What Are We Waiting for?

(Sunday of the Resurrection, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

I have seen the Lord! proclaims Mary Magdalene,
beginning a new, never-ending adventure In faith.
Again, God has worked through the unlikely,
now a woman whom some once considered tainted,
but the only person in all four gospels to have testified,
from direct observation and even divine exposition,
to the resurrection of Jesus, she called the apostle to the apostles
by one early church father—an astounding claim by a
patriarch, a sign of things turned upside
down, reflecting the wonder of the empty tomb,
God’s power working through one of us—this Nazarene man—
to do what many call impossible.

Colorful eggs, hopping bunnies, are nice,
even fun, but a man rising alive from a tomb of the dead—
now that’s worth the world, which is what
God intended to say: I want all to live full
of joy and love and peace, to trust divine
power more than any other, to know that I,
God, am always here, at the ready, present for
all life which comes from me eternally.

That is why the empty tomb is such a potent marker,
even as it is not an easy marketing symbol any more than
the stone rolled away. But when Mary and the others
arrived they were not seeking the cross. They were
coming to care for the dead body of their Lord.
That they did not find it, that in one account Mary
found him and talked to him, that is the news,
that is the miracle, that is the sign of the victory
over death-dealing injustice and hate that affects
and infests us all to this day. We can’t get to the
empty tomb without the cross, but what truly is
the mark of God’s reign in this world—a bloodied
man-made tree erected by an ugly regime based on the
fear and anger of otherwise good, faithful people, or
the fact that ultimately none of us need be
governed by such ugliness and fear and anger?

We crucify people all the time, on the streets,
In jails, subway stations, public markets, as lethally—
though sometimes with less agony—and legally as was
done by Pilate and his minions, when what we need
is resurrection, new life, a raising, rising, of walking dead
to live not as the world makes it happen but full,
vibrant, vital human beings striding forth Lazarus-like from
tombs, theirs and ours, to claim divine birthright
belonging to all. God is ready to empty our tombs.

What are we waiting for?

@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .I have long strained against using the cross as the universal symbol of Christian faith and life, because it is the mark of neither. It is the sign of evil and ugliness, of human fear gone amok,  unchecked by those in authority. Their actions were understandable, so very human, but the result on that hill is not, to me at least, the marker of my faith. My faith lies in the empty tomb, in the natural boulder rolled away that death could emerge and live again. That is Easter faith, the truly good news.

Are You There?


(Good Friday, Year C; click here for biblical readings, although this poem also makes reference to other Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion)

So many die before their time
if by that we mean they die young,
but some die at what may seem to others
the appointed hour, perhaps saying that about Jesus,
that God sent him to die for us, and this is how
and when it was to happen at that skull
place Golgotha to fulfill scriptural teachings.
But others see lynching in this like those of men
whose only crime was to be their whole selves
but unlike Jesus few if any remember.
He spoke several times, if Scripture is believed,
again unlike the screams unrecorded at other
lynchings, and his words were of forgiveness
and healing for those left behind,
even for those who claimed all righteousness
for the lynching (and we who are Christian do well
to remember Jesus’ generosity, refusal
to judge even as he bled to death on that cross;
we have our lynchings of Jesus’ own people later
and many others, too, we who call ourselves white
killing Jesus’ siblings of darker hues to name a few)—
no people is perfect, especially ourselves.
But those words, varying ones from eyewitnesses recording
one horrible scene, spoken by the victim of inhumanity that
does not yet end, those powerful strange words:
forgive them for they know not what they do;
woman here is your son, disciple behold your mother;
truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise;
it is finished; Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;
and plaintive, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

But where is anger, where is the call to arms, to right wrong,
where rage at injustice? Where call for holy war,
blowing up train stations, beheading bystanders?
Were you there when they hung him on that man-made tree?
Were you there in Baltimore, Ferguson,
San Bernardino, Paris, Jerusalem and West Bank (again!),
Somalia, Beirut, Beijing, many others.
So many die before their time.

Are we numbed by grief or repetition? What are our words?
Do we see ourselves in the crowd shouting Crucify Him
or in Pilate objecting but going along,
afraid of the wrath of the mob? This annual
funeral ritual causes us to tremble,
to look down in shame and horror, to feel sad, lost,
confused. We must respond, but how?
What are our words, do we have any, as we too
hang, not on a wooden cross, but one more deadly on which hangs the world:
indifference, looking the other way,
remorse and regret without self-examination and cleansing,
insufficient help for the poor, not enough food for the hungry,
building walls to magnify our prejudices,
locking people up for living while Black,
shooting those who will not cooperate.
So many die before their time.

Are you there when we hang them out to die?

@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .On Good Friday, we focus, understandably, on what is done to Jesus, but in reading all the gospel accounts, I am struck by what he is recorded as saying (different by each writer, of course, allowing for the vagaries of memory and intention).  The contrast with the Black men  hung up to die in the U.S. South, whose words are not recorded much at all struck me, especially in this season when we see so many people wantonly killed on the streets of our own country and in other parts of the world. There is no time for any of them to speak before the gun or the bomb explodes. I hope we can listen and mourn in the silence. And I hope we can learn to speak in their absence.

Holy Feet, Jesus!

Holy Thursday, Year C (click here for biblical texts)

Feet, the bottom of the human body,
 dirty, calloused, twisted, arthritic, gnarled,
even hard, but some are soft with pretty
nails painted, massaged with oil sweet scented
or maybe not, smelly sweaty feet common—
all sorts and conditions of human worldly feet.
Who knows about Peter’s feet, a disciple’s feet,
and the other feet in that upper room
when Jesus took off his outer robe revealing
perhaps more of himself than normal among the
band of holy land walkers  who have shared
so much already.  Now here is something
very strange:  the rabbi wants to wash our dirty
feet as he has already invited us to share our
dirty linen—the same Jesus who is ready
to receive and wash our feet and linen today—even Peter’s,
who, of course, objects as he often does.
Is there ever a time when there is not
at least one Peter in every group ,
the long ago one offended by the
very idea of his Lord stooping to wash
feet, like today’s recoiling at showing
the imperfection of feet, even more
at being asked to wash others’.
How far we have fallen back, afraid of showing
in faith just our feet, not our private parts,
to one another in a sacred act
of service, not to mention dipping hands
into warm water to bathe tired feet—
are not feet nearly always tired, they
carry us wherever we go and if we have
not feet we must ride on chair or human back
or hop with crutches, feet efficiently
carrying us wherever we want to go—these are
feet of our neighbors, fellow congregants,
feet which trod on the same church floor as ours,
not the feet of strangers but fellow worshippers,
like us, Friends of Jesus who says
love one another, even your dirty, smelly,
calloused, hard or soft, ugly or pretty
If we cannot wash these feet, how can we
care for, let alone love, any others?

@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .As a pastor who loves the service of foot washing, not because I have a foot fetish but because it makes Jesus so clear, I was often amazed by parishioners who drew back, almost in horror, at the idea of exposing their feet or touching any others. It was a recurring annual moment when I understood how thorough has been the domestication of Jesus within the church.


Will the Stones Need To Shout?

(Palm Sunday, Year C; click here for the biblical readings)

Will the stones need to shout out now
or will our voices, our presence,
raise enough rejoicing to unsettle
powers who mean to do all the talking,
their own agendas more vital than God’s,
so they tell themselves, and many bound to listen
due to economic necessity
or endless media repetition, never-ending
sound loops of the same loud voices
with the latest offer that in truth leaves
everything except the packaging the same?

We need now to take to the streets
waving palms yes and placards too—
justice for all, love is the way—
and our arms raised in hosannas
drowning out tired old voices, but more,
calling forth our shared power to create
something new with stones rejected,
not throwing them but laying them down as
a new foundation, cornerstone of listening
to each other,  choosing to stay open
to ideas from those we barely knew
existed until we found ourselves next
to them in the crowd cheering the rabbi
(is it true he’s from Nazareth, how weird is that?)
riding the borrowed bicycle leading
the ragtag parade of the powerless
who actually like us have great—
really the greatest—power at the tip and base
of our prayers.

Now is the time to get off the sidewalk,
out of the bars into the streets we used to say
when pride was our parade’s objective, but
now we are called to protect immigrants,
stop assaults against Black men, stand up for
transgender youth and Black women,
get health care for all God’s children,
finally care about native people remaining from our genocide,
help warring leaders to begin talking, listening,
so no more children need die as collateral damage.

This is the day God has made for us to wake up,
grow up, look up, act up, stand up, live up
to our heritage as the people of God led
by the One on the bike who heals, exhorts,
raises the dead, loves our enemies as much
as he loves us, and never ever, never stops
feeding us, all of us, heavenly food we need—
and crave if we are honest with ourselves—
to live by the beat, the truth, the beauty, of God

@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .When Pharisees seek to silence Jesus and the Holy Spirit working through the disciples and others in the crowd, really the movement of God in the world, Jesus reminds them, and us, that God’s voice will not be stopped, even if the stones have to shout.  But God depends on us to do the talking, which means we need to listen for and to  God, and then take the risk of speaking up, again and again.

Freed for Extravagance

(Lent 5, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

The poor we always have with us,
so God’s truth is:  reach out, feed, house,
clothe, care—but not in tightfisted
begrudging dutiful charity ways,
and certainly not to pretend
poor people alone are to blame
for their reality and we who are not poor
are innocent—embrace God’s beloved,
all of us siblings in the divine family.

Let’s follow Mary at table,  
pouring the gift of our soul—a gift from God—
like cheap wine at a block party
where no one has to worry about driving home,
a fountain of living loving liquid
to quench the dried out hearts
and weary bodies of neighbors in need
of laughter, joy, mountains of love
to feed children’s empty bellies,
to ease pains of living on edge,  
not sure when the next paycheck comes
if it will, or whether there even is a job.

Mary chose expensive ointment, showing
how to value those we love by stretching
beyond the comfortable to extravagance,
doing a new thing dazzling in simplicity,
grace and intimacy, using her own hair
as the agent of anointing, adoration,
and announcement of devotion to Lord Jesus
beyond the well-trod  ways.
Can you imagine presidential candidates
really hugging people, not photo ops,
really listening, not video opportunities,
telling whole truths in love, not advantage
against the other side?
That’s the revolution Mary began
and we are called to continue.

So when will you let your hair down
long enough to bathe your neighbor
and the world in endless pure love,
no conditions, no ugly boundaries
just love, more love still, an extravagance of love?

©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . The story in John 12 about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil and her hair seems to stand in stark contrast to the last line about the inevitability of poor people—at least that is how it has often been interpreted. But what if her actions are the template by which we learn to care for each other, and perhaps especially for the poor?