoh and request that the slave race should be set free? He is no silver-tongued orator to sway the heart of such a monarch, he is a man who failed before, and has eked out his years as a shepherd in the wilderness. Can’t God find somebody more suitable? Nevertheless he goes, empowered to do more than he  can dream or imagine, and history is changed and God is revealed as the Redeemer.

And here is another man centuries later, rubbing his eyes as he wakes from a strange vision. Why would God be asking him to break the Law and eat what is unclean? Then the meaning is revealed: God’s salvation is not just for an elite, nor race, nor gender, nor social caste can bar anybody from God’s great salvation, and thus he goes to the home of the gentile, where the Law had said he should not go, for now a greater than the Law had come, and in fulfilling the Law had stepped beyond it, and mercy was triumphant.

For there is one other man we must picture, whose terrible obedience gives the reason and the meaning to these others. For he kneels alone in an olive garden, in the bitterest hour of the night, and the sweat of his anguish falls from him like great drops of blood as he cries out in his agony, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done!” And beyond that choice lies public humiliation, gross injustice, excruciating pain and the desolation of God’s rejection. He is embracing death in its undiluted horror. But beyond those again lies wonder and glory and life and the redemption of the world. His love, his choice, his death, his resurrection give meaning and glory to every other hard choice which faith must make.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Remember oh man ...

The gritty taste,
Dry as death,
The least of things.
The parched and silent place,
Hope pulverised.

All things we hold
Come down to this
Blown from our fingers
By relentless wind.

Even tears
And dry lips stick together
Without sound.

And this we must remember,
Hold close:
The agony of emptiness,
The cruel breath of the grave,
The swiftness of forgetting,
The long undoing of the very self.
All that there is
In the dust-dry deserts of our night.

Remember too
This death leads on to Life