First Light

In this poem and reflection, Rev’d Vicky Barrett considers the paradox of the women’s silence after visiting the tomb and meeting Jesus, and the experience of reading in Mark’s Gospel, two thousand years later, of a resurrection which refuses to be silenced.

 

First Light

(a poem based on Mark 16:1-8)

 

They must do what they can
now the Sabbath is over.
Back to work.
Their oils are sharp and pungent,
Stripping dawn’s thin grey curtain.
Their steps, directed, urgent,
to soothe the scarred body,
move the lovely limbs
lying wound up and wounded
in the dank dark of a borrowed grave.

 

How? How? the doves cry,
an echo of their anxious words,
the weight of the stone
wedged between them and their love.
Pounding hearts:
as the oils glow like slow amber pools,
spices tease their nostrils.
Tick, tick. Birds shrill the alarm.

 

Breath snags on a barb.
Surprise? Confusion? Hope? Jealousy?
Has someone come ahead of them
to offer the rituals which are theirs?
Has someone stolen the precious freight
from this stony barque?

 

Who is this man in white?
What is his news?
Not here.
Their eyes trace the outline of the tomb.
Not here.
Not there, where they laid him,
Escaped, unbound, fetterless.

 

The sun rinses the mouth of the tomb,
A widening ‘O’ of light.
The spices fall to the ground.
Oil finds a new course.
The earth gleams and is fragrant.

 

They turn and feet flutter a fleeting path
like sparrows’ feathers.
Breath unravels in rags,
muscles shriek with exertion.
The burden of their news
lurches and sways and batters them
mad-eyed with joyous fear.
Teeth chatter riddling messages.
But who would believe these harpies
who say they have seen an angel?

 

Better to roll the stone back again,
be safe, familiar, silent.
Let the men
wrap the words like oilcloth round the carpenter’s tools,
stitch up the fishing nets
and not
dare to believe
in the terrifying mystery
who comes in majesty
to greet them.

 

Vicky Barrett Easter 2018

 

Reflection

 

Mark’s Gospel is full of silences, no more so than that of Chapter 16, verse 8:

 

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

How is it then, that out of the women’s paralysis of terror and amazement, we find ourselves responding to the good news of the risen Christ today?

 

We may find ourselves silent, paralysed also by terror, amazement; scepticism or apathy too, perhaps. But the wonderful good news is that Jesus has done this thing anyway; that’s how much he loves us. Our Creator God is able to bring the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the world in spite of us. As Luke puts it when the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell his disciples to be quiet, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

Mark’s Gospel account gives us the encouragement to explore our response, to fill in the narrative gaps and colour them in, to play in the shadows of this amazing message.

 

I found myself doing this as I prepared for Easter morning and ended up writing a poem.

 

How can you find your way of expressing a response to this Easter story?

 

empty tomb

God of Restoration and Repair

Rev’d. Caitlin Carmichael-Davis reflects on the resurrection life in Christ through the poetry of Philip Larkin, the scripture of Isaiah, the prose of Marilynne Robinson, and the paintings of Stanley Spencer. 

 

I was once told that you don’t get back what you lose. Lost is lost. Your childhood, your children’s childhood, those who have died, those long summer days of happy completeness before the photographs become pain.  Life is a process of learning how to lose, as life shrinks and reduces and more and more is lost and disappears.

 

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

They link us to our losses: worse,

They show us what we have as it once was,

Blindingly undiminished, just as though

By acting differently, we could have kept it so.

Phillip Larkin, Reference Back

 

If this is the lesson life teaches us, it seems unlikely that the afterlife will be about getting things back. Lost is lost. Our resurrection, our heaven, will be something new.

 

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?.

Isaiah 43.19

 

Yes, I thought, that seems true. Christianity cannot be about making those holiday photographs complete again, those Christmas tables whole. If being ordained has taught me anything it is this — sorrow is weaved into the very fabric of our lives. Under the cheerful ordinariness of Sunday morning coffee, grief lurks unspoken. That wish could easily become the whole of one’s religion. Some sort of destructive spiritualism, a religion of the dead.

 

So I lived for many years with a sketchy, figurative, amorphous vision of the afterlife, a non-interventionist God, an ephemeral Jesus. Christianity was difficult to grasp, I said. Part of its very strength is its shifting oddness.

 

And then I read this:

 

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering. Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown. And when He did die it was sad — such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was. There is so little to remember of anyone — an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

 

There is an oddness, of course, to all these stories. Those distant words “Talitha koum!”, the Jesus who passes through walls and disappears at will. And yet, distracted by strangeness, I’d missed the consistency and the domesticity. While Jesus was on Earth he mended families, resurrected he returned to eat supper with his friends.

 

Memory is part of resurrection — part of a God who is greatly moved, greatly troubled, groaning inside at our grief for those we have lost. Restoration of our relationships is part of resurrection — Thomas’s doubts and Peter’s denials healed by the energy of God’s love. In so many of the stories, incomplete tables are made whole —Jesus returns to eat, to fill the space and the loss and the memory he had left.

 

And if the raising of the widow’s son, the centurion’s daughter, Martha’s brother describes Jesus’s resurrection, and Jesus’s resurrection describes our own, then this will be a resurrection of domesticity and relationship. These are stories which endow the small importance of our homes, lives and memories with all the power and wonder and oddness of this God of undefeatable life. Judaism had always understood the power of memory to create reality, that memory and loss have a creative as well as a destructive power. In these stories that intimation reaches its fulfilment. For out of memory and death God brings into being wholeness and life.

 

spencer - reunion

Stanley Spencer, Reunion of Families

This is what Stanley Spencer showed in his Resurrection paintings. There is a physicality of joy and hope and reunion, Jairus’s daughter become real for all creation. The promise of that distant, chaotic, heat filled day is heard in the familiar greenness of the Oxfordshire countryside, “Talitha koum!”. The beautiful strangeness and physical domesticity of resurrection suddenly visible.

 

As I stand, hand resting on a coffin, commending the departed to God, I believe “That memory will fulfill itself, that the missing, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long”. That our God is a God of restoration and repair. That the lost will be found.

 

 

Stitch by Stitch

Gemma Wilkinson reflects on the renewing creativity of God through embroidery. 

 

My mum taught me to crochet. I could do it before I was an ordinand and I can still do it now too! It is a skill I have honed and developed… I am teaching myself embroidery now because I feel I need to learn something other than theology while I’m training.

There are days where all I want to do is make things. Bread, cake, crocheted toys, or embroidered pictures. I wonder sometimes if this creative desire I have, the desire I must make things is a part of how I am made in his image. Creator God in whom all things had their beginning…

Some days I don’t feel like I contribute anything beautiful to the world, or the community to which I belong. Everyone has non-beautiful days, right? For me when they arrive I survive them by doing my best to make something beautiful anyway… Out of yarn, thread and fabric… To make something that is somehow lovelier than the sum of its parts. So, then I think God is making something beautiful out of me… perhaps in spite of me! Something that is more beautiful than the sum of my parts.

I also find that I cannot think too deeply or worry unduly when my mind is occupied by counting stitches. In those moments I feel myself relax and become less concerned with being perfect and more content with doing my best. It might not be the type of prayer you can read out in chapel… But for me it is the type of prayer where God answers back. In the quiet moments in my head I can hear that the spirit reminds me that I am not alone and bring me back to where I need to be. Stitch by stitch.

 

Madonna Lactans

Alice Watson reflects on Mary, Motherhood, and the mystery of Christ.

  1. What was

bouts

Dieric Bouts, Madonna mit Kind (ca. 1475)

He is eleven days old and we take him to Church. I am broken.  Not yet learnt how to reform, or realised that it might even be possible.  Swallowed up by silence, and doubt, that nothing can make sense any more.

I feed him in the vestry, I’m afraid he’ll fuss, of the looks, the milk that won’t be controlled, how he coughs and splutters and how I don’t really know what to do.  How I don’t really know who I am.  How I don’t really know.  Squished between the discarded decorations and the sign for the fete, I look up and in a dusty old picture I see you.  Did you know what to do, birthing your own Lord, Word made flesh. Your flesh. How you held in your arms a little ball of universe, and sprayed milky stars across his skin.  In chaos and in love.  What trauma did you know too?

He still feeds long after the bell has rung, after the rows of shuffling feet and crossing hands have made it back to their pew.  But the curtain swishes, and the veil is lifted, and the body of Christ (amen)  And the blood of Christ (amen).  How long until the Blood is my blood, and how long until it’s his?  For His blood was once yours, no purification needed, only grace.  So very full of grace.

  1. And is

Hansen

Kate Hansen. 2010. ‘Gladys and Elizabeth’

He is eight months old and I run back from classes to feed him.  Leaving behind the patriarchs, and the evangelists, and the dead German theologians.  There are quite a few of them. I don’t read many women in these early days.  I am tired and I pretend I’m not.  I drink too much coffee.  I keep up.  Sometimes.  Sometimes barely.  I think of you as my hands move around the beads, or as my mind moves around them as I will him to sleep.

At night I whisper the Magnificat to him.  Half promise, half threat, half dream.  Cast the mighty down.  Raise up the lowly.  Did you do the same, night after night, rocking chair revolutionary.  Is that how he became his Mother’s son?

I don’t go to Walsingham.  I stay home and nurse.  I think you’d approve.

  1. And is to come

icon

Icon of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible cup.

And so this is this.  Time passes, and I am moulded, formed, softened by the love that has flowed through my ducts, toughened by the fire that burns in my veins.  Perhaps not tough enough.  Still.

I learn of loss, of fear and trembling.  I learn of trust and of acceptance.  I learn of laughter and of lament.  And I learn a little something of the mystery, and the wonder of transformation.  Of pain transfigured to strength, scars to art, nights of tears to mornings of joy.  And of the power that can transform blood, to milk, and to blood again.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for all of us who cry, who mourn, who are shamed, cast down, who carry heavy burdens.  And for all those who lift them. Now and at the hour of our deaths.  Amen.