Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Long Way

When you are leaving, you don’t realise that you may just be taking the longest route to get back home. But he was so aware of it now. The miles had seemed short and the road had promised so much on the day he walked out of his father’s house. Money and excitement had put t5he milestones close together, the air had been crisp, the sun shone brightly and there were no holes in his shoes. There had been fine wine to slake the dust of the road, and fine companions had been easily bought. The far country hadn’t seemed very far away at all!

But now it was different; so different that he would have been tempted to pinch himself to check its reality if several other parts of his body hadn’t ached so much. Odd really, since on this return journey he had nothing to carry except himself, a broken heart, and a massive sense of shame. But the road was dusty, the sun was hot, and the heat beat down on him remorselessly, like another weight to bear. His father’s house, that place of blessing and prosperity, seemed so very far away, as if every single step was climbing a great mountain.

And it was a mountain. Oh yes, the path was reasonably level, just the usual meanderings up and down hill, but the journey inside him was very different. He might have been leaving the place of his shame, but in doing so he was facing the reality of his shame, and discovering just how dark it was. It is a very steep climb to arise from the pigpen, knowing that you still carry it in your soul. The uncleanness had eaten into him, until there was no part of himself that was not corroded by disgrace. How could ever go back?

He had left in such high spirits, glad to cast aside the sober responsibilities of youth for the pleasures of self-indulgent carelessness. Only now did he realise that the ones who are free from care, and free from caring, are the very ones who should take the most care, for their path is very slippery. And he had slid down with the exhilaration of a mad child all the way to the bottom, into the pigpen of his misery. When a man gets to envying the very pigs for their food, there is not much lower he can go.

But he never made it the whole way home on those stone-bruised weary feet, for there was his father, rushing towards him as if he had to grab him fast before he could vanish again. But how could he look into those eyes? The light of love that beamed out of him was so terrible brightness served only to show his own darkness more clearly. He had to get the words out before he could turn and flees this terrifying forgiveness “Father I have sinned before Heaven and before you, I’m no longer worthy to be your son …”

But he never got all the words out. Everything he was, every wretched putrid sin that clung to him like a leper’s rags, was swept away by this relentless love. Before he knew what was happening, the robe was around his shoulders, the ring was on his hand, and the fatted calf was being led away to the slaughter. It was only then that he began to understand. Here at home, under the very roof where he was born, his father’s love had been waiting for him the whole time. But he had had to go via the far country to find it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The She-to-be

Far out beyond the waves of time
She sits and waits -- who is not yet,
Whose eyes shine like the purest stars,
Whose beauty I have never met.

Perfect in beauty, whole in trust,
Her eyes are never turned to me;
But fixed in joy upon the One
Who is her love’s entirety.

For Him the tattered broken tears,
For Him the struggle, even now,
For Him each ragged breath of pain --
Whose scarred hands shall en-crown her brow.

For Him .. for only what’s for Him
Shall be her own when she shall be
Entire at last; by His great love
Built from the broken shards of me.

Monday, May 04, 2015

No Longer Water

She knew he could do it, though she couldn’t explain how she knew. After all, he had never done anything like that before, and it wasn’t that she even had a clue exactly what it was that he could do about it. But, bone-deep and soul-certain, she knew it was a problem he could solve. And she knew that he cared. If there was one thing she was absolutely sure of, it was that if she cared about someone else’s pain and need, he cared infinitely more. It wasn’t that he did anything remarkable (well, not that kind of remarkable) or gave wild impassioned speeches, or any of the usual things you would expect, it was more that compassion, glorious, utter and complete, was the air that he breathed and the substance of his being. She had no words for such a thing, but her inmost spirit knew it and was often overwhelmed.

Yes, she knew he could do something, most of all because she knew, better than anyone else who was there, who he was. How could a mere thirty years blot out the memory of an angel, an impossible pregnancy, the fear and the shame, the wonder and the glory? He was from God, born as no other child on earth had ever been born, the child long-promised, the promise to-be-fulfilled. She loved him, she marvelled at him, she was totally confused by him. And now she must ask a favour of him, whether as mother to son, or as suppliant to one who was far above her.

She touched his arm and got his attention. “They have no wine,” she said.

They exchanged a look. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? It’s not my time yet.”

His words might have been reproachful, but she saw the dancing merriment in his eyes, and was unabashed. She slipped aside to the servants and instructed them to do whatever he asked, then drew aside to see what would happen. Sure enough he went over to the servants, and it was evident from their actions that he had asked them to refill the ceremonial jars with water. She wondered what he was doing.

They were huge jars, and it took a while to fill them. She hovered in the background, not wanting to get in the way, but too fascinated to turn aside. So she heard the moment when he instructed one of the servants to draw out some of the water and take it to the master of the feast. What?! And then she, and most of the rest of the room heard the master proclaim that this was the best wine, which, most unusually, had been kept till last!

Her eyes brimmed with tears of wonder. How? Why? But then, as she struggled to understand, the blurring of her tears resolved, just for a moment, into a vision of such solid clarity that she knew it was not of this world. It was another feast, far greater, far grander than anything she could have imagined. She could not see the face of the bride, who seemed to wear faces beyond number, but the face of the bridegroom was the face of her son, shining with a glory that broke her heart, and he was holding up a cup of wine. “Drink this,” he was saying.

Then her sight cleared and they were back in Cana. And she had no idea what it meant. But she treasured these things in her heart, and pondered them, until the day, much later, on the far side of agony, when their meaning became clear.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Easter Saturday

Here I wait,
In the opaque stillness,
In the smothered silence
Of my heart’s desire;
At the tide’s far point
Where the sand lies smooth,
And the taste of the waves
Is yesterday’s memory.
I have been bleached by death
Till the tatters fall away
And the bones lie clean and bare
Here I wait
For mercy
For my savage, certain hope
Of love to come and lift me to the light.

There you waited
In a place we cannot name;
While Your tortured body rested
Beyond the solid stone.
Gathering Life
Into Yourself
(Whose very self was life yet chose to die)
And the whole world waited
Desolate and grey
While, beyond the barrier,
Light laughed,
Awaiting the moment
To tear up death and take us in Your arms.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Oh Mark My Heart

Oh mark my heart, Lord, with your cross
Till nothing less will satisfy;
Until I count earth's gain as loss,
And, to my self, begin to die.

Until I know the tears, the pain,
Are worth it all, for you are God;
And, knowing that all else is vain,
Walk in the path which Jesus trod.

Till the proud heart and stubborn will
Are laid an offering at your feet
With heart and soul and mind; until
I yearn for my complete defeat.

That I might rise a conqueror, Lord,
O'er sin and self and Satan's host;
And find my heart's delight, reward,
In loving you the more, the most.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Sacrament of Listening

Under the covering of perfect love
Two faltering human souls come face to face
Taking of the blank masks that make them safe
Trusting their fragile selves to mighty grace.

Silencing the swift chatter of the mind,
Lowering the defences one by one;
To own the truth that is their own, not ours,
To own it fully, till their tale is done.

Stilling the vaunting ego’s petulance,
That cries out for attention constantly;
Hearing the heart behind the screen of words
In all its manifold humanity.

Trusting our weak selves to the Spirit’s power
Knowing that perfect Love knows everything;
Forgives, and overcomes, our brokenness,

And makes our awkward fumbling rise and sing.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Never Again

It was truly finished. The world had changed forever.

Never again would the blood of the innocent victim, spilled in murder, cry out for vengeance, as Abel’s blood had done; for the blood shed from before the foundation of the world had been shed now within the world, on a particular day at a particular time, and it cried out for mercy and forgiveness on its tormentors.

Never again would the earth be destroyed by flood, for the promise of mercy, offered by a rainbow, was fulfilled in darkness and terror, when the light of the sun was quenched in the middle of the day.

Never again would God require that a lamb, or some other young, unblemished creature, should be dragged to the temple, or bought in the temple courts for an exorbitant price. Never again would a man need to bring the creature, made nervous by the smell of blood, to the priest, place his hand on its head, confess his sins over it, and watch while the priest killed it and its blood was shed in payment for his sins, so that he could be reconciled to God. The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world had been slain, and His death was sufficient for every sin that every human being could commit. It was finished, and it was enough.

Never again would membership of God’s people be determined by one’s physical descent from Abraham. For the identity of the children of God was not determined by their physical birth and parentage. Instead, they must be born again of water and the Spirit, for those who received him, who believed in his name, had the right to become the children of God.

Never again would those children of God be under the bondage of the law which could not save them. For he had nailed it to the cross, and disarmed the powers and authorities. Instead they are called to walk in freedom, by the Spirit, bearing the beautiful fruit of the Spirit, love in all its aspects, and so fulfilling the law as they grow to be like their Lord.

Never again would the temple in Jerusalem be the dwelling place of God. For he had visited and redeemed his people. He had come to them in that upper room, where they hid away, with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of flame, symbols that recalled Mount Sinai, and now he would make his dwelling place in each and every one of his children. Sinful, struggling, broken human beings would become, each one, a temple of the Most High God.

And never again would death lord it over the human race, for one who was altogether man (and therefore mortal), and altogether God (and therefore perfectly holy and beyond the claims of death) would die, grievously and terribly die, and in that dying triumph over death. Death and the grave were defeated, for he rose from the dead to live and reign eternally, and his life was the light of men. And those who are willing to be crucified with Christ shall live and reign with him for all eternity.

It was finished. Things would never be the same again.