This year, I had the privilege to be invited to lead a Good Friday meditation for a local group of churches, and began to work on a series of poems to share.
Of course, we can’t now gather together, we can’t share in the way we hoped. As the situation globally has become more serious, more confined, darker, those sentences that Jesus spoke from the cross began to take on more meaning for me. I felt I could get a little closer to a contemplation of Jesus’ love and suffering, and see it in a new light, or even a new darkness. These poems, emerging from that contemplation, helped me as I wrote them. I hope they will help you in reading them, too. Here then is the fruit of days working in the house. I thought it might be good to have them all together, quite simply, like this.
In another post, I’ll share with you those poems as part of a structure including music and art, which you might like to use for your own meditations on Good Friday, or to share with others. I reckon it might take about an hour to work through them, with all the readings. I will post the link here.
I will try to learn how to make a short YouTube recording of them for Good Friday. That will follow a simple pattern of Gospel reading, poem, response from a psalm. It will take 20 minutes. I hope, all being well, it will be released on YouTube on Good Friday. I’ll post a link here when it does.
And this is the link.
If you would like to share these poems, or use them in some other way, you are welcome to do so. Please say where people can find them.
Elizabeth Frink, Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
We don’t know what we do,
from the careless word that
starts a fire of anger,
to the careless killing
of a butterfly –
who knows what
what winds and rains,
begin and end with just one death?
We walk in darkness, so often,
and so often, we close our eyes,
we do not wish to know.
And Jesus, seeing this,
that his life would end
with angry shouts,
with fearful washing of hands,
with indifferent playing of dice,
Knowing all this, even so, he bore
our lawful unthinking violence,
our blundering disregard for consequences.
Another would pay for our actions.
Yet as the ripple of our acts flows out,
through the world, who knows where,
so too, now, flows forgiveness,
following on, spreading and transforming,
watering dry ground, lifting burdens
and carrying them away.
Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise
Even as he hung upon the cross,
even with blood from that false crown
running down, not wiped away,
he saw the two men at his side,
One joined in mocking with the
priests and soldiers,
speaking from his pain,
and one did not, this second kept
his eyes on something else – a hope.
A hope the one he looked on was a king,
and of a kingdom where such things
as crosses are not lifted up,
a hope, even, of an end to death and pain –
this pain, this death.
And, ah, his king begins to speak,
What a world to gift him dying there.
A word of such sweetness, freedom, peace.
See – clear water flowing, and flowers,
hear the sound of birds, the lazy
buzz of insects, the flutter of their wings.
What a word, at your end, to hold to,
to capture our beginning, once again.
But even more than this,
to be with him, beside the king,
seen and known,
held in the loving gaze of one who
hung up on the cross.
Might this, even this, be paradise?
Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother
And still he sees, looks down
towards the one who bore him, bearing this,
the pain – not her own pain – worse,
the pain of watching one you love
twisting on those wooden beams,
the nails piercing her own flesh too.
The time has come when all the
treasure of her heart is broken open,
scattered, lying in the dirt.
What use to hold in mind
the words of angels,
the wealthy gifts brought by the wise,
what preparation Simeon’s warning,
when now she sees his agony with her eyes.
But she is not alone, his friend sees too.
John, who writes it down,
bears witness, even here, even so.
They turn their gaze upon each other
and see each other with new eyes –
a mother, and a son.
Gifting them each other –
his one last act of love,
this giving, from an empty cup.
This task of care can be ours too,
to behold each other in our pain,
and in our sorrow, walk each other home
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
You felt your generous heart forsaken,
you felt the absence of the one who helps,
who was beside you, in the beginning,
who knew you from before first light.
We know too well the sparseness
of your isolation, without light,
in the darkness of our own long night.
And yet, within our dark, we find you there,
Find you have waited for us long days, and years,
while our poor eyes have
grown accustomed to the dark,
have learned at last to see you through our tears.
So as you know our pain and feel it,
you break our separation with your own.
Help us see the forsaken all around us,
invisible and in darkness, but seen by you.
May we seek each other in the dark,
May we have courage to cry out,
like you, and so be found.
The well is deep, and you have nothing to draw with.
Where now that living water?
Where is that spring within you, gushing up
to fullness of life?
Do you remember, now,
the woman by the well?
Your deepening talk of thirst and water,
as now, again, you humbly ask another for a drink –
a sponge of sour wine?
Do you remember too, as the taste dries on your lips,
that wedding feast, where water changed to finest wine?
The richness and fullness of that beginning
soured to this cold bitterness.
You are our source, the spring of all our rivers
and still you thirst like us, need help to drink.
And so give us this grace,
that as we do for the least of these,
we may know we do for you.
May we see you
in each thirsty face.
It is finished.
All things come to an end.
Even pain like this,
Even the anger and the cruelty of a crowd,
of us all,
even the certainty of those so certain
of God they hang a man upon a tree.
Even the punishment and scapegoating
The work is done.
It has all been borne.
You have poured out your love, your life.
You have carried our sorrows, suffered
under our iniquities.
Your head bowed now, you sink
into the final pain of nails,
your body bears no more,
having borne all.
The work is done.
Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit
There is darkness now, deep darkness,
over the face of the deep,
and no hovering like a brooding bird,
instead, the temple curtain torn in two,
from top to bottom,
and the Holy of Holies empty.
God is not found there,
but here, with this dying man
on a tree,
He calls out father, and talks of hands,
and we remember what his own hands have done,
how many were healed by their touch,
raised up and restored from cruelty and death,
and now, he too will be held in loving hands,
a reconciliation beyond our grasp,
a trust even at this moment of last breath.
Dying, he taught us to die,
dying he brought us life.
May we be reconciled, may we know
at our end, the comfort of those hands.
The church at Selworthy Green, looking toward Exmoor
These poems owe an enormous debt to many sources. If you are familiar with the Bible, you may find many resonances, and in some cases quotes. I haven’t referenced these, in order to keep the flow.
However, there is one reference I would like to acknowledge here: in “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I directly quote from R S Thomas’ beautiful poem The Other.
It is a poem about prayer, and seems very apt to read here.