Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 (written 2005) The flames still strike, though the walls we hide behind for fear of fear and fire are more opaque, the cracks papered over with copies of The Times, The Age, The Advertiser, and Sunday Mail. It’s hard to speak an unknown tongue in such a spate of foreign news. The flames still burn, the words still form, though our upper rooms are more distant from the pilgrims in the street, and we who try to wait and pray are seldom together, huddled in corners, clutching our separate books of rules and forms more dear to us than any unbridled tongue the Spirit speaks. We light our small safe candles in lieu of risky flame, and mute ecstatic experience into private devotion. The wind still blows, but to fill the entire house it must batter doors, tear down shutters, rip the headphones from our ears, and television sets from the walls to let us see and hear. We still wait for resurrection while the Risen One walks unheeded through our walls, and raises wounded hands, and waits to breathe on us, to stir the flame and speak through us the words that can be heard.
From Autumn to Winter
From Autumn to Winter In middle May the seasons shift and winter looms in one bleak week while leaves still fall and twirl and drift. The south wind chills my wrinkled cheek and stirs the leaves to swirl and lift. I stand to watch them sifting down: some join the scatter on the ground, their fading gold among the brown, while others ride the wind around, and some still cling to summer’s crown. I see myself at this life stage: a part still clinging to the tree, that burgeoning of middle age, while I have dropped some parts of me that held me in like outgrown cage. Come, storms and cuts that shape and prune, reducing my unbalanced spread. The song birds still unfurl their tune from branches bare, or dry and dead, and leafless twigs can frame the moon. So I must stand in that cold breeze and let it strip the growth that’s past. The winter frost works change in trees, and rich soil forms where leaves were cast, so now I wait for buds and bees.
Destined to be lost – and found?
Destined to be lost – and found? John 17:12, Acts 1:15-17,21-26, Matthew 27:3-10, Easter 7 If one or some are destined to be lost in order that your word might be fulfilled, are they not also yours, O Lord? What cost to Judas when his desperate hope was tossed upon the temple floor with silver spilled? For when he saw his friend condemned to die, he tried to change his choice and buy him back, but “What is that to us?” was their reply. The silver bought a field where strangers lie, and Judas took his life at mercy’s lack. Did Jesus find him then beyond the grave, and offer absolution in his need, restoring him to love he still must crave? Can there be those eternal Love won’t save, those destined to be lost, not found and freed? There may be some with evil so imbued, they set themselves upon a path apart from God and love in some unending feud that gives no space to turn to life renewed, no chance to soften to a change of heart. Yet God still wills that love should save us all, and Christ can heal the ills that warp the mind. Nailed on the cross, he raised us from the fall the world has suffered under evil’s pall, restoring hope to all of humankind.
Joy in Love of Birds
I fell in love with cockatoos – head over heels, too moved to choose. A chord was struck, connections made: it felt as though a duet played. For several weeks I saw the blacks’ impressive wings and arrow backs, the stripe of gold beneath the tail. Their flight would snare my soul to sail. My time would halt to watch them eat with clicking beaks and grasping feet. Their yellow patch was a surprise – a clown-like touch below their eyes. But when they raised their regal crowns or flared their tails, forget the clowns; and when the pair embrace the sky, “O beautiful!” I call, and cry. One evening in the fading light, they passed above in low, slow flight, and something in me said “Farewell!” The seeds are gone and they depart, and I am left with longing heart. Then came a white with sulphur crest and raucous call. Soon four abreast on small bird bath, they bowed and drank. I laughed with joy, and prayed to thank.
Joy after Pain
Joy after Pain Easter 6, John 16:16-24, John 13 - 17 They didn’t know that supper was the last. He washed their feet, a sign they had arrived from those shared journeys that he knew were past. He taught in hopes his loving words survived. He spoke of joy that follows after pain, as when a woman labours to give birth, for that new life is worth the fear and strain, the primal surges, strong as quaking earth. His loss would pierce their souls as spear his side, but he assured them that he would return. He died betrayed, abandoned and denied, yet that last night he taught so we might learn that tomb and womb are both a sacred space from which new life emerges, gift of grace.
God is love
God is love (Easter 5 John 15:1-8, 1 John 4:7-21) All people who use language are second-hand word-mongers: we mangle words or varnish by buying into meanings to suit rival agendas. We fumble in our juggling, and truth becomes entangled with hurts to which we’re subject, and what one hears, another would never have imagined. So “God is love” gets twisted for some who hear “Our Father”. They might have had a parent, unreasonably controlling, whose harshness warps the nature of their resistant children. Then “God” and “love” seem hollow, and protest shapes a cynic whose love is sparse and godless. Yet “God is love” is speaking of wisdom sourced in wonder at what we see in Jesus – a God more than Creator, a wise and gracious parent: compassionate and caring for all that is becoming, forgiving finite creatures their limited awareness, their fear for their survival that warps their best intentions. When we abide in Jesus, it helps refine our loving. Our “me-first” competition for limited resources transforms into the service we base on his example. We give from our abundance, so grateful for receiving, and sometimes try to offer self-sacrificial caring not just to those we value, but enemies and strangers. When Jesus speaks of pruning, it’s not an angry stripping, but shaping for our fruiting with stronger upright branches that show the vine’s true nature. What falls away enhances resilience and balance. Since God is love, and Jesus embodies what such love is, when they abide within us our love will bear their image.
Anzac Day Sonnet
Anzac Day Sonnet for Sunday 25 April, Micah 4:1-4, John 15:9-17 To act in love entails some sacrifice when others’ needs outweigh our hopes for self. Then we may feel we’ve paid a heavy price, and seen what we could be put on a shelf. To act in nations’ conflict may require the risk of death, or flesh and mind in pain. Yet selfless acts of people under fire show some prepared to pay that price again. Now though we pray that war should be no more, and money spent on armaments be turned to save the planet and sustain the poor, yet genocide and terror must be spurned. Remember those who die at duty’s call, who in their love, like Jesus, give up all.
Jesus Appears to his Disciples
Jesus Appears to his Disciples Luke 36b-48, Easter 3
They felt a surge of joy to see him there,
but they were disbelieving, wondering still.
What contradictory creatures humans are!
We dare not enter fully into joy
for fear of the relapse, the dismal clunk
that brings us back to earth and dust to dust.
We’d rather shrink to temper joy with doubt,
anticipating cynical retorts,
than welcome, like a child, this glad belief.
“Why are you frightened, why do doubts arise?”
so said the one who never would grow old,
who had fulfilled what he had come to be.
The ones that he would leave would need the gift
for which they waited, vagrant spirit power,
as unpredictable as fire and wind.
Observe them posturing to grasp control
that Jesus in humility refused.
Though New Creation comes, in pride they erred,
and cast a shadow reaching to our feet,
where race and gender still find prejudice.
He opened minds to understand the Word –
such openness will bring us wisdom now,
though stuck in fear, some want to lock the doors,
and strengthen walls to keep them safe within.
He ate among them, as all flesh must eat,
for round that table all alike are one.
He let them see and touch the proof of wounds,
for God incarnate shares our finite flesh,
the pain which we inflict, and that which comes
at random, and the death that meets us all.
No wonder that our joy at risen life
is mingled with the ash of mortal fear,
and doubts arise in hearts that quail at death,
however joyful risen life may be.
“Look at my hands and feet, yes, touch and see,”
he said to reassure them in their doubt.
“You see, it’s I myself, in flesh and bone,
yet not constrained to finite time and space.
Live into death like birth, and follow me,
both here and where I wait for you beyond.”
2 Sonnets for Easter 2
The Need for Personal Experience John 20:19-31, Easter 2 “I won’t believe unless I see and touch,” says Thomas and the sceptics of today. No insight counts as real, no vision stirs: without the proof of facts, they turn away. Like Thomas, are they blinded by despair, and choose to grieve apart while others meet? Though friends say how they’ve seen the Risen Lord, no word he hears shifts Thomas from defeat; and yet perhaps he can’t resist the hope that what he doubts he yet may touch and see, and when those wounded hands reach out to him, he has no need to grasp what sets him free: his doubt is set aside in joyous prayer. God, let the sceptics see and touch him there. Wounds First version 14/7/2016, revised version 7/04/2021; John 20:19-31 Easter 2 So even in new life the wounds remain; for suffering shapes the truth of who we are. Reach out and touch the evidence of pain: the tracks of nail and spear may seem to mar his resurrected body, but they show perfection is no longer proof of worth; and though our souls are blind, our insight slow, reluctant to accept the signs of birth, he comes to us through walls and locks and cries: “If you still doubt, reach out and touch my hands!” In blood and body we may recognize he shares our wounds and always understands. In broken bread we dare to touch his pain. In wine poured out, we see forgiveness plain.
Easter Morning John 20:1-18 You know there are times that we drag our feet to a tomb of sorts. Our hopes have died, perhaps our love. We come to grieve, embalm the corpse, or touch the stone that seals in death and shuts us out. The tomb gapes wide and cracks our hearts. There’s no excuse to turn away and stumble off to find what’s left. Courage demands we enter in, wonder at bindings laid aside. Somehow that absence shocks our soul more than the dead requiring care. Out we go crying to vacant air. Tears and anger blur our eyes. A stranger comes and we accuse: “What have you done with what I loved! Give me remains that I need to tend, so I’ll spend my tears to some good end.” We may hear a voice that we thought was stilled whisper our name. The stranger becomes our closest kin. We turn to this teacher and try to cling. We cannot hold on to the one who ascends, but we are like Mary, commissioned to say that we have encountered the Risen Lord. The tomb is open and life is beyond.