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Holy Week Sonnets


This year for Lent I committed to writing a sonnet each day. I won’t burden you with all forty, but at the risk of being presumptuous, I thought I’d post the seven sonnets for Holy Week in the hope that they might be helpful somehow. The stories are true, folks. He is risen, indeed.

PALM SUNDAY “Hosanna!” We cried, and we waved our palms, Standing outside the church on Palm Sunday. We sang songs of praise, read lessons and Psalms, And then came the Gospel reading. The way It usually happens, the celebrant Follows the cross and Bible down the aisle, And we all turn to face them. The moment Reminds us of the Incarnation while The scripture is read. God did become flesh. He dwelt among us. But it’s Holy Week, And things change so that we feel it all fresh, The arrest, trial, crucifixion: we shriek, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Release Barabbas!” How quickly hosannas cease.

MONDAY Passover was at hand. It was a time Of remembering. Once, they were enslaved To Egypt, but God freed them. Who will climb The mountain now? The holy law engraved On stone, written by the finger of God, Was delivered, and it said, “Remember.” Did they? Did they remember the lamb’s blood While they sold pigeons in the temple for Caesar’s coins? Jesus, upturn my table. Cleanse your temple. Be zealous for my heart, Because it belongs to you. Unable but willing, I beg you to take apart Each stone and rebuild in me a new home. Make a temple out of this catacomb.

TUESDAY I’ve never seen a better place for spring Than here in Tennessee. The dogwoods spread And blossom in the shadows by the stream, Like cotton balls above the riverbed. And never have I seen a richer blend Of greens! So many hues illuminate Both underfoot and and overhead, suspend The verdant canopy with heaven’s weight, And anchor earth with heaven’s airy hue, That I can scarce discern if this is dream Or merely God’s abundance breaking through With pure delight in what he made, agleam With grace in this, the cursed and crooked earth. You resurrect the world with every birth.

WEDNESDAY Tenebrae. A darkening. Poems read, Stories told, candles extinguished, songs sung. I sat all night in the dark with my head Full of conflicting thoughts. Some of them stung, Some were just mild distractions, enough that I considered slipping out to go home. But of all the places I could have sat, In that room as dark as stone-sealed tomb, I gleaned beside me a good friend’s shadow. His eyes were shut the whole time. I even Changed positions once and bumped his elbow, But he didn’t flinch. How could I know then What I know now, how his heart was broken? The dark silence was the solace spoken.

MAUNDY THURSDAY “Love as I have loved,” you said, washing feet. A foot is a humble thing, the lowest Part of the body, where earth and flesh meet. We put them up when we just want to rest, And our odd little toes, smelly digits, Callused and caked with dirt, don’t make the best First impression, even if one sees fit To put his best foot forward. But you blessed Your friends from head to foot, washing away The day’s accumulation of travel, Speaking into existence a new way To love: love by exalting the humble By serving the servant, by kneeling down Before your subjects, giving us your crown.

GOOD FRIDAY After this, Jesus, knowing all was done, Said, “I thirst.” They raised a sponge of sour wine On a hyssop branch, gave it to the Son, Holding it to the mouth of the True Vine. He drank. “It is finished,” he said at last, Then he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. John, as an old man, looked into the past And wrote his gospel. I wonder what cost Came with remembering that stormcloud day? Did he shudder as he wrote out each word? What would it be like to kneel down and pray To the God whose grand stories you have heard Since boyhood, and carry the memory Of him hanging there, bleeding on the tree?

HOLY SATURDAY Joseph came and took him down from the hill. Nicodemus also came, with aloe And myrrh—seventy-five pounds, just to kill The death smell—and they wrapped him head to toe In linen, which is how it was done then. They needed to bury him somewhere soon. Not far from Golgotha was a garden, And in that garden was an open tomb Where no body had yet been laid to rest. The Jewish Day of Preparation meant There were laws these righteous men did their best To keep, so they, of all the people, went To Pilate, made it happen. Who can tell If they loved God? They loved their neighbor well.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY Be praised, Lord Jesus, humble conqueror! Thy battered body’s wounds were joyful streams, Thy furrowed flesh the soil of the gardener, Thy bones unbroken, strong as temple beams. But none could know when laid they in the ground The sin-wrecked Son of God whose heart was dead, Whose stiffened corpse was cold and linen bound, As day-death turned the firmament to red And decay began its work on each cell, As decay has done since hard fell the curse, What glory was to gleam in that dark hell When death’s decay at once was in reverse. Be praised, Lord Jesus! Morning then revealed Thy beating heart! Today, my heart is healed.

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