Lent, Easter, and COVID-19

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Plunged into a time of such disruption, it can be difficult to feel that we are still in Lent. And while some disruptions demand more of our immediate attention than do others, Lent remains an annual interruption to our ‘normal’ modes of living, the reminder that while we are made for life, life neither precludes nor dulls the actualities of death.

We experience some of this twin reality, for example, in the way that unforeseen joy and absolute despair pair up in our lives. It is also a coupling we read about in the Easter narratives, and which we experience in the proclamation activities of baptism and eucharist. Each in their own way recalls that the tragedy of the grave is not territory of which God is unfamiliar, and anticipates that whatever comes next will be euchatastrophic. Such is the character of hope.

Such events bear witness also to an important and easily-forgotten truth; namely, that in this world there exists nothing stable, nothing wholly reliable, nothing immune from absolute vulnerability. This year, we are learning these same lessons in other ways. COVID-19 brings closer to home than we are comfortable with what is true for us always – that to be alive is to live continuously suspended over the abyss of nonbeing, upheld solely by the voice of one who even in his proximity to us remains a Stranger to us.

Some of us are already imagining a return to those death-denying routines upon which we depend to return life to normality. It’s hard to stay in Lent. It’s impossible to stay in Easter.

The French polymath Blaise Pascal (1623–62) famously suggested that ‘Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world’. Pascal’s words exhort us to a twin resistance – a resistance to becoming nostalgic for the past and a resistance to taking refuge in some imagined and enchanting future. It is, in other words, a call to stay with Christ wherever Christ is, however unbearable that proves to be. This too is the call of Lent, and of Easter. May this call be met with a response of our faith, however fragile.

Image: Douglas Purnell, ‘C-V 1’, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 122 cm. Private collection, Sydney. Used with permission.

A little MacKinnon for Lent


‘In every Eucharist the death of Christ is shown forth sacramentally, and we are made partakers of His merits and His life. But in the liturgical cycle of Lent and Passiontide, the rejection and the Passion of the Son of Man are presented to us, as it were, no longer as the ground of our access to the Father and the source of our reconciliation and sanctification, but as a series of historical events. In our approach to the Eucharist, though it is through the sacramental oblation of Christ’s sacrifice that we do honour to the Father, acknowledging His sovereign dominion, inevitably we think more of the substance of that offering than of the accidents of its historical (or sacramental) embodiment. Yet in Passiontide we are led by the sovereign wisdom of the Church to attend to the individual details of that supreme confrontation of the Light of God with the darkness of this world. We realize that in that moment, when the fallen natural order was so mightily invaded by the transcendent majesty of God, and the powers of darkness overthrown in the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary, it was through the action of particular historical individuals that the full strength of the kingdom of Satan assailed the kingdom that came in Jesus. Judas, Pilate, Caiaphas are concrete, historical individuals. They are not, as so many well-intentioned Holy Week addresses suggest, merely abstract types of pride, compromise, envy. For, if we treat them so, we lose altogether the insight that the Passion would afford us into the historical mission of the Body of Christ’.

– D. M. MacKinnon

advent: two poems

‘Advent’, by Donald Hall

When I see the cradle rocking
What is it that I see?
I see a rood on the hilltop
     Of Calvary.

When I hear the cattle lowing
What is it that they say?
They say that shadows feasted
     At Tenebrae.

When I know that the grave is empty,
Absence eviscerates me,
And I dwell in a cavernous, constant
     Horror vacui.

– Donald Hall, ‘Advent’, in The Back Chamber: Poems (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.

‘A Praise in Advent’, by Arnold Kenseth

See, as we stumble in the Advent snows,
God comes to fathom us. He sends his Son,
A gentleness by whom our fear’s undone,
A jubilance who overcomes our woes.

At first, we hold him in the ancient picture:
Skoaled by great angels, crooned by watching beasts,
Thick-footed shepherds by his side, deep frosts;
Love’s history: for you and me hope’s texture.

Now he is with us, at our village stones,
Fingering the mortar, testing. His mirth
Assaults our streets, and daily he goes forth
Troubling our elegant houses with unknowns

That were and are before whatever is
Began to be. By him was made the air,
Sparrows, eagles, Asias, the sweet despair
Of the free mind. All honest things are his.

He is the holy one we waited for, the Word
Who speaks to us who stammer back, the plot
Against the rich and poor, the Gordian knot
Our wit cannot untie. He is time’s Lord.

Thus, shall we sing him well these Christmas days
And at his birth-feast practice with him praise.

– Arnold Kenseth, ‘A Praise in Advent’, in The Ritual Year: Christmas, Winter, and Other Seasons: Poems (Amherst: Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 1993), 90.

‘They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection’

There is something here within us
Which doesn’t let us sleep,
Which doesn’t let us rest,
Which doesn’t stop pounding
Deep inside,
It is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,
it is the sad gaze of the children
fixed there beyond memory,
in the very pupil of our eyes
which during sleep,
though closed, keep watch
with each contraction
of the heart,
in every wakening

Now six of them have left us,
And nine in Rabinal,
And two, plus two, plus two,
And ten, a hundred, a thousand.
a whole army
witnesses to our pain,
our fear,
our courage,
our hope!

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because every evening
though weary of killings,
an endless inventory since 1954,
yet we go on loving life
and do not accept their death!

They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because we have felt their inert bodies,
and their souls penetrated ours
doubly fortified,
because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
who carry the strength
to reach the finish line
which lies beyond death.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they will not be able to take away from us
their bodies,
their souls,
their strength,
their spirit,
nor even their death
and least of all their life.
Because they live
today, tomorrow, and always
in the streets baptized with their blood,
in the air that absorbed their cry,
in the jungle that hid their shadows,
in the river that gathered up their laughter,
in the ocean that holds their secrets,
in the craters of the volcanoes,
Pyramids of the New Day,
which swallowed up their ashes.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas’ fear.

They have threatened us with Resurrection,
because they do not know life (poor things!).

That is the whirlwind
which does not let us sleep,
the reason why sleeping, we keep watch,
and awake, we dream.

No, it’s not the street noises,
nor the shouts from the drunks in the “St. Pauli,”
nor the noise from the fans at the ball park.

It is the internal cyclone of kaleidoscopic struggle
which will heal that wound of the quetzal
fallen in Ixcán,
it is the earthquake soon to come
that will shake the world
and put everything in its place.

No, brother,
it is not the noise in the streets
which does not let us sleep.

Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!

To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already

– Julia Esquivel, ‘They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection’ in Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan (Elgin: The Brethren Press, 1982), 59–61.

‘Death and Resurrection’

I am your double man, though first you will
Me one estate: this meadowed flesh my bones
Do comfort in; the blood’s warm brooks that hill
And waterfall me through; my browsing senses
Nostriled for adventure, five unicorns
That rampant in me run; the mind’s huge barns
All attic’d overhead with my pretenses,
All cellared underneath with my unknowns.

And here I landlord, jubilant a while,
To store up meanings in the bins and ricks,
A sundial farmer faithful to my rites
As morning robins: except my brother, sin,
Prides in the yards and warfares at the gates.
And then my countryside is stones and sticks
And straw, and death soon wooden fences in
The ruined body of my land all still.

Yet you recover me from my disgrace.
This little ground I am, this cipher earth
I corner in, this night that densely nights
Me down to stay; you mine-field with the sun,
The fuse as long as love, the burst a birth,
A second world after the blackout’s done:
And out of my debris you timber heights,
And into my despair you hammer grace.

– Arnold Kenseth, ‘Death and Resurrection’, in The Holy Merriment (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 61.

Living Easter Faith: a reflection on Luke 24.13–35

Easter is always a surprise. Whether Easter meets us in the bustle of busy-ness, or in the deep surges of grace overturning tragedy in our lives, or in the celebration of the eucharist, or in the world with its tsunamis, earthquakes, assassinations, tornadoes, and wars, Easter is always a surprise. And it’s the kind of surprise – thank God – that invites, even shocks, us into waking up, to having our eyes pried open, to recognising that the world in which we fell asleep no longer exists.[1]

And our waking up births new questions: How will we learn to walk in the new reality that Easter’s dawn has opened up? And how shall we proclaim the reality that in the raising of the dead Jesus God is inaugurating the re-creation of all things, and that a new politic is at work in the world? And how shall we avoid being stuck at Good Friday as custodians of the crucifixion, or on Holy Saturday with decimated hopes sealed in a sarcophagus?[2] And what does it mean for us to join Cleopas and his unnamed partner on the road of broken dreams when the very embodiment of our expectations for liberation is walking right beside us … and when – in spite of his imminence – our eyes are kept from recognising the incognito God?[3] In other words, how might we live with both familiarity and mystery, with recognition and doubt? And what might it mean that in the absence of Jesus, it is the presence of the Spirit who makes life meaningful?

Luke tells the story of those who have bet their lives on the wrong messiah. And so, confused as much as anything about the recent events birthed in Jerusalem’s corridors of power but played out on a cross outside of Jerusalem’s walls and around Joseph of Arimathea’s ‘rock-hewn tomb’ (Luke 23.53), these two hit one of the ancient city’s outbound roads and head to Emmaus, a village about 11 kilometers from Jerusalem. Like the others, these two sorry disciples are heading back to fishing nets, back to tax offices, back to missed appointments, back to familiar territory, back to how things were before Jesus interrupted their lives. Carrying their bag of unanswered questions with them, they are on the road that will return them to what T.S. Eliot called ‘the human condition’, a condition marked by the maintenance of a ‘common routine’ and an avoidance of ‘excessive expectation’.[4]

They confess in v. 21: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’. That hope is now gone. It is hope in the past tense. This story is about those who have held on to Jesus’ message, but whose lives are now in limbo because God’s plan seems to have run out of steam. It’s about those of us who can’t quite get our minds around Easter. And it’s about those who mourn in post-Christendom bewilderment, wondering how God’s promises relate to the relentlessness of institutional decline.

And as we read this text together, we’re tempted to keep our eyes on the two disciples, tracing their movement towards hope and faith. But Luke turns the spotlight onto Jesus. It is Jesus’ actions which provide the impetus for the narrative. And Jesus’ first action is simple but profound. We read in v. 15 that Jesus simply ‘came near and went with them’. It’s an unremarkable sentence, until we remember that this is just 10 verses after the resurrection. Here is Jesus, fresh from the domain of death, out on a dusty road, still seeking and saving the lost. Frederick Buechner says of this text:

You’d have expected a little more post-resurrection fanfare – an angel choir filling the sky with a Hallelujah chorus perhaps. But instead, Jesus is pursuing two sad pilgrims on a dusty road to a little village out back of beyond. He comes in the middle of all their questions. It’s the sheer ordinariness of it all that is so striking.

What a stunning reminder that God is both closer and stranger than we think. As Buechner put it,

Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but … at supper time, or walking along a road. This is the element that all the stories about Christ’s return to life have in common: Mary waiting at the empty tomb and suddenly turning around to see somebody standing there – someone she thought at first was the gardener; all the disciples except Thomas hiding out in a locked house, and then his coming and standing in the midst; and later, when Thomas was there, his coming again and standing in the midst; Peter taking his boat back after a night at sea, and there on the shore, near a little fire of coals, a familiar figure asking, “Children, have you any fish?”; the two [people] at Emmaus who knew him in the breaking of the bread. He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.[5]

Luke places Jesus with us on the road of our confusion, and tiredness, and frustration, and discouragement, and cynicism – when every ounce of hope has been wrung out of us, and his presence alone is all we have left. And even though we don’t really know who he is, we let him talk, and his words begin to peel away the calluses on our unbelieving hearts.

‘Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’, Jesus said. ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ In other words: ‘Where have you been all your life? You go to synagogue every week. What Bible have you been reading? Don’t you know your own story? Don’t you remember how, in the economy of God, that even death is no obstacle to God’s determination to bring life to every citadel where death reigns? Maybe those women spouting stories about an empty tomb aren’t so crazy after all’.[6]

But the rebuke is only the beginning! Jesus then walks these pilgrims through Moses and all the prophets. Just as he had done in his hometown synagogue, and just as Philip would do a few years later with an Ethiopian seeker, Jesus directs them to the Scriptures. Why? Because Scripture is the cradle in which we hear the living voice of God.[7] And to hear that voice is to know something of what the two Emmaus pilgrims experienced – our hearts burning within with the very life of God.

And their response? From v. 28:

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. (vv. 28–31).

The disciples on the road fail to recognise him, even in the Bible study. And when they do finally recognise him at the cracking of bread crust, Luke tells us that he ‘vanished from their sight’.[8] It’s easy to miss these few words. The moment of recognition lasts just long enough to surprise, to remind, to reassure, and to release vision and energy enough for a lifetime. Like those first disciples, we too wish he would stay longer, we long for more permanence. Yet, whatever else faith is, it cannot be chronic certainty.[9] Jesus refuses to be contained by us. Even when he makes himself known, he remains strangely elusive, free of our attempts to constrain him, to shape him into our image, to enlist his support for our own cultural, theological and political agendas. And he rejects all our attempts to create an image of an unbroken, impartial and unambiguous God. Jesus will not have us live by sight. The constituents of Easter faith are wonder and surprise, risk and trust, voluntary vulnerability, and contentment with hints of truth and glimpses of glory. That walk to Emmaus could have left the disciples where they were – bewildered, resentful, and at a loose end. But a stranger drew near, and he walked with them, and won confidence enough to not only speak, but to be listened to, and on being asked to stay longer he welcomed their welcome, and shared their meal.[10]

And this brings us to another thing to notice: Recall the first meal in the Bible.[11] ‘The woman took some of the fruit, and ate it; she gave it to her husband, and he ate it; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked’ (Gen 3.6–7). And now Luke is describing the first meal of the new creation: ‘When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight’. The resemblances here are startling. But what is more astonishing is that the couple at Emmaus discover – through the breaking open of Scripture and in the breaking open of bread[12] – that in Jesus the Christ, the long curse has been broken, that God’s new creation, brimming with life and joy and unforeseen possibility, has burst in upon the world of decay and death and sorrow.

But this table fellowship does not erase the memory of the past, so much as recall the way that in Jesus Christ the entirety of our history – with its shame, betrayal and failure – is gathered up in the reconciling love of God made concrete in Jesus Christ. So Rowan Williams notes how, for both St John and St Luke, the resurrection meals

echo specific occasions of crisis, misunderstanding, illusion and disaster. They “recover” not only the memory of table-fellowship, but the memory of false hope, betrayal and desertion, of a past in which ignorance and pride and the rejection of Jesus’ account of his destiny in favour of power-fantasies of their own led the disciples into their most tragic failure, their indirect but real share in the ruin of their Lord. Yet Jesus, even as he sees their rejection taking shape, nonetheless gives himself to his betrayers in the breaking of bread. The resurrection meals restore precisely that poignant juxtaposition of his unfailing grace and their rejection, distortion and betrayal of it.[13]

Here, Word and Sacrament redefine life for us, challenging our assumptions about Jesus, and about his message of radical love rather than revenge for our enemies, because it is only as we love that we see the nature of the God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6.35).[14] ‘Oh, how foolish … and how slow of heart’ the world has been this week to hear this message. To claim Easter faith is to claim the great alternative to the way of death. Easter faith recognises God’s passion for the life of every person threatened by death. And Easter faith participates in love’s process by getting up out of the apathy of misery and out of the cynicism of prosperity, and fighting against death’s accomplices – the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of those who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped and the refugee; the noisy death that strikes through tomahawk missiles and torture chambers; and the soundless death of the apathetic soul. This is the protest for life that the Word and Table call us to, and equip us for, and keep us from turning to death’s tools to accomplish, and from losing heart.[15]

The promise of this text in Luke is that Jesus will meet his beloved through the opening up of Scripture and ‘in the breaking of the bread’. There is no hocus pocus here, as if Scripture and Holy Communion are some magical elements by which we can manipulate God. Rather, there is only the promise of the God who in the freedom of love confronts us again and again and again in Jesus Christ, leading us into God’s future, and joining us wherever we read the Bible and share bread and wine together.

I finish with a poem:

We walked into the sunset
brooding our deep loss,
sure that the best days of our lives
lay dead behind us.

We talked around the rumours
spread by our small group,
but feared to embrace the good news
lest it be false hope.

A stranger then overtook us,
travelling our road,
he unfolded the truths and loves
our grief had betrayed.

Our hearts trembled within us
for the faith we’d lost,
we reached an inn at sundown
wanting to break fast.

We sat at table together
to share cheese and bread,
he took up the loaf and broke it
and out danced the dead![16]

[1] The eruption of newness in which we find ourselves is itself birthed by an event entirely original and unpredictable and even inconceivable. The resurrection of the dead Jesus is an event which so shatters all of our explanatory categories that no one story, no one account, can adequately capture what it means. Whether we think of the story in John’s gospel about the resurrected Jesus penetrating locked doors, or of Matthew’s description of earthquakes and of frightened soldiers, of resurrected bodies coming out of the tombs and entering Jerusalem en masse, or this account in Luke’s Gospel. In contrast to Matthew and John, Luke has no resurrection appearance at the sight of the tomb. See Christopher F. Evans, Saint Luke (London: SCM Press, 2008), 901–4. The NT communities are straining to find words to adequately bear witness to an event about which words betray their limit. So Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978), 107: ‘There is not any way to explain the resurrection out of the previously existing reality. The resurrection can only be received and affirmed and celebrated as the new action of God whose province it is to create new futures for people and to let them be amazed in the midst of despair’. But of the fact that the early disciples are amazed and eager to bear witness to the things that they had seen and heard concerning Jesus there can be no question. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the themes of perception and response play such a central role throughout Luke’s Gospel. And even in this chapter, we see that despite the clarity of Jesus’ prophecies, the empty tomb leads to mixed evaluations. It seems that it is only with the direct intervention of Jesus in the Emmaus scene that the possibility of truly seeing who Jesus is is strengthened. See Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, et al.; The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 841.

[2] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 418. The French philosopher Simone Weil once said that ‘if the gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me’. I think that Weil was challenging the common but shallow assumption that the resurrection makes life easier for those who believe. It doesn’t. For one of the realties that the NT paints is that the reaction to the news that ‘Christ is risen!’ suggests not confirmation and relief but disturbance and disorientation. Those first disciples were like the walking wounded after an explosion, and their subsequent witness was as overwhelmed as it was overwhelming. That’s why those courtroom-inspired ‘proofs’ of the resurrection are so misconceived and insipid. They not only fail to resolve the insurmountable literary and historical problems of the Gospel texts, but they turn the irreducibly mysterious into the demonstrable and manageable, as if the resurrection were under our control and for our consolation. See Marva J. Dawn, ‘”Behold! It Came to Pass,” Luke 24:13–35 – The Third Sunday of Easter’, Journal for Preachers 28, no. 3 (2005).

[3] On the journey metaphor in Luke see James L. Resseguie, Spiritual Landscape: Images of the Spiritual Life in the Gospel of Luke (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004).

[4] T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1950), 139: ‘The condition to which some who have gone as far as you/Have succeeded in returning. They may remember/The vision they have had, but they cease to regret it,/Maintain themselves by the common routine,/Learn to avoid excessive expectation’.

[5] Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 77; cf. Frederick Buechner, Now and Then (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 86–7: ‘There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not recognize him … See [your life] for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, and smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace’.

[6] Corbin Eddy, Who Knows the Reach of God?: Homilies and Reflections for Year A (Toronto: Novalis, 2001), 142. Modified.

[7] To be sure, Scripture, like every gift of God, can be misused – whether to claim the superiority of one race or ethnic group over another, or to propagate anti-Semitism, or to sanction horrendous acts of violence and ethnic cleansing, or to justify the subordination of women to men and related acts of domestic violence. But received rightly, it is in Scripture that we hear the very voice of love. See René Girard, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 278: ‘Western culture as a whole, whether Christian or post-Christian, … is moving further and further away from Christ … It is struggling to rid itself of Christ for good. But at the very point when it is under the impression of moving in quite a different direction, Christ is to be found beside it, as he has been for a long time, “opening the Scriptures”’.

[8] See Buechner, A Room Called Remember 7–8: ‘[Christ] is our shepherd, but the chances are we will never feel his touch except as we are touched by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life and each other’s lives. He is our pilot, our guide, our true, fast, final friend and judge, but often when we need him most, he seems farthest away because he will always have gone on ahead, leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path to follow. And the world blows leaves across the path. And branches fall. And darkness falls. We are, all of us, Mary Magdalene, who reached out to him at the end only to embrace the empty air. We are the ones who stopped for a bite to eat that evening at Emmaus and, as soon as they saw who it was that was sitting there at the table with them, found him vanished from their sight’.

[10] That Jesus longs to share his hospitality – the hospitality of the Triune God – with us there can be no doubt. That he does so through Scripture and Holy Communion is the testimony of a Church two millennia old. That the hospitality of God might be the hospitality of travelling strangers becomes the doorway to grace. And here in Luke’s telling, the willingness of this stranger on the road to enter the space of another – our space, our history, our limitation – recalls a level of trust and hope almost entirely foreign to us. That Cleopas and his companion welcome this stranger into their home expresses a deep vulnerability. And yet it is precisely in this moment of encounter, this moment of tangible love that embraces the brokenness of betrayal and the fragility of human hope, that the rays of Easter sunlight come burning away the frost that has rotted the human mind and made cold the human heart. And weary travellers are revived, and their hearts renewed.

[11] See N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 296–8.

[12] A key word here is ‘revelation’. ‘Revelation is’, as one writer put it, ‘the clue that enables one to put together the disparate experiences of life into a meaningful, coherent whole, to see a pattern and purpose in human history, to overcome the incongruities between what life is and what life ought to be’. John H. Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 30.

[13] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982), 39–40.

[14] This point is well made in John Howard Yoder, Nonviolence: A Brief History. The Warsaw Lectures (ed. Paul Martens, et al.; Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 89.

[15] Jürgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless: The Word of Liberation for Today (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 123–6. For all kinds of reasons Luke’s Emmaus narrative of that troubled journey and its resolution, touches into those deep places of our human experience, those parts of our journey that are also troubled, from which we don’t emerge unscathed or unchanged. But in the breaking of bread, the Guest becomes the Host, our eyes see, and our souls are fed – and life is nourished again towards wholeness. So Walter Brueggemann, Living the Word: How Do We Practice an Easter Life? [nd (cited 30 April 2011)]; Online: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj1105&article=how-do-we-practice-an-easter-life: ‘The walk with the risen Christ is an ongoing process of having our anxiety transformed in faith, and our despair transformed in hope. While our anxious, despairing world is inevitably self-destructive, the church alternatively lives in buoyant faith and daring hope that issues forth in an emancipated life in the world’.

[16] Bruce Prewer, ‘Emmaus’ in Beyond Words: Reflections on the Gospel of Luke (Melbourne: The Joint Board of Christian Education, 1995), 62.

Revenge (‘keeping faith with the dead’) or Reconciliation (keeping Easter faith)?

In light of events dominating the news, there’s an interesting reflection by Michael Ignatieff in a book written in response to the Balkan crisis of the 1990s. In The Warrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience, Ignatieff argues that the virtue which underlies and motivates revenge is simply the matter of ‘keeping faith with the dead’. This is something known to us all, whether givers or objects of terror. He writes:

‘The chief moral obstacle in the path of reconciliation is the desire for revenge. Now, revenge is commonly regarded as a low and unworthy emotion, and because it is regarded as such, its deep moral hold on people is rarely understood. But revenge – morally considered – is a desire to keep faith with the dead, to honour their memory by taking up their cause where they left off. Revenge keeps faith between generations; the violence it engenders is a ritual form of respect for the community’s dead – therein lies its legitimacy. Reconciliation is difficult precisely because it must compete with the powerful alternative morality of violence. Political terror is tenacious because it is an ethical practice. It is a cult of the dead, a dire and absolute expression of respect’. – Michael Ignatieff, The Warrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988), 188.

The Church, of course, is the child of the narrative at the heart of which is reconciliation, a narrative which is ‘difficult’, to be sure, but whose Author makes it possible to ‘from now on … regard no one from a worldly point of view’ (2 Cor 5.16), to live hopefully by the word that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ (2 Cor 5.19), and to rejoice in the vocation of being ‘Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us’ (2 Cor 5.20). Such is a narrative is difficult to live by because, as Ignatieff notes, it exists in relentless competition with ‘the powerful alternative morality of violence’.

Jürgen Moltmann, in The Power of the Powerless, bears witness to this ‘difficult’ way, a way which lives not from that narrative that is passing away but from what Moltmann calls ‘the superabundance of God’s future’:

‘The Easter faith recognizes that the raising of the crucified Christ from the dead provides the great alternative to this world of death. This faith sees the raising of Christ as God’s protest against death, and against all the people who work for death; for the Easter faith recognizes God’s passion for the life of the person who is threatened by death and with death. And faith participates in this process of love by getting up out of the apathy of misery and out of the cynicism of prosperity, and fighting against death’s accomplices, here and now, in this life. Weary Christians have often enough deleted this critical and liberating power from Easter. Their faith has then degenerated into the confident belief in certain facts, and a poverty-stricken hope for the next world, as if death were nothing but a fate we meet with at the end of life. But death is an evil power now, in life’s very midst. It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of the people who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped; the noisy death that strikes through napalm bombs and torture; and the soundless death of the apathetic soul. The resurrection faith is not proved true by means of historical evidence, or only in the next world. It is proved here and now, through the courage for revolt, the protest against deadly powers, and the self-giving of men and women for the victory of life. It is impossible to talk convincingly about Christ’s resurrection without participating in the movement of the Spirit “who descends on all flesh” to quicken it. This movement of the Spirit is the divine “liberation movement,” for it is the process whereby the world is recreated. So resurrection means rebirth out of impotence and indolence to “the living hope.” And today “living hope” means a passion for life, and a lived protest against death … Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s rebellion. That rebellion is still going on in the Spirit of hope, and will be complete when, together with death, “every rule and every authority and power” is at last abolished (1 Cor. 15:24). The resurrection hope finds living expression in men and women when they protest against death and the slaves of death. But it lives from something different – from the superabundance of God’s future. Its freedom lives in resistance against all the outward and inward denials of life. But it does not live from this protest. It lives from joy in the coming victory of life. Protest and resistance are founded on this hope. Otherwise they degenerate into mere accusation and campaigns of revenge. But the greater hope has to take living form in this protest and resistance; otherwise it turns into religious seduction … Easter is a feast, and it is as the feast of freedom that it is celebrated. For with Easter begins the  laughter of the redeemed, the dance of the liberated and the creative play of fantasy. From time immemorial Easter hymns have celebrated the victory of life by laughing at death, mocking at hell, and ridiculing the mighty ones who spread fear and terror around them. Easter is the feast of freedom. It makes the life which it touches a festal life. “The risen Christ makes life a perpetual feast,” said Athanasius. But can the whole of life really be a feast? Even life’s dark side – death , guilt, senseless suffering? I think it can. Once we realize that the giver of this feast is the outcast, suffering, crucified Son of Man from Nazareth, then every “no” is absorbed into this profound “yes,” and is swallowed up in its victory. Easter is at one and the same time God’s protest against death, and the feast of freedom from death. Anyone who fails to hold these two things together has failed to understand the resurrection of the Christ who was crucified. Resistance is the protest of those who hope, and hope is the feast of the people who resist’. (pp. 123–26).

Robert Frost was right; we have a choice. That choice, in this case just as in others more domestic, is between Revenge (‘keeping faith with the dead’) and Reconciliation (keeping Easter faith):

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.

Around the traps: under grey skies repatriated

Friday, and Sunday: Easter according to a five-year-old

‘Anyway’, she said, ‘it’s all about Jesus’.

‘But what about the empty tomb?’, asked her theologian father.

‘We don’t worship the tomb, daddy’, she said. ‘Jesus is the bit that matters’.

‘So why is there a cross?’

‘Because people always seem to forget about that bit, and because that’s how Jesus remembers himself to us’.

‘But what about the yellow bit?’

‘Ah. That bit is just to make it pretty, silly’.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body.
If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the
amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of
enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will
eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the
dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not make it less monstrous,
for in our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

– John Updike, ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’, in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3.

David Bentley Hart on the rude interruption

resurrection‘Nietzsche, the quixotic champion of the old standards, thought jesting Pilate’s “What is truth?” to be the only moment of actual nobility in the New Testament, the wry taunt of an acerbic ironist unimpressed by the pathetic fantasies of a deranged peasant. But one need not share Nietzsche’s sympathies to take his point; one can certainly see what is at stake when Christ, scourged and mocked, is brought before Pilate a second time: the latter’s “Whence art thou?” has about it something of a demand for a pedigree, which might at least lend some credibility to the claims Christ makes for himself; for want of which, Pilate can do little other than pronounce his truth: “I have power to crucify thee” (which, to be fair, would under most circumstances be an incontrovertible argument). It is worth asking ourselves what this tableau, viewed from the vantage of pagan antiquity, would have meant. A man of noble birth, representing the power of Rome, endowed with authority over life and death, confronted by a barbarous colonial of no name or estate, a slave of the empire, beaten, robed in purple, crowned with thorns, insanely invoking an otherworldly kingdom and some esoteric truth, unaware of either his absurdity or his judge’s eminence. Who could have doubted where, between these two, the truth of things was to be found? But the Gospel is written in the light of the resurrection, which reverses the meaning of this scene entirely. If God’s truth is in fact to be found where Christ stands, the mockery visited on him redounds instead upon the emperor, all of whose regal finery, when set beside the majesty of the servile shape in which God reveals Himself, shows itself to be just so many rags and briars. This slave is the Father’s eternal Word, whom God has vindicated, and so ten thousand immemorial certainties are unveiled as lies: the first become last, the mighty are put down from their seats and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away. Nietzsche was quite right to be appalled. Almost as striking, for me, is the tale of Peter, at the cock’s crow, going apart to weep. Nowhere in the literature of pagan antiquity, I assure you, had the tears of a rustic been regarded as worthy of anything but ridicule; to treat them with reverence, as meaningful expressions of real human sorrow, would have seemed grotesque from the perspective of all the classical canons of good taste. Those wretchedly subversive tears, and the dangerous philistinism of a narrator so incorrigibly vulgar as to treat them with anything but contempt, were most definitely signs of a slave revolt in morality, if not quite the one against which Nietzsche inveighed—a revolt, moreover, that all the ancient powers proved impotent to resist.

In a narrow sense, then, one might say that the chief offense of the Gospels is their defiance of the insights of tragedy—and not only because Christ does not fit the model of the well-born tragic hero. More important is the incontestable truth that, in the Gospels, the destruction of the protagonist emphatically does not restore or affirm the order of city or cosmos. Were the Gospels to end with Christ’s sepulture, in good tragic style, it would exculpate all parties, including Pilate and the Sanhedrin, whose judgments would be shown to have been fated by the exigencies of the crisis and the burdens of their offices; the story would then reconcile us to the tragic necessity of all such judgments. But instead comes Easter, which rudely interrupts all the minatory and sententious moralisms of the tragic chorus, just as they are about to be uttered to full effect, and which cavalierly violates the central tenet of sound economics: rather than trading the sacrificial victim for some supernatural benefit, and so the particular for the universal, Easter restores the slain hero in his particularity again, as the only truth the Gospels have to offer. This is more than a dramatic peripety. The empty tomb overturns all the “responsible” and “necessary” verdicts of Christ’s judges, and so grants them neither legitimacy nor pardon’. – David Bentley Hart, ‘God or Nothingness’ in I Am The Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments (ed. Carl E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 64-66.

Where, Then, Is the Sting?

Oh death! Where is thy sting?
Dread venom of lowest hell,
Brewed in the bitterness of hatred,
Where is thy sting,
Distilled from violence of rebellion,
Compounded of saddest separation?
This is death’s sting, and yet
Where, oh where, death, is thy sting?

Where does the sting incise,
Where pour out its poison,
Ghastly, grisly, doom-dealing, deadly?
In it the shame and pain of
Fruitless remorse, dull anguish,
Dry tongue cleaving, tears destroyed
In lethal cynicism, passion against God,
Rustlings of memories bringing horror,
And the incoming, ravaging darkness-
This is death’s sting.
Yet where, oh death, is thy sting?

How then the irrevocable loss
Of the holy, heavenly being-
Man brilliantly lit by God,
Pulsing in glory? How, where, is this loss?
Down in the mocking strata of death,
The leering, gaping grin of the grave,
The stench of corruption, glory-failure
And no-being in God. This is the sting.
Yet, oh death, where, where is thy sting?

The sting is in him. Look up
(All ye that pass by). Look and see.
Do not let the divine drama pass over you,
Be over you, be gone. Look up!
There, writhing with the sting. Oh yes,
Human enough to suffer and divine
Enough to bear. Look up and see,
All ye who pass by. See where death’s sting
Was and is no more.

If a man stay and look, he will see.
If he pass by, then in a moment
He will pass by love, and will never see.
He will miss the miracle
Hid in the grim gallows. He will bypass
Love reaching out with cool arms
To embrace the sin-fevered.
He will pass by, not knowing
Where the sting has gone.

Where is death’s sting?
In him:
Annulled and made void: nothing.
Its poison absorbed, destroyed.
Death tried to conquer. This it could not.
This sting in man is death, fiery,
Anguish and flame of hell,
But in him-after the suffering-
Exploded myth of destruction.
In him the fire of death
Blazed to expending, and expended.
Then death, where is your sting?

Ask not, ‘Where is the deathly sting?’
For it is destroyed, absorbed into nothingness
By love’s holy power. Now
It is only life, life flowing,
Life in quality replete, surging up
Out of the empty tomb. Christ’s grave,
Empty through grace, is the wide room
Of man’s new spirit. Man is in life.
Man is enthroned in the heavens,
Having entered into his glory
Through man’s suffering. Man is high.
Gone then is death’s sting.
Void in the victory-the ancient
Annulled victory of the grave.
Oh, death, where is thy sting?

Geoffrey Bingham, 1991

The Scapegoat and the Trinity

While I don’t concur with every idea in this Good Friday sermon by Hans Urs von Balthasar (for example the notion that ‘that there is room in [the Triune life] for all the alienation and sin of the world’; some things simply just need to be destroyed and are beyond redemption or reconciliation!) I was greatly encouraged reading this sermon today and thought it worthwhile reproducing here that others may also be encouraged.

‘Nearly two thousand years ago a trial took place that resulted in the death of the condemned man. Why is it that, even today, it will not allow mankind to forget about it? Have there not been countless other show trials down the years, particularly in our own time, and should the crying injustice of these trials not stir us up and preoccupy us just as much as that ancient trial at the Passover in Jerusalem? To judge by the constant and even increasing flood of books and discussions about Jesus, however, all the horrors of the extermination camps and the Gulag Archipelago matter less to mankind than the sentencing of this one innocent man whom, according to the Bible, God himself championed and vindicated—as is evident from his Resurrection from the dead.

The question is: Was he the one, great and final scapegoat for mankind? Did mankind load him with all its guilt, and did he, the Lamb of God, carry this guilt away? This is the thesis of a modern ethnologist, René Girard, whose books have attracted much attention in America, France and recently in Germany. According to this view, all human civilization, right from the outset, is constructed on the principle of the scapegoat. That is, men have cunningly invented a way of overcoming their reciprocal aggression and arriving at an at least temporary peace: thus they concentrate this aggression on an almost randomly chosen scapegoat and appoint this scapegoat as the sacrificial victim, in order to pacify an allegedly angry god. According to Girard, however, this divine anger is nothing other than men’s reciprocal rage. This mechanism always needs to be set in motion again after a period of relative peace if world history is to proceed in any half-tolerable way; in this context it reached its absolute peak in the general rejection of Jesus by the gentiles, the Jews and the Christians too: Jesus really did take over and carry away the sins of all that were loaded onto him, in such a way that anyone who believes this can live in peace with his brother from now on.

Girard’s ideas are interesting; they bring the trial of Jesus to life in a new way. But we can still ask why this particular murder, after so many others, should be the conclusive event of world history, the advent of the end time? Men have cast their guilt onto many innocent scapegoats; why did this particular bearer of sins bring about a change in the world as a whole?

For the believer the answer is easy: the crucial thing is not that this is an instance of our wanting to rid ourselves of guilt. Naturally, no one wants to admit guilt. Pilate washes his hands and declares himself guiltless; the Jews hide behind their law, which requires them to condemn a blasphemer; they act in a pious and God-fearing way. Judas himself has remorse for his deed; he brings the blood money back and, when no one will take it from him, throws it at the high priests. No one is prepared to accept responsibility. But precisely by attempting to extricate themselves, they are convinced by God that they are guilty of the death of this innocent man. Ultimately it is not what men do that is the determining factor.

The crucial thing is that there is Someone who is both ready and able to take their guilt upon himself. None of the other scapegoats was able to do this. According to the New Testament understanding, the Son of God became man in order to take this guilt upon himself. He lived with a view to the “hour” that awaited him at the end of his earthly existence, with a view to the terrible baptism with which he would have to be baptized, as he says. This “hour” would see him chained and brought to trial not merely outwardly; it would not only tear his body to pieces with scourges and nail it to the wood but also penetrate into his very soul, his spirit, his most intimate relationship with God, his Father. It would fill everything with desolation and the mortal fear of having been forsaken—as it were, with a totally alien, hostile and deadly poisonous substance that would block his every access to the source from which he lived.

It is in the horror of this darkness, of this emptiness and alienation from God, that the words on the Mount of Olives are spoken: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. ” The cup of which he here speaks is well known in the Old Testament: it is the cup full of God’s anger and wrath, which sinners must drink to the dregs; often it is threatened or forced upon unfaithful Jerusalem or enemy peoples like Babylon. The cry from the Cross is uttered out of the same horror of spiritual blackness, the cry asking why God has forsaken this tortured man. The man who cries out knows only that he is forsaken; in this darkness he no longer knows why. He is not permitted to know why, for the idea that the darkness he is undergoing might be on behalf of others would constitute a certain comfort; it would give him a ray of light. No such comfort can be granted him now, for the issue, in absolute seriousness, is that of purifying the relationship between God and the guilty world.

The man who endures this night is the Innocent One. No one else could effectively undergo it on behalf of others. What ordinary or extraordinary man would even have enough room in himself to accommodate the world’s guilt? Only someone who is a partner of the eternal Father, distinct from him and yet divine, that is, the Son who, man that he is, is also God, can have such capacity within him.

Here we are faced with a bottomless mystery, for in fact there is an immense difference between the generating womb in God the Father and the generated fruit, the Son, although both are one God in the Holy Spirit. Nowadays many theologians say, quite rightly, that it is precisely at the Cross that this difference becomes clearly manifest: at this precise point the mystery of the divine Trinity is fully proclaimed. The distance is so great—for in God everything is infinite—that there is room in it for all the alienation and sin of the world; the Son can draw all this into his relationship with the Father without any danger of it harming or altering the mutual eternal love between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Sin is burnt up, as it were, in the fire of this love, for God, as Scripture says, is a consuming fire that will not tolerate anything impure but must burn it away.

Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for him, the less he has merited it. As we have already said, there is nothing familiar about it to him: it is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, he suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of him, to have lost him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering “hell”, for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after his death.

Nor can we say that God the Father “punishes” his suffering Son in our place. It is not a question of punishment, for the work accomplished here between Father and Son with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit is utter love, the purest love possible; so, too, it is a work of the purest spontaneity, from the Son’s side as from the side of Father and Spirit. God’s love is so rich that it can also assume this form of darkness, out of love for our dark world.

What, then, can we do? “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” It was as if the cosmos sensed that something decisive was going on here, as if it were participating in the darkness invading the soul of Christ. For our part, we do not need to experience this darkening, for we are already estranged and dark enough. It would suffice if we held onto our faith in a world that has become dark all around us; it would be enough for us to be convinced that all inner light, all inner joy and security, all trust in life owes its existence to the darkness of Golgotha and never to forget to give God thanks for it.

At the very periphery of this thanksgiving to God, it is legitimate to ask that, if God permits it, we may help the Lord to bear a tiny particle of the suffering of the Cross, of his inner anxiety and darkness, if it will contribute to reconciling the world with God. Jesus himself says that it is possible to help him bear it when he challenges us to take up our cross daily. Paul says the same in affirming that he suffers that portion of the Cross that Christ has reserved for him and for other Christians. When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns. And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless—then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity. When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see (nor can we even manage to regard it as true), namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world’s pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God. Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God’s love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: “My Lord and my God.”‘

Hans Urs von Balthasar, You Crown the Year With Your Goodness: Sermons Through the Liturgical Year (trans. Graham Harrison; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 82-6.

One Kneeling, One Looking Down

Part of my meditation on this Good Friday has been focused around a poem by Australian poet Les Murray. The poem, One Kneeling, One Looking Down, was inspired by an aboriginal legend in which a man was killed, and then raised from the dead by his two wives. In order for this ‘resurrection’ to happen, both wives had to agree on it. Murray’s poem depicts a moment of engagement between the two wives: the older wife wanting to have her husband back and the younger one resisting. Apart from the obvious echoes of the Easter narrative (not least the two women, the many impossibilities, freedom through death, etc), Murray’s piece also invites the reader to experience something of the fear and hope, sense of betrayal and renewed possibilities, that the Easter narrative explores. Of course, one does not want to push the echoes too far. Part of my meditation today was on ‘seeing’, even re-writing, the poem’s episodes as a Trinitarian event in the life of God. In this, we not only have one kneeling (in faithful obedience) and one looking down (in pained delight), but also one holding him up in that kneeling posture. But again, one does not want to push the echoes too far …

Anyway, here’s the poem:


Half-buried timbers chained in corduroy
lead out into the sand
which bare feet wincing Crutch and Crotch
spurn for the summer surf’s embroidery
and insects stay up on the land.

A storm engrossing half the sky
in broccoli and seething drab
and standing on one foot over the country
burrs like a lit torch. Lightning
turns air to elixir at every grab

but the ocean sky is troubled blue
everywhere. Its storm rolls below:
sand clouds raining on sacred country
drowned a hundred lifetimes under sea.
In the ruins of a hill, channels flow,

and people, like a scant palisade
driven in the surf, jump or sway
or drag its white netting to the tide line
where a big man lies with his limbs splayed,
fingers and toes and a forehead-shine

as if he’d fallen off the flag.
Only two women seem aware of him.
One says But this frees us. I’d be a fool –
Say it with me
, says the other. For him to revive
we must both say it. Say Be alive. –

But it was our own friends who got
him with a brave shot, a clever shot. –

Those are our equals: we scorn them

for being no more than ourselves.

Say it with me. Say Be alive. –

Elder sister, it is impossible. –
Life was once impossible. And flight. And speech.

It was impossible to visit the moon.

The impossible’s our summoning dimension.

Say it with me. Say Be alive again. –

The young wavers. She won’t leave
nor stop being furious. The sea’s vast
catchment of light sends ashore a roughcast
that melts off every swimmer who can stand.
Glaring through slits, the storm moves inland.

The younger sister, wavering, shouts Stay dead!
She knows how impossibility
is the only door that opens.
She pities his fall, leg under one knee
but her power is his death, and can’t be dignified.

From Les Murray, New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), 450-1.

haunted … until Easter

‘Since my early teens, I have been haunted by the sense of the emptiness of worldly values and the futility of worldly achievements in the face of their inevitable annihilation in death and, eventually, the death of the solar system. The pasing years have placed more and more of what significance life held for me behind me. Nostalgia and resistance to change were sea-anchors intended to secure me against the wind-drift which carries everything toward the edge of the world. But Easter has begun to mean the presence of Yahweh in the face of that actuality to end all actualities. The resurrection has come to represent the treasuring up of the concrete achievments and actual values to which history has given birth, negotiating at the cost of death itself the impasse thrown up by the concrete failures and actual evils to which history has given birth. Under the sign of the name of Yahweh, Easter has led me no longer to resist time and not to a flight from this world but to a positive valuation of and commitment to this-worldly actions in the knowledge that they are “not in vain” in Yahweh.’ (J. Gerald Janzen)