In the Garden
How slow the moments must have seemed,
there in the garden,
among the olive trees that moonlit night,
as the trees uplifted their branches
in the dappled light and shadow
like arms uplifted in prayer.
Only they managed to stay and watch with you.
The garden grew quiet as your followers fell asleep
one by one,
unable to keep vigil,
even though you asked,
Their gentle snoring was almost the only sound.
Did you see Peter
struggling to keep his eyes open,
John nudging him to stay awake,
only to succumb himself?
Was this, then, how it was to begin,
the isolation of the sacrificial victim,
The Father requiring you to give up everything that comforted
as you gazed into the gathering darkness,
even your companions in this long journey,
the witnesses to a loving God's concern.
No crutches or helpers then,
just you and the night.
How quiet it all was.
Did you begin to strain your ears
listening for sounds
of the gathering mob?
How hard was it then, to gather the mob?
Did not the law require
that those who accuse
to go forth and arrest
the one they accused?
But with time, they were gathered,
and there they went,
across the valley and up the hill,
with torches and swords,
some with fear,
some with envy,
some for the excitement.
Some no doubt believed they were right,
but he came, though,
because he had to,
having tested the truth of his Master,
then turned away
into the darkness.
What did they expect to find there
when they reached the garden,
besides an olive press
under the full moon?
Were they looking for outlaws,
armed with swords and knives,
plotters of inssurrection,
or theft, or
He thought he knew what they would find,
sleepy men, maybe,
or praying, keeping vigil in the night,
men who thought that he was their friend,
unaware of the moment of truth he was bringing,
sitting with their teacher.
Perhaps the thought of His face
gave him a twinge,
but he walked on.
How hard was it then, to enter that garden?
The gates were unlocked, and the crowd
pushed through with ease.
He came through first,
with a soldier behind him,
stepping around the sleepy forms of men he knew so well.
Andrew wiping the sleep from his eyes,
Matthew and James,
who started to call his name in greeting,
then noticed the crowd behind,
Thomas who became instantly alert,
Peter and John, standing in front of the man he had come to see.
Pushing them aside, then he found Jesus.
Was this the man he left, just a few hours ago?
His clothes were damp, like sweat, on this cool spring night,
but there was the smell of iron in the air,
a smell like blood.
So tired and haggard he had grown in just half an evening,
reddish rivulets had trickled across his face,
pale harbingers of what would come in the morning,
blood like sweat.
Looking at Him there,
Perhaps he wondered at his own audacity,
wondered why he had found it worth following Him,
wondered what he would think tomorrow,
wondered if he could change his mind.
With a sigh, Jesus looked up, and met his gaze.
No anger there, nor fear, but awareness of it all,
Love and a sad determination.
Perhaps it felt like a knife going through him.
"Master," said Judas, and moved forward to seal his fate.
Peter in the Courtyard
A nightmare night,
a night of shadows,
he sat there by the fire,
yet drawn to this place of danger
by a desperate desire to do something.
The darkness of his soul
how it matched the darkness of the night
as he sat by the fire
not listening to the jibes
of those who sat near him.
He stared into the fire
His world falling apart,
he thought there was nothing left but fear.
"No, I don't know him," he said,
the words escaping his lips
in an unstoppable reflex
of self preservation.
Fear and anger and anguish,
the darkness of the night,
the pain of waiting,
"No, you are mistaken!"
he chokes on the words, perhaps,
torn in two.
The third time with curses,
and then he sees
the eyes that know,
the eyes so tired, so sad,
the eyes touch his
with loving forgivness
and his soul plunges into the final darkness
as the cock crows.
Friday morning in spring, full moon time,
Was the weather mild or cool that day
While the judge sat there, contemplating a crime
As the crowd swelled the city, making their way
At Passover time?
Did the whisper pass from ear to ear
That morning about the trial,
While those in the know crowded in to hear
What others said with a certain bile
At Passover time?
How big was the crowd in the courtyard that day?
An unexpected spectacle to prove their worth
As Abraham's sons, their cries for death part of the way
To give a new covenant a birth
At Passover time.
How frail you must have seemed when he presented you
Bloody and beaten, crowned with thorn
to the angry crowd with their cries and their hue,
Looking not like a king, but a person to mourn
At Passover time.
As the sentence was passed and the verdict he gave,
They led you away to die by cross and by nail
A new passage of blood on life's lintel to save
By your sacrifice there as the women did wail
At Passover time.
The whip travels in a descending arc,
three thongs carrying weights of lead
double headed cargo
to increase the impact.
The hand that wields is
the rough and calloused hand
of a soldier doing a duty,
of whose back it was in front of him.
Perhaps as he swings,
he thinks of all the looks of disdain,
the women who turn away,
the men who spit when he passes
and they think he does not see,
this strange people
with their strange hates
and strange language
and strange god,
and in retalliation,
he swings harder.
Yet his hand is not alone
on the braided leather of the handle,
shadowed by every hand,
my arm swinging the leather,
my sin adding to the agony
of that blow,
my darkness slapping against his skin,
causing him to gasp for breath
as it bites
my weakness the lead gouges digging.
mea maxima culpa.
Once they mocked Him with a crown of twisted thorns,
the soldiers there,
a game to amuse themselves
while they passed the time,
to prove how secure they were in this foreign land
how much stronger,
how much in control.
No threat, He,
beaten, bloody, bound,
an interesting toy
to play with in the morning.
Now they mock Him
with a crown of twisted words,
those who choose to despise Him,
soliders in a different war,
yet still in need of games to amuse themselves with,
to prove how much wiser, stronger, smarter they are,
how they can turn their back on his open hand,
They look for ways to push the crown in deeper,
to add their spittle to His face,
other rags for Him to wear
so they can rip them off in mockery,
using Him as an interesting toy
to prove their independence.
And yet, despite of all their lies,
the tomb is still empty,
and the witness of God's mercy still lives,
passing from heart to heart,
life to life,
believer to believer.
Behold the Man
You stand there Lord,
before the haughty Roman judge,
Behold, says Pilate.
So frail you seem,
as you lift your bloodied head
and look upon this gathered crowd,
hungry as jackals.
Bruised and battered, the face
that looks out over the assembly
gazes not with hot hatred
or numb resignation of the broken,
but with love
and an unfathomable caring
that yearns to heal each of us.
Lord, I am not worthy to meet your gaze.
Have I not, like Peter,
Or like Judas, betrayed you;
Time after time, have I not
added to your stripes,
pierced your head
with the hard thorns of an unloving heart?
And yet here you stand,
pouring yourself out like a drink offering,
letting the cup be drained
until nothing is left.
Lord, you said the word to heal me -
let me never forget the price you paid.
Each step, each breath, each beat of your heart - pain.
The weight of the cross so heavy,
each step a small miracle of your perseverance,
the determination to pay that price,
no matter how shaky the legs,
how short the breath,
how much it cost to make each step.
This is how the Father does it,
the way he did not ask Abraham to take,
no sacrifice of the firstborn for his chosen people,
a gifting consumed by blood and fire.
But through you, his only-begotten,
laboring there beneath the crossbeam,
Your hair and face streaked with blood beneath the thorny crown,
face beneath the smears ashen with pain,
and the gathering doom in your chest,
already making you hungry for breath,
bearing the sins of the world,
each bruise, each welt merely a token of what they deserve.
as you walk,
the smell of blood and fear and sweat and death and pain
swirling around you,
our deaths, our pains, our griefs
on your one set of shoulders,
each movement crying out its pain,
only a foretaste of the pains ahead,
you slip away,
glorified indeed by the hands of your loving Father,
and in that new dawning,
hope born in the birthpangs we can only imagine,
you will stand glorified,
world without end,
Jesus About to Be Crucified
The last moment
when you stood upon the ground,
felt the dust beneath your feet,
and had the dignity of your clothes,
blood stained and dirty though they were,
did the women who offered you
wine and myrrh wonder at the gently look you gave them,
and the firm rejection
of the small mercy they offered?
Did the soldiers who prepared for your death,
hard men, they,
at your side since the procession began
wonder at how you were diferent,
as you calmly gave them the last of your wordly goods,
garment by garment.
Did they notice,
and did it make them angry,
who should have been cringing, cursing and crying
calmly waited for the next wave of pain.
Did those travelling into the city that day,
who could not help but see the executioners at work
call out in recognition,
in pity, or in scorn
as the soldiers
threw you to the ground and took out their hammer and nails?
the pain wraps around us,
like the rhythm
of the hammer fall
lodging in the wood.
oh the pain,
a woman crying out
as her loved one is slain,
a child shocked
at the blood
falling from a beheaded parent,
the armwrenching agony
as they hauled you,
nailed to the crossbeam
up up to the drop,
white pain electric
through your arms
as the beam found the mortise,
like the pain of the tortured
screaming beneath their captor's hands,
screaming as the electricity
screams through their bodies,
the pain of being stripped
of everything but the paim
and the stares
as they gambled,
waiting for the blood to fall
for the breath to end
like guards at a starvation ward
waiting for thirst to end his praying,
like nurses piling blankets high
in the name of mercy killing,
with each beat of your heart,
each hard sought breath,
like the pain of the deserted,
lost in the wilderness,
afraid of the hand of man,
victim of terror,
victim of rape,
victim of starvation,
scurrying by night
seeing her child die,
like your mother,
watching each last breath,
watching your death.
you wrapped yourself around it,
down to the bitter dregs,
and bore all the burden
of man's evil,
of man's inhumanity
down to the pit of death,
walking each step with us,
walking each step along with us,
and accepting that last, lone breath,
shattered the chain.
Lord, in our grief,
and tell us
as we unite with you,
as we live for you
you live for us,
and when the pain,
the last ache,
the last throb
is over and done,
you will take us
pain is banished.