Lent 4; Numbers 21:4-9; John 3: 14-21
Does God send snakes to kill complaints,
or do creation’s laws enact
symbolic harm on corporate spite?
To foul our nest will make us ill,
polluted air will steal our breath,
and poison tongue lets venom bite.
Yet with that fate comes remedy,
for one man prays and then obeys.
Perhaps he questions what he heard:
A snake of bronze on which to gaze?
Is that an idol? God forbid!
Yet Moses does what seems absurd.
Perhaps God’s boundless thought delights
in paradoxes that confound
the limits of our human sight.
Then someone tries a curious cure:
vaccines are made from viruses –
transforming illness sets us right.
Though our addictions try to turn
awareness from great loss or death,
the cross of Christ confronts our eyes.
Can Son of the Immortal One
share mortal fate? Yet through the tomb,
Love gives the world new life’s surprise.
Lent 3, John 2:13-22, Luke 12:32
If he came to our churches on Sunday
to be awkwardly greeted as stranger
would he fashion a whip for our cleansing,
would we cringe from his anger as danger?
Would he drive out conservative? liberal?
or upend those who balance on fences?
What offence might he take, at what practice?
Would he shake up our pews or our senses?
Would he tear up my poems and sermons,
say, “You fiddle while so much is burning!”?
Would he throw out projectors or prayer books,
call for change or a zealous returning?
No, I hope he would gather us round him,
knowing how we are raw and confounded,
how we’re shaken and cast down by failure,
how we fear that our death knell is sounded.
He will say, “Little flock, don’t be fearful,
for the kingdom will keep coming nearer,
and your efforts and gifts won’t be wasted:
what you lose is renewed and made clearer.
For the pattern of Easter is central:
out of death comes abundance of living;
that’s the secret of all new creating.
Nothing’s lost from our loving and giving.
See my body in people not buildings!
Know I’m with you in doubts and believing!
Stir up zeal for compassion and justice!
Learn to listen and wait for receiving!
So my brothers and sisters, keep hoping!
Seek the way and the truth, open-hearted,
and be ready for future unfolding!
I am in you: we cannot be parted!”
1. Climbing up there's no time to complain
we are sore but too breathless to speak.
Surely God can be near on the plain!
Tell us, why then seek God on a peak!
As for Jesus, he smiles and moves past,
and we scramble to keep him in range.
Then the view spreads before us at last:
all the world far beyond us and strange.
Refrain: Let us stay, Lord, in the brightness!
Keep us here, Lord, on the height!
We would build, Lord, on this rightness!
Love and prophecy name this sight.
2. Now see, something has changed in the light;
in our weariness, vision has stirred:
there’s a brightness too strange for our sight,
and half-heard, there’s a resonant word.
As for Jesus, he smiles and he glows,
speaking wisdom with those of the past,
and half-waking, we sense what he knows:
that God’s glory is here, first and last.
3. There’s the vision of Moses in cloud
on the mountain receiving the law,
and Elijah where silence was loud –
prophet’s burden to name what he saw.
As for Jesus, he smiles through his tears
as the voice says: “My Son, I’m well pleased!”
though we fall to the ground with our fears,
now our doubts and confusion are eased.
4. Then we want to stay there, where it’s clear
that tradition and vision give hope.
God says: “Listen to him!” and we hear
– but it’s gone beyond us and we mope.
As for Jesus, he turns and descends
to the clamour of people in need;
and he faces the cross where it ends –
and begins again. Now we must lead.
(for Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38 written 27 August 2020)
“Get behind me Satan!”
he said to one he valued
as rock to build a church on:
worth noting just how quickly
key insights get distorted
by our survival instinct
and lustful need for power
to do away with suffering
and concentrate on winning.
“Oh! Get behind me Satan!”
he said to something in him:
a desperate human longing
to say pain must not happen,
to ask that God forbid it.
He fears that he might stumble
upon the block of safety:
be tempted to act godlike
instead of truly godly,
escape the mortal price tag
of death outside the city.
Cry: “Get behind me Satan!”
Alone upon the mountains
and in the midnight garden
he prayed for dispensation:
“Please let this cup pass from me!
Let’s do without communion
with blood and broken body.
Impervious and immortal,
I’ll lead a better empire
without the need for dying.”
“No, get behind me Satan!”
To be secure and powerful
are common human failings,
a self-defeating cycle
with endless streams of victims.
It’s human to be praying:
“Dear God, don’t let this happen
to us or those we treasure.
We can’t succumb to covid,
or mental loss in ageing,
or be displaced and homeless,
and as for facing dying,
we hope we barely notice
between a sleep and waking.”
But get behind me Satan,
for loving and creating
are forged through death and rising,
and God would rather suffer,
and share in being mortal,
than be untouched and distant,
unmoved, beyond our crying.
Take up your cross and follow
from tomb to resurrection.
Accepting loss means finding
what seems to be a failure
can bring God’s kingdom nearer.
Barbara Messner 27 August 2020