I've quenched my lamp, I struck it in that start
Which every limb convulsed, I heard it fall
The crash blent with my sleep, I saw depart
Its light, even as I woke, on yonder wall;
Over against my bed, there shone a gleam
Strange, faint, and mingling also with my dream.
It sunk, and I am wrapt in utter gloom;
How far is night advanced, and when will day
Retinge the dusk and livid air with bloom,
And fill this void with warm, creative ray?
Would I could sleep again till, clear and red,
Morning shall on the mountain-tops be spread!
I'd call my women, but to break their sleep,
Because my own is broken, were unjust;
They've wrought all day, and well-earned slumbers steep
Their labours in forgetfulness, I trust;
Let me my feverish watch with patience bear,
Thankful that none with me its sufferings share.
Yet, Oh, for light! one ray would tranquilise
My nerves, my pulses, more than effort can;
I'll draw my curtain and consult the skies:
These trembling stars at dead of night look wan,
Wild, restless, strange, yet cannot be more drear
Than this my couch, shared by a nameless fear.
All black one great cloud, drawn from east to west,
Conceals the heavens, but there are lights below;
Torches burn in Jerusalem, and cast
On yonder stony mount a lurid glow.
I see men stationed there, and gleaming spears;
A sound, too, from afar, invades my ears.
Dull, measured, strokes of axe and hammer ring
From street to street, not loud, but through the night
Distinctly heard and some strange spectral thing
Is now upreared and, fixed against the light
Of the pale lamps; defined upon that sky,
It stands up like a column, straight and high.
I see it all I know the dusky sign
A cross on Calvary, which Jews uprear
While Romans watch; and when the dawn shall shine
Pilate, to judge the victim will appear,
Pass sentence yield him up to crucify;
And on that cross the spotless Christ must die.
Dreams, then, are true for thus my vision ran;
Surely some oracle has been with me,
The gods have chosen me to reveal their plan,
To warn an unjust judge of destiny:
I, slumbering, heard and saw; awake I know,
Christ's coming death, and Pilate's life of woe.
I do not weep for Pilate who could prove
Regret for him whose cold and crushing sway
No prayer can soften, no appeal can move;
Who tramples hearts as others trample clay,
Yet with a faltering, an uncertain tread,
That might stir up reprisal in the dead.
Forced to sit by his side and see his deeds;
Forced to behold that visage, hour by hour,
In whose gaunt lines, the abhorrent gazer reads
A triple lust of gold, and blood, and power;
A soul whom motives, fierce, yet abject, urge
Rome's servile slave, and Judah's tyrant scourge.
How can I love, or mourn, or pity him?
I, who so long my fettered hands have wrung;
I, who for grief have wept my eye-sight dim;
Because, while life for me was bright and young,
He robbed my youth he quenched my life's fair ray
He crushed my mind, and did my freedom slay.
And at this hour although I be his wife
He has no more of tenderness from me
Than any other wretch of guilty life;
Less, for I know his household privacy
I see him as he is without a screen;
And, by the gods, my soul abhors his mien!
Has he not sought my presence, dyed in blood
Innocent, righteous blood, shed shamelessly?
And have I not his red salute withstood?
Aye, when, as erst, he plunged all Galilee
In dark bereavement in affliction sore,
Mingling their very offerings with their gore.
Then came he in his eyes a serpent-smile,
Upon his lips some false, endearing word,
And, through the streets of Salem, clanged the while,
His slaughtering, hacking, sacrilegious sword
And I, to see a man cause men such woe,
Trembled with ire I did not fear to show.
And now, the envious Jewish priests have brought
Jesus whom they in mockery call their king
To have, by this grim power, their vengeance wrought;
By this mean reptile, innocence to sting.
Oh! could I but the purposed doom avert,
And shield the blameless head from cruel hurt!
Accessible is Pilate's heart to fear,
Omens will shake his soul, like autumn leaf;
Could he this night's appalling vision hear,
This just man's bonds were loosed, his life were safe,
Unless that bitter priesthood should prevail,
And make even terror to their malice quail.
Yet if I tell the dream but let me pause.
What dream? Erewhile the characters were clear,
Graved on my brain at once some unknown cause
Has dimmed and rased the thoughts, which now appear,
Like a vague remnant of some by-past scene;
Not what will be, but what, long since, has been.
I suffered many things, I heard foretold
A dreadful doom for Pilate, lingering woes,
In far, barbarian climes, where mountains cold
Built up a solitude of trackless snows,
There, he and grisly wolves prowled side by side,
There he lived famished there methought he died;
But not of hunger, nor by malady;
I saw the snow around him, stained with gore;
I said I had no tears for such as he,
And, lo! my cheek is wet mine eyes run o'er;
I weep for mortal suffering, mortal guilt,
I weep the impious deed the blood self-spilt.
More I recall not, yet the vision spread
Into a world remote, an age to come
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom
And still I saw that sign, which now I see,
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.
What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown,
His lineage doctrine mission yet how clear,
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn!
How straight and stainless is his life's career!
The ray of Deity that rests on him,
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.
The world advances, Greek, or Roman rite
Suffices not the inquiring mind to stay;
The searching soul demands a purer light
To guide it on its upward, onward way;
Ashamed of sculptured gods Religion turns
To where the unseen Jehovah's altar burns.
Our faith is rotten all our rites defiled,
Our temples sullied, and methinks, this man,
With his new ordinance, so wise and mild,
Is come, even as he says, the chaff to fan
And sever from the wheat; but will his faith
Survive the terrors of to-morrow's death?
I feel a firmer trust, a higher hope
Rise in my soul it dawns with dawning day;
Lo ! on the Temple's roof on Moriah's slope
Appears at length that clear, and crimson ray,
Which I so wished for when shut in by night;
Oh, opening skies, I hail, I bless your light!
Part, clouds and shadows! glorious Sun appear!
Part, mental gloom! Come insight from on high!
Dusk dawn in heaven still strives with daylight clear,
The longing soul, doth still uncertain sigh.
Oh! to behold the truth that sun divine,
How doth my bosom pant, my spirit pine!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I've quenched my lamp, I struck it in that start
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
The story of the prodigal son is so familiar, most of us could give the highlights of the tale if we were woken up in the middle of the night. Boy takes inheritance, goes and wastes it, comes back, father welcomes him, older brother gets mad, father tells him that he’s been welcome all along.
It’s interesting because as this story becomes familiar and as we hear about prodigals returning more and more often, we begin to miss the sharp edges of the story. The edges that made the story shocking to Luke’s original audience, the edges that made the story uncomfortable to Jesus’ original audience.
This story is full of inappropriate behavior. Let’s start with the younger brother. A man needed two sons to take care of him in his old age. Two sons were needed to keep track of the family land, to keep the lineage going, to uphold the family’s good name. When the younger brother asks for his inheritance, it’s unbelievably bad behavior. I’m talking, selling the fishing boat for cash to buy drugs and wrecking the car on the way to the drug deal and then trying to beat up the police officers before running naked down the highway kind of behavior.
When the younger son asks for his inheritance, he’s telling his father, “I wish you were dead already, so I could have what’s coming to me. But even if you were dead, I don’t respect you or the family enough to keep your property the way you want it.” So the father has to put out a for sale sign, so to speak, so that someone will buy half his land, so that he can give the younger son “what will belong to him.”
Can you imagine how this looked to the neighbors? That the son doesn’t respect his father at all. That the father must have messed up in raising the son to have this kind of behavior and surely has no spine to stand up to him now. Imagine how the clotheslines buzzed when word came back about the son’s behavior, all wine, women and song. And then, of all things, slopping pigs- the dirtiest of animals and the lowest of work.
Jesus’ audience would have cringed at these details and they would have expected the moral right about now to be about tradition and respect. But Jesus goes on. The father, already embarrassed and reduced in social standing, is moping about and spends times daily looking for his son. Maybe he goes to the market each day, instead of sending a servant, hoping to hear some news about his younger boy. He’s spending enough time watching the road that goes in and out of town, where he last saw his son skipping off into the sunset, that people have noticed and they click their tongues. Yet still, he waits until the day when he will either see that familiar gait, way of walking, even before he can recognize the face or until the day he dies, which ever comes first.
The son decides to come home. And as he’s rehearsing his speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” As he’s looking down and concentrating on one foot in front of the other, he’s suddenly bowled over by his own father who has run (run!!) out to meet him. For ears in the ancient world, this is one of the most horrifying parts of the passage. Men did not run. Older men, respectable men, men of a certain age, did not, for any reason, run. It was beneath their dignity and unimaginable.
But here’s this father, who perhaps has practiced speeches of his own, who is so relieved to see his son that propriety has no place. He sprints to his son and throws him back a few paces with a full tackle. He’s got his arm around his shoulders as he brings the son back up the road, past the gaping neighbors, past the shocked servants and into the cool of the house, away from the hot sun. Here he offers the young man a drink and then starts giving orders for a party, stat.
Jesus’ hearers were confused. This story is now well off the beaten path. There’s nothing here that makes any sense. A party? For this embarrassment of a son whom the father should have spat on and refused even to take as a servant? This son who disrespected his father so and who fed pigs (pigs!) had the nerve to come back?
And then here comes the older brother. The brother who has upheld the family name, who is enduring the embarrassment of his brother’s behavior and the public commentary on his father’s mourning actions. This brother has been out in the fields, hears a party getting started, sees the neighbors coming with covered dishes and asks a servant, “Hey, what gives?” The servant catches him up and the brother blows his stack. He makes such a scene and throws what my grandmother would have called a hissy fit. He refuses to enter the house.
So his father goes out to him. In the ancient world, hospitality was everything. How you treated guests in your home reflected your status and your social understanding. You would give guests food you had been saving, the good bowl or cup, the freshest straw. Hospitality was the cornerstone of society. To leave guests during a party one was hosting for any reason was very embarrassing and wildly inappropriate. But the father goes out, goes out to get his older son, who is devastated by anger.
And the father is shocked not by the son’s behavior, but because this son hasn’t realized that the same extravagance could have been his all along. Jesus’ listeners and Luke’s readers would have reached the end of this story and been appalled and overwhelmed. Was Jesus really saying that the kingdom of heaven would be like this? That pig feeders would be welcomed? That people should embarrass themselves in this way?
What was Jesus saying? And what does it mean for us? I’m sure you’ve heard the interpretation that some of us are prodigals and some of us are older brothers and that God, our Father, longs to welcome us all home. And this is true.
However, at some point, we will be each person in this story. At some point, you will be the prodigal. Maybe you won’t be considering pig slop, maybe you will just have gone far enough that the return trip to ask for forgiveness, to accept a reduced status, is humiliating to contemplate. It can happen when your spiritual life isn’t what it should be, when you’re estranged from a friend or family member, when you’ve wandered and squandered for whatever reason… we will all be the younger brother.
And at some point, we will all be the older brother. We’ll judge the people who don’t come to church as often, who don’t raise their kids the way we would raise ours, or who act in ways that are embarrassing to behold. We’ll be mad at who gets the same treatment as us, at who gets better treatment, at who gets the recognition we deserve, at who gets the party we didn’t ask for, but wanted someone to read our minds that we wanted. We will all be the older brother.
And at some point, we will all look down the road, hoping to see that figure coming back to us. We will have spent of ourselves extravagantly in a relationship, with a parent, friend, colleague, child, sister or brother, and they will have taken what we shared with them and left. We’ll try to move on. We’ll put on a brave face. We’ll stop talking about it when people want to stop hearing about it, but each day, we’ll look at our mailbox, our inbox, our answering machine, for a message in a bottle, a smoke signal or a distant approaching figure, thinking, “Maybe today is the day that they come back.” At some point, we will all be the father.
And in each of those times, at each of those places, our Creator is with us, calling us to the only true home we have. Down and out, dutifully working, regretful and mourning, Jesus remains with us. As John tells us, “Through him, we have received grace upon grace.” And it’s because of the grace we receive from God, that we are able to extend any kind of grace and love to one another.
How do we know love except that God first loved us? We can’t let the story of the prodigal become passé because it points to a kind of love that’s costly, embarrassing and everlasting. It’s a love that so rejoices in homecoming, a love that abounds in forgiveness, a love that throws aside social protocol to embrace an outcast, to embrace anger, to enfold hurt. It’s a love that is about the resurrection of relationships.
In the midst of what the world, ancient and modern, believes is powerful- money, physical might, death. The story of the forgiving father, the prodigal son, the self-righteous brother, is an embarrassing story. The story reveals a God who is willing to enter the world, take on human form, be down and dirty with all kinds of people, eat with sinners, touch lepers, talk to women, to overturn traditions. And the way the world responded to this God in Jesus was to say, “I want you dead.” But the way God responded, the way God responds, is to say, “But I want you to live.”
The story doesn’t go on to talk about when the father sat down and had a reckoning with either of his sons. Jesus didn’t offer an epilogue or a postscript. It’s just love. It’s a God who’s willing to go all out, no holds barred, if you don’t get it this time, I’ll give you one more chance, again and again. It’s a little embarrassing, this boundless love. There should be some people who just don’t receive it.
But it’s amazing love, amazing grace. Amazing grace for parents, for children, for sinners, for saints, for those who come to work early in the morning and those who join in but an hour before the end of the day. We think we know how the story of the prodigal works, but we don’t. Because, in reality, we’re surprised by grace… every time.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.
We sing this to an arrangement by Ralph Vaughn Williams. (Ralph's friends pronounce his name "Ray-fe".)