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 in 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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Three Gardens for Ash Wednesday

Here in the garden
The place man meets with God,
Where the trees hang heavy with destiny,
The birds are silent with wonder,
And the little creatures come,
Bringing peace,
And the truth is not evaded.

Two trees:
What are two among so many,
In the place God walks with man?
In the dew-clad silence,
Heavy with fruit-scent,
Where the serpent flaunts,
Creation waits
For the wrong choice to be made.
And a river of tears flows forth to flood the world.

The silent bells toll out man’s dreadful doom.

Another garden,
Gloomed with twisted olives,
Many trees to shelter
The man who’ll hang on one,
Writhing in such prayer.
The little creatures wait,
Deep in the silent shadows.
Watching the breathless moment
When love embraces death.

The hushed bells whisper of man’s dawning hope

Only one tree
In that final garden
Where all the trees are one,
Where blood is wine,
Life unquenchable flows,
The very leaves
Are healing for the world;
Here bride and bridegroom walk
In wondering joy

And bells and trumpets ring man’s hope fulfilled.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Looking Back (WWI)

So much is washed away:
A century of pain
Has buried all who knew,
And made things new again.

So much remains, remains:
A century of woe
Has woven in the stains
Wherever stories go.

So much is overgrown:
A century of grass
Covers the shattered bones
Under the feet that pass.

So much is told, is told:
A century of books
Sifts and then relegates
To where man overlooks.

So much we know in part:
A century of blood
Drowning the human heart
Crushing our cry for God.

So much we can’t escape:
A weary century
Echoes the same old strains
Repeating endlessly.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Woman in the Background in the Movie

In the grey light of winter,
There on the city street
The people go their several ways
With dreary, dragging feet.

And there, soft in the background,
She waits against a wall,
Her face looks out across the crowd
and wears no fear at all.

Her face folds like a flower
That waits the kiss of sun,
Yet turns in hope towards the sky
When sunshine there is none.

The young they nerve their courage
To battle with their fears;
But she has walked much longer
And left behind her tears.

There, in the rush of evening,
While others chase release,
She leans against a pillar
Enfolded in her peace.

The clouds of war will gather,
The rain of bombs begin,
But, steadfast in the darkness,
She bears her light within.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


So much gets locked away:
Things the flesh cannot say,
Dreams of the night and day,
Thoughts that no longer stay,
Feelings that won’t obey,
Questions that twist and sway,
Music that lost its way.

Nobody can express
All the ways hearts digress:
Places we cannot guess,
Dreams that we must compress,
Thoughts that we carefully dress,
Hiding the wildering mess,
Yet longing to possess
Maps of its vast largesse.

Something akin to shame
Hides what we cannot name,
Thinking we’re all the same.
Yet what we cannot tame
Burns like a hidden flame,
And, though we would disclaim,
Fearing ourselves to blame,
Is where the wonder came.

Thus we walk into light
Fearing to bring to sight
What we glimpsed in the night
Straitened to set aright
What is our secret fright
Yet in our fear’s despite,
Hesitant and contrite,
The Knower sets us right.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The Faithful One

He stood there and watched the daylight turn to darkness in the middle of the day. It was a fearful thing, but he hardly noticed. His heart was already shredded, the light was already going out, and darkness seemed only fitting. At least there was no sparkling sunlight or laughing breeze to mock his grief. There was mockery enough from the lips of those who had gathered round the foot of the cross to rejoice in his Master’s death. “You saved others, but you can’t save yourself!” (said in a tone of such superiority and cool sarcasm that it made the bones of his skull grate with tension) was probably the least and kindest thing that came from their mouths. And these were supposed to be the religious leaders of Israel! How could he ever respect them after this? They were as deaf and blind as the ears of corn that would soon be waving in the fields. Jesus had healed the sick, fed the hungry and made the blind to see; and their response was to rejoice in his agony.

He tried to shut out their voices as he stood there with the women. Those mocking jeers were like the braying of a thousand devils, and yet, he had never noticed before how terribly monotonous cruelty actually was. It could inflict, cast down and destroy, but it could not build up or create. Somehow that was a thread of comfort, even in so great a desolation. They could take away his Master, but they could never take away what his Master had said and done, they could never take away his kindness, his wisdom, his single-minded courage. Above all, they could never take away his love, or the answering love in John’s heart. But they had taken away his Master, and right now John was not sure he could ever forgive them for that.

But what was this? Jesus was speaking. It cost him so much torment to turn breath into words, so every word was infinitely precious. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And, once again, he turned John’s heart inside out. Ho could … No, stop right there. He could, and he did. There had never been any difference between Jesus’ teachings and his actions. It was one of the things that set him so apart from everyone else.

He noticed Jesus’ mother staggering under the pain, and put a supportive arm around her. Then he looked up and saw that Jesus was looking straight at them. And, again, he spoke: “Woman, this is your son,” he said to Mary, then, with effort, he moved his eyes to John. “This is your mother,” he said. In spite of everything, John lifted his chin a little. If this was the Master’s last command to him, he would give his whole self to honouring it.

And the dreary hours of his desolation passed, until, with a loud cry, Jesus said “It is finished!” What was finished? For John it seemed like the whole world was finished and done for. Yet he could not surrender totally to his pain. He had a reason to keep going, he had Mary to care for.

He did not know how short a time it would be until his world began again; that on Sunday morning the whole world would begin again, transformed forever, and that he would be among the first to witness the truth. For now he must walk through the darkness, and wait …