Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Autumn Twilight

The sun burns low upon the western sky
And winter draws its cloak around it, tight.
And, in this life of waiting and of love,
I sit and watch the dying of the light.

Time is the only rhythm that I know,
By heart and breath and clock to measure pace.
But always, just beyond the senses’ scan,
Eternity wears quite another face.

Those moments beyond time when stars stand still,
Or dance before a beauty we can’t see,
When love enables soul to touch with soul,
And we are stilled from our cacophony.

Therefore I walk this small and earthly span
In hope of glory far beyond my guess;
For every chill of cloud and fall of leaf
Recalls to me the great eternal Yes.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Man with a Burden

He had always believed that his shortness of stature was a horrible burden to bear. As a child he had been laughed at and picked on by boys who were bigger than him but no older; as a man he had been disregarded and overlooked until he found a way to make them take him seriously. In his world there were two things that made everyone sit up and take notice: money was one and the power of Rome was the other. And there was one way a rather clever nobody like him could use both of those to his advantage – become a tax collector for the Romans! Nobody would dare despise him then (or, at least, not to his face).

And it worked, well, mostly it worked. Nobody dared openly offend the man who set their taxes. And he gained wealth, much wealth. Of course by the standards of Jewish law it was dishonestly gained wealth, because Rome set the amount they wanted for the district and then he collected the actual taxes from people, setting them at levels that gave him a nice little excess he could keep for himself. Alright, to be completely honest (which he never was), it was quite a large excess, and he enjoyed all the privileges of wealth. The fact that people possibly liked him even less than in his bullied childhood was something he took care not to think about. Wealth and power certainly had their compensations. But somehow they hadn’t freed him from his burden, and he was no longer childish enough to blame his lack of height. It was like having an itch that he didn’t know how to scratch.

Then one day he heard a rumour that the Teacher, the strange new prophet called Jesus was coming to town. Normally such things were of little interest to him, but for some reason he felt he had to be there. But so, apparently, did other people; the roadside was already crowded and he couldn’t see over their heads. He knew, from bitter experience, that while no one would dare be openly aggressive towards him, there were one hundred and one ways they could passively express their disgust of him by just pretending they weren’t aware of his presence. There was no way they would let him through the front so that he could see anything.

But then he saw the solution – there was a large sycamore growing by the roadside. He was agile enough, he could easily climb it, make himself comfortable on one of the big branches, and peer out between the leaves. He would be above everyone else, and no one would even notice him. The thought pleased him and he climbed the tree.

And just in time, for Jesus was coming now. He was surprised at how excited he felt, but even more surprised when, a moment later, Jesus stopped, looked straight up into his hiding place, and called him by name. “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” The Teacher knew who he was and wanted to dine with him? Nobody had ever wanted Zacchaeus before.

He hurried out of the tree so fast that he almost fell. He realised that this was so important, so precious to him, that he didn’t want to give Jesus time to change his mind. Suddenly all his gold and silver didn’t seem so important. He did not yet know it, but his real burden, the burden of being despised and rejected, was about to be taken away forever. Still less did he know yet how Jesus would ultimately carry that burden for him. But he already felt like dancing.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Restoration

In the end is the beginning, in the loss we find the gain, from seeming defeat comes ultimate victory. True life is found on the other side of death, not by clinging relentlessly and hopelessly to this shadow of life we know now. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but life remains in the hidden places and is called forth to flourish once again. The history of the world is the story of restoration, in spite of every dark thing that evil works against it.

In the beginning there was a man and a woman, and there was also one who took the form of a serpent and beguiled them into sin and death and misery. But there was also God, and he had a better story to tell them and invite them into. It wasn’t the easy way, or the simplistic way, but it was the true way. It was the way of restoration.

And even through darkness and evil, some chose to follow that path. And there was a man called Abraham who left the glittering comforts of the world behind to walk with God beneath the stars. And to him there was given a glimpse of promises beyond his power to measure. But the road to restoration was not an obvious one for his descendants, it lay through exile and slavery, bondage and brokenness. But, in the fullness of time, through fear and wonder, they were restored to the land that had been promised, and became a nation.

And the centuries passed. And, in the pattern of history, there was gain and loss, exile and restoration. But God had a bigger plan, for he is not just their God, but the God of all that is. And so he came himself, the Creator entering creation; he came to his own and his own did not receive him. He did not come wearing any earthly splendour as a shoddy symbol of his majesty, he came as the least of these and was despised and rejected, for they still did not understand God’s way of restoration. And he died, shamefully and horribly, while the crowds jeered and mocked, and it seemed like the last frail thread of hope had snapped.

But this was all part of the plan of restoration, and the very thing that looked so like defeat was a mighty victory over sin and death and all the forces of destruction. The miracle had happened and the tide had turned.

But the work of restoration is not yet complete. The earth still groans and injustice and oppression stalk the world. And so we wait for the final act, the fulfilment of all that is.  We wait for a new heaven and new earth. We wait for a city of glory that will descend like a bride. We wait for every tear to be wiped away, and the splendour of the nations to come in. We wait for that joy which can never be taken away – never ever again. We wait for God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Time of Breaking

It is the time for breaking
Old platitudes depart;
We people-in-the-making
Must un-defend the heart.

It is the time of mourning
For what may never be;
Small truths no longer scorning
We face our finity.

It is the time for speaking
The words we could not say;
With no more image-tweaking
We face the light of day.

It is the time for grieving
The good we failed to do;
Too weak was our believing,
Too swift the moments flew.

It is the time for lighting
The lamps we need by night;
To read the wall’s strange writing
Demands a truer light.

It is the time of breaking
Our false strongholds of fear;
Hypocrisy forsaking,
For reckoning draws near.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Shadow of a Great brightness

There – not there!
Skittering at the edge of sight,
The shadow of a great brightness,
Wrenching my tear-filled eyes.

Have I seen truly?
Have I seen at all?
Ever, at all?
Moments of such illumination
My earth-sense doubts them real.

The shadow of a great brightness:
And, in our moon-struck folly,
We dare not whisper what we see,
Fearing the rolling of each other’s eyes,
Fearing the desecration of self-doubt,
Fearing, in fact, our own humanity,
In its amphibious state between the worlds.

There is more than meets the eye,
Yet we want our eyes to meet
In the shared language of our daily life
(Imagining that this is understood);
And the shadow of a great brightness
Remains our silent mystery.

Let us rather acknowledge that the limitation
Is rather in ourselves, who can’t else know
The things that great illuminations show –
Acknowledging we have so far to grow.

And the shadow of a great brightness
Is more real than sun and moon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Passover

We were so blind that night,
Our eyes tight closed against truths too big to bear.
We saw, and we did not see,
We knew and remained ignorant
We were like men who stared at the letters
But could not read the words.

Now, with our world reborn,
Now that we finally truly begin to understand
(A beginning that will continue into all eternity,
For who can compass the infinite?),
Now, when the pattern is complete and its glory is revealed,
Now we know it could be no other way.
It had to be the Passover.

It had to be the Passover.
He was the new Moses, the better-than-Moses,
Who would lead his people to freedom through darkness and terror,
Who would take us out of slavery into the fullness of the promises,
Who would show us the way to our true home.
And He was the paschal lamb
The one whose blood was spilled so that,
Though we should feel the bitter cold that flows from the wings of the Angel of Death,
Yet it would not touch us
And we need no longer be afraid.
And He was the unleavened bread in whom no hint of corruption lived,
And the bitter herbs became his crown of thorns.

It had to be the Passover.
Yet we were so blind.
We did not see how his every word, every gesture,
Was loaded with layers of meaning.
We did not see the sorrow and agony that lay beneath his gravity.
Nothing made sense to us then.

He took the bread and broke it.
“This is my body,” He said.
These were words that could tear the universe apart
And we simply took and ate.
We did not know that his body would be broken
So that we could be made one;
One with each other,
One with God Himself,
One with his purpose and his power.
(But, Oh, the horror of that breaking!)

And then He took the cup,
That solemn cup
Of ordinary wine,
“This is my blood of the New Covenant,
Poured out for many
For forgiveness of sins.”
We had no idea.
We were too afraid to ask.
But now we rejoice as the forgiven.

Every year we had spoken the words
Eaten the food
Remembered and remembered,
Drunk the wine
Remembered,
And never seen
It all was pointing forwards and not back:
Not to Moses but to Christ.

He made the blind to see.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Equipoise (Easter Saturday)

There is deep silence at the heart of things:
The still point at the swinging of the tide,
Pause between heartbeats, space between our breaths,
The first star that comes blinking to our view,
The hanging moment of the pendulum
Before it courses back, the equipoise,
The turning point when everything hangs still.

And thus with time: this day, the silent day,
The day between the days, when death and life
Hung equipoised in some eternal place,
The victory surely known, but not to us.
Your people waited, hushed, as audience,
Who did not know there was another act
Yet still gazed at the curtain in despair –
For surely, surely, this was not the end?

Therefore we wait in every turning point,
Between the breathing out and breathing in,
Between the understanding and the thought,
Between the darkness and the coming light,
The space that waits between our tears and prayers,
Knowing that you, yourself have been here too,
And sanctified our turmoil with your peace