Sunday, 16 April 2017

See How They Run - Resurrection’s Twin Gazelles!

A poem based on Matthew's account of the resurrection of Jesus,
With the twin gazelles being the two Mary's who first witnessed to this glorious event.

'Noli Me Tangere,' Fra Angelico, 1440-1442.

T his is the night, when dawn first shewed her face,
When two Mary’s walking forth, lo what grace!
Heaven’s angel thundered down, shook the earth,
Rolled away thick tomb’s stone, announced rebirth
Stating thus in words of fire, blazing
Seraphic countenance, flash of lightening,
Robed in snow: “Tremble not ye maidens' fair,
I know whom thou dost seek—he was slain up there
On Calvary’s crest, but He’s not here, nay!
For He has risen as He said, this day!
He’s torn the yoke of death, climbed Zion’s peak,
Opened wide heaven’s gate to all the meek
Rising like the sun, like an eagle glad,
With healing in His wings, so smile ye sad!
Midst angelic shouts, the harp, horn and lute,
An Exodus he led, followed limbo’s troop,
Riding forth like a stallion unsheathed
Thy fair Jesus before,” so he did speak,
“See for thyself sweet maids where he once lay,
Then go with haste announce this happy day!”
And seeing the empty tomb on they ran
When suddenly upon their way a man,
A man stood there upon the path aglow.
“Peace beloved daughters,” gentle and slow,
And falling on their knees they clasped his feet,
Weeping with awed delight, no words to speak,
As palped their hearts within their breasts, again
He spoke: “Be not afraid, I have risen
As I said. Go on make haste, and tell ye
My brethren to leave for Galilee,
For there I shall be, and there they’ll see me,”
And at that he disappeared, they could not see,
They paused enrapted, then looked at each other—
Off they ran like twin gazelles, and shudder
Did the soil beneath their feet, for never
Have human feet ran so quick—not ever
Since the dawn of time, not even Daphne
In Apollo’s chase outdid pace of these,
And nor has better news—what happy news! —
Been brought than that carried by these hinds’ shoes.
So enter in O blessed maids, my soul,
And let me hear again this day—unfold—
This happy news that’s past but never old.

16th April, 2017.

Friday, 14 April 2017

I Am Forgotten Like The Unremembered Dead

'Man of sorrows,' Anonymous, Reverse Painting on Glass, Spain, 19th century.

At this year’s Good Friday Passion liturgical commemoration, the following verse from the Responsorial Psalm (31:12) resonated with me:

I am forgotten like the unremembered dead.

Psalm 31 foretells the inner sufferings of Jesus throughout His life, and above all throughout His Passion and as He hung crucified on the cross. The above verse is no exception to this. One need only look around on Good Friday at our lapsed Christian society which has forgotten about Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross—reflected above all, by the sort of activities carried out on this solemn day. One can sense the grief this must have caused Jesus, who being Divine, knew full well the extent of today’s forgetfulness even as he hung dying at Calvary.

Yet as unfortunate as our society’s failure is to remember our Lord and His death, a people who do not believe and/or who perhaps through no fault of their own do not understand the significance of Jesus and His death, nor even the concept of redemption, can hardly be chided in an exacting way. Thus the onus falls on us Christians, on those who believe and know that Jesus is who He is, and what it is that He has done for us.

The pointing finger must face ourselves as we beg our Lord to help us truly and really remember Him. Not just to carry out the outward aspects of this Good Friday, from fasting to attending Stations of the Cross and the Passion liturgy, or by attending a sermon to watching The Passion of the Christ for the sixteenth time. These are good and recommended things, but the observance of them can fool us into thinking our remembrance of Jesus and His sacrifice is complete because we’ve checked the list, and have done as a Catholic does.

I am forgotten like the unremembered dead.

In these simple words our Lord laments being forgotten. Translating literally from the Hebrew the verse reads, “I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind.” The preposition כְּ means “as” or “like,” and a truth is revealed by means of it. “I am forgotten like the unremembered dead”—because Jesus, though alive, having risen from the dead, is forgotten and dismissed today as though he were a dead man. And not just any old dead man, but as an unremembered dead man. For one, unbelieving individuals, and generally speaking, society as a whole, does not believe Jesus rose from the dead, and so they forget Him as though He were dead. Yet we cannot rest on this as our scapegoat to avoid the call to self-conversion, and as a means of puffing ourselves up by passing the buck to that evil, wicked thing called ‘secular society’.

Perhaps we ourselves treat Jesus as though he were dead. Forgetting that He is truly and really alive, and that His Presence in our lives is not distant, removed and disinterested, but near at hand, bound up with the mess of our existence, and thoroughly intrigued by who we are and the lives we lead, and should be leading.

If Jesus was present with us in every waking moment of our ordinary day, what things would we cease doing? What things would we try and start doing, or do more of? How much more would we pray? How much more fervently and with how much more care would we pray, knowing Jesus is right there, and looking right at us? What would we do right now?

The fact of course is that Jesus is with us, we just have the tendency to forget it. The phrase, “Jesus is with you,” or “God is with you always” and other like statements can easily roll forth from our lips as nice sayings, and can begin to sound like the dripping of a tap to someone who ‘knows it already’. It’s considered as elementary Christian stuff, belonging to the Basic 101 Class.

Yet the question “Do I remember Jesus and His love for me by dying on the cross?” is always relevant, and we have to have the humility to confess that no matter who we are we do not remember Jesus how we should or how we could. This doesn’t mean we weep in despair, but that we simply ask Jesus to teach us how He personally wants us to remember Him—today, this hour, and right now.

Perhaps it will be by reading the Scriptures, such as the Gospel account of our Lord’s death. Perhaps by simply spending a minute in silence, invoking His Name in the belief that He is pouring His love into our hearts. Perhaps by catering to the need of someone in our household with the intent of doing so to please Jesus and to put one’s remembrance of Him into action. Perhaps by visiting our local church and by spending time with our Lord in the Eucharist, which is itself the abiding remembrance of His Life, Death and Passion passed down from the Last Supper.

When our Lord hung dead upon the cross a soldier came and pierced Him in the side. Our Mother the Virgin Mary was mystically pierced by the suffering’s of Jesus Himself as She stood before Him. It is a tradition on Good Friday to sing the Stabat Mater, where we ask the Virgin Mary to bring us to share in the piercing of Jesus and Herself:

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Saviour crucified:

May Psalm 31 lend itself through the grace of God as the very lance by which we come to grow deeper in union with our Lord who loves us awfully much. May these words sink into our heart and stir us with compassion and gratitude for He who laments the rejection He faces from human hearts… including our own.

For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
they who see me abroad flee from me.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead.

Then switching slant, we might recognise and remember our Lord by borrowing the words of the Good Thief: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

'Christ and the Good Thief,' Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), 1566.