Lazarus, by Jacquie Binns, with her permission.
We come to the second in the ‘Mary, at your feet’ sequence. This, too, was read at the Alive festival, 2014. It contains a bigger reversal than a poem can hold – from death to life, for it draws on Mary’s response to the death and raising of her brother Lazarus.
Martha went out to meet Jesus when he finally arrived, and their exchange is sorrowful and powerful and contains words of life and hope. Mary stays inside, and when she finally goes to Jesus, we feel the depth of their mutual grief. In John’s gospel, where we find this account, the raising of Lazarus plays a crucial role in the events that lead to the crucifixion – the themes of death and life, life from death sound like a returning motif in a piece of music. Here, standing by Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus weeps with Mary, in the company of many who also grieve there. And then, everything changes.
I am very grateful to Jacquie Binns for permission to use this photograph of her work. She is a textile artist and sculptor of rare vision, and it was an honour to meet her a few years ago, when I saw this piece. It is haunting and breathtaking. I was particularly struck by the whiteness of the bindings, the light and whiteness seem so cold. The set plaster holds the fabric grave-clothes in this one moment when the viewer sees Larazus for the first time, before we begin to know the power of what it is we see.
You can read the first poem in this sequence here.
Mary, sister of Lazarus, at your feet a second time
She sits in the shuttered room,
the room where her brother had laid,
dying, dead, the messengers sent out
returning empty, with no reply,
like prayers that bounce off ceilings
or stick to the roof of the mouth,
choking with sorrow.
When you stay by the Jordan
that shuttered room is where Mary stays.
This is her shadowed valley, the dark forest of her path,
foreshadowing yours, it is all foreshadowing you.
The room where her brother had laid,
how can she ever leave it now?
But leave she did, at last, when you called for her,
she came quickly, running, trailing darkness behind
her weeping. Mary, once more at your feet,
and when you saw her weeping, you wept too.
You know us in our grief. You come to us, call to us.
In our darkest, most shuttered places,
your spirit moves, breaks with ours.
Death lay heavy upon you, too, and all the sooner for
this, what you do now, standing before that tomb.
For now, you who are Life,
Word made warm and beating flesh,
call Lazarus out,
You, who are life, and will rise,
call out one who is dead from the cold tomb.
You watch as they run to free him from the graveclothes,
pull darkness from him, calling in strange bewildered delight,
and you see Mary’s face as she sees now,
her brother, who was dead, once more in light,
astonished, seeing your glory, part of your glory,
as she weeps again, is weeping again
breathless with joy.
You can read the third poem here