Speak The Exultant Word

(A Springtime Sermon in Verse)

April 8, 2001
JAN VICKERY KNOST
THE FIRST PARISH IN NORWELL


Introduction -

The season of Easter is usually a very difficult celebration for the conscientious Unitarian Universalist. Our tradition, by-and-large, has rejected the usual story of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As such, we risk being branded with being religious diplomats if we do observe the occasion, or as nihilists if we interpret it merely as a Spring Festival.

It has often been said that “it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. I would add that it is an awesome thing to feel the loneliness of striking out into the realm of thinking for oneself. And yet, this is precisely the premise of this work. The message we remember is the same. The difference is that that message is one that is different for our time.

So let us Speak The Word Exultant in poetic terms that might discover new hope and promise for us all. And so then, for us all, the poem:

In all of life
there is a plan
which brings us to the joy
of knowing there is made
a chance for all
forgiveness to employ;

but where that message
started out
is wrapp’d in stillness now,
for all of it
in all its wealth
is couched in high renown.


So bring with you a sense of awe
and mystery, too
that you might see the sense of all
the ages have begat.

We turn our gaze toward the East
to see a drama rising
of men and nations, hopes and fears
that grant us firm reminding.

Herod
Herod
King of land Judea
Herod, King, Judea-born, was all the people knew
when to a priest named Zechariah
came manchild-born
called John
(his wife, the priest’s, was barren, old
and far beyond the blessed sense
of motherhood)
yet there it was,
the first in many miracles
brought forth the glad and stirring epic
that we tell.

For years
the Jews had talked (in rhythm-bound)
about the captain-chief
who was to come
to save the stolid band
of Abraham.

These far-flung souls
in captive-chain
for many years the story glad they heard
of how their God, Jehovah,
would in time to come
create a conqueror-deliverer
their troubles anticipate.

And so to humble priest and woman came
(her name Elizabeth)
a babe named John
the hopes of years in future
he to thus relate.

Gabriel
Gabriel
the angel of the Lord
announced in awesome tone
a manchild that would come
and he, that child, named John
the precursor of one for which all wait.

He came, this John-called-Baptist, came
amidst the fear of Herod
grew to manhood strong
to gain the sene of mission
which would someday tell
a “savior” great.
“A greater one than I will come,” said he
the charges giv’n him to take the lead
were knowingly ignored.

O joy and far-flung gladness-bold
there is a star
the radiance long-foretold
a woman Mary
and a man named Joseph there
gave testimony
to a hope held deep in gold.

Again pronouncement came
as in that day before
when Gabriel
with trumpets blaz’d
did come in swiftness
Mary’s calm repose
to halt;
for in his words were promises
giv’n, sung, insisted and redone
of how “a woman would conceive”
and bring to us this one,
this singular man
the man
to whom our song is sung.

‘T was born
‘t was born
this infant “meek and mild”
to her to whom the promise came
and him, the “Joseph-man” forgotten.

The very host of heav’n came
announcements here to make
of how his wondrous birth foretold
would break into the realm
of all the world had known
in tender hope.

The wise men, three
the shepherds, star and manger bed
are symbols
that give testimony
to a new-born day
that came
in simple marvel of a birth.

And now we see;
we cast our eyes
to years through which he grew
and learned
and wondered
at the world he knew
until at last we find him
temple-cloistered questioning
of all the rabbis and the priests
who marveled at his spirit.

His questions betrayed the trust
he had in God
for whom the next two decades (of his life)
gave wisdom
as he walked the arid earth to learn
and stood in waist-deep water
to receive the Spirit-descending Dove
from “John” the prophet
as he had shown before.


And when he finally became the victor
after days in wilderness
where Tempter came
to grant three great wishes
he, the thought to earth did put,
and found a new and glorious message
borne within his heart and mind
to love, forgive all people of the earth
as he knew that love might be.

He spoke this thought
to those who’d hear it
soon
a handful, twelve
around him gathered thus
to celebrate the newborn gospel “love’.

He preached forgiveness,
brought it soundly home,
that all who, hearing it,
should gladly give their lives.

His trust was solemn,
challenge bold;
the words he preached
on mountain top and by the sea
were teachings which he felt
intuitively
within his soul.

Then slow began
a curious hint of “other things”;
their happening around him
lent him more than mere humanity;
but somehow, miraculous in form and fact.

For people all
began to tell of miracles and healings
he, the man
had brought to all who came to him
his gospel “Love” to understand.


And this, the priests and pharisees did note . . .
and fear . . .

. . . but never mind,
that fact is small
compared with all
that could but come to us
in love and helpfulness
if he could serve his fellows and his God
in kind.

The news was fast in traveling round
of how this man (baptized of John)
had come
with teachings new and unrehearsed
called “parables”;
to make the point
that this new “Kingdom”
was really more important
than the former teaching
of a vengeful, wrathful God.

The people swooned,
disciples followed,
his time had come, like an idea;
and nothing could its power inflict dull death
or damning tolerance;
he came to all
and “danced it to a different tune”.

The rabbis were concerned.
The Romans quiet in contempt.

And yet, with all the following and success
that he received
there burned a deeper mission
in his brain
to go to that illustrious place
(the symbol of his Jewish heritage);
Jerusalem, the Golden
in all its power and sadness
lay before him.

“If I, this message, could them bring,
then surely God’s charge is true, that I be King!”

He spoke it knowingly, but in reluctance;
stepp’d a pace, then stopped and wondered,
trustingly;
if in this race prime reason might escape
his mind
this might all be folly
and his God disgrace.

The city stood unburnished, stolid still,
and on its hill it taunted him
his love to quell.

He wept
and knew he’d not succeed
where others tried this message same;
and lacking deed would find itself
soon stomped to earth
and silent.

His weeping was for peace.
We weep the same today.

The story goes
that on a colt he rode
as thousands cheered
and found a further goad to urge him on
that city to engross in logic (but in love)
and angered, flung the money men
from out the temple.

This was a problem.

The Romans watched, catlike.
The priests were fearful, squirming,
sat and planned,
conspired intent his message
bring to ruin.

Then on a night
when stars beshown
there came a time at Seder feast;
a time to level with disciples.

Cold, he told them that betrayal’s present;
would enfold him in a plot
to stop
the flight of Love’s light bird.

And all they said was, “Is it me?”
and, “Surely I’m not the one.”
(We know this now, O gentle listener)
the plot unfolded to our eyes and ears
to show in Scripture
so the ending would not be so sad
or real
but gossamer, a thing part-true.

But that’s the way it goes.

Our lives are such
that in them
comes the reaper-grim
our brains and inner souls to snare
in fear and trembling
lest we lose a sense of life
so freely given.

We take our lives, thus giv’n by God
and sodden them.
impair with food and drink and pleasure run;
we’d like life not to end,
we’re fear’d that God will judge.

He, Jesus, not.

He told them there at table
that he loved and taught them all
to stand for love
to God
and others
and never to betray that trust
but bring it in a kingdom new
(and in an afterword he said they must)
for he’d be gone. . . in body.

So after wine and bread did sup
they went again unto the Garden
where he asked them wait;
(confusion then perplexed his heart)
and he, to set things right
with God
did wish to pray.

They slept.

Three times he came returning to that place
and after prayer he found them
sadly sleeping on their sides
as if in childlike trust that this, their Lord
would never chide.

And he, in only tender, sad and gentle words
did say
“The spirit willing, but the flesh be weak.”

Then suddenly his prophecy became a fact.
The soldiers were upon them
and crafty Judas
a kiss him gave.
Betrayal seized his heart; he was afraid,
but went with them to city’s gates.

“Thrice, thou’lt deny,” he said to Peter
(who in days to come would found a Church
to celebrate this Love)
and did indeed, this man betray
before the rooster crow’d three times,
his teacher.

And Peter wept as well.

But Pilate, so troubled, lonely Governor
would nothing have of this
in which his enemies
had nagged to have a symbol given
of their pow’r o’er Rome.

“He’s innocent of crime,” he said,
yet all persisted, frightened priests
to sell his soul
to mob and stone
release of guilt to give them.

So when the time to give him up was charged,
the people, sheep they be,
were quick to ask another,
Barrabas, to give over
instead of quiet man who knew no fault.

Thus flaunted,
did his message shrivel ‘fore his eyes
as jackals did those folk become
and thirsted for the blood of one
who never hurt a hair of man nor beast.

“Crucify!” they said.

He washed his hands, that Pilate, of the thing
and gave him to the soldiers.
A whip,
a crown of thorns
were his to bear.

And this, the task, they dutifully did
in firm unfaltering manner;
they nailed his body,
his tortured, twisted body
which gazed but heav’n ward for a sign
but there was none forthcoming.

The women wept.
They at the foot of cross did wait
while seven times he spoke,
but all these words
were only further ways
of telling of his message true.

He died.

Then crashing! Coursing! Charging winds
and flame and darkness
swelled upon them
and the people knew (as soldier said)
“This was a son of God!”

They threw themselves to ground in fear
at all around them’
he, only, did but show forlorn
and pain-appearing body there,
the spirit had but gone,
but what a spirit!

And then they laid him in a tomb
(the custom to observe)
when two days passed
they came again
preparing to his body give its just and proper care
but there
he be not there
for he was gone.
The body, it was gone.
“O it is gone!” they said
it’s gone
where? Gone!
“O God, my God, it’s gone....,” they said.

And all around
both near and far the sound traversed
the countryside
about this man
this humble man
who’d died.
“Now gone,” they said.

The fortune of our present world
some understanding gives.
We guess
we chart
and study it and finally
our faith lay down at miracle
as charged
of how this “resurrection” came
so long ago
and we so puzzled
are to wonder
how it happened
if it did
or what the real situation was.

But this is only temporary
when we take a moment to reflect.
And so the time has come for us to pause
and think, instead,
of next when we will have a chance
to give ourselves
to what he taught and preached
and gave as “man for others”.

For you, my friends
are counseled long
with reiterating logic
of how it’s time
to love that man
and then go out and flaunt him
with your daily lives.
Frustrating!
Never twain shall meet.

How shall Sunday
and the business world find peace
or ever Love?

It thus behooves us all,
man, woman, boy and girl
to gain a sense of purpose
from this story,
myth or real.

Our world,
it groans so burden-bound
by all we’ve done to it
in killing
waste
and hatred sown.

It is an often bitter place.

And when we think our lives will end
and we’ll not understand
we turn and look
and there it is
that message, still it stands.

A “man for others” said to us
to live it day by day;
forgiveness, love in all you do
at either work or play.

It says four words
which daily bring
a purpose and a joy
from out of darkness and of pain
our efforts to employ.

So let us Speak the Exultant Word, say
Hallelujah! One and all,
for this testament now ends
with hope for future, you and I
will find some strength in it.

Those words be there for others, too
that stay with us as well
to point with pride and joy and song
at this glad story tell.

The words he gave were simple, still
are ours to live together.
Remember
how he said to all
“O Love ye one another!”

Amen.