Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Sermon as Poetry

Painting by Anthony Falbo

The Sermon as Poetry


“Our theme this morning is
the wounds of Jesus.
When the Father shall ast,
‘What are these wounds in thine hand?’
He shall answer, ‘Those are they
with which I was wounded in the house
of my friends.’ (Zach xiii. 6)

“We read in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah
where He was wounded for our
transgressions and bruised for our
iniquities; and the apostle Peter affirms
that His blood was spilt from before
the foundation of the world.“

I have seen gamblers wounded.
I have seen desperadoes wounded;
thieves and robbers and every other kind
of characters, law breakers,
and each one
had a reason for his wounds.
Some of them were unthoughtful,
and some for being overbearing,
some by the doctor’s knife.
But all wounds disfigures a person.“

Jesus was not unthoughtful.
He was not overbearing.
He was never a bully. He was never sick.
He was never a criminal before the law
and yet He was wounded.
Now a man usually gets wounded
in the midst of his enemies;
but this man was wounded, says the text,
in the house of His friends.
It is not your enemies that harm you
all the time. Watch that close friend.
Every believer in Christ is considered
His friend, and every sin we commit
is a wound to Jesus.
The blues we play in our homes is a club
to beat up Jesus;
and these social card parties….”


Jesus have loved us
from the foundation of the world.
When God
Stood out on the apex of His power
Before the hammers of creation
Fell upon the anvils of Time and
hammered out the ribs of the earth
Before He made ropes
By the breath of fire
And set the boundaries of the ocean
by gravity of His power
When God said, ha!
Let us make man
And the elders upon the altar cried, ha!
If you make man, ha!
He will sin.
God my master, ha!
Christ, yo’ friend said
Father! Ha-aa!
I am the teeth of Time
That comprehended de dust of de earth
And weighed de hills in scales
Painted de rainbow dat marks de end
of de departing storm
Measured de seas in de holler of my hand
Held de elements in a unbroken chain
of controllment,
Make man, ha!
If he sin, I will redeem him
I’ll break de chasm of hell
Where de fire’s never quenched
I’ll go into de grave
Where de worm never dies, Ah!
So God A’mighty, ha!
Got His stuff together
He dipped some water out
of de mighty deep
He got Him a handful of dirt, ha!
From de foundation sills of the earth
He seized a thimble full of breath, ha!
From de drums of de wind, ha!
God my master!
Now I’m ready to make man
Who shall I make him after? Ha!
World within worlds begin
to wheel and roll
De Sun, Ah!
Gethered up de fiery skirts
of her garments
And wheeled around de throne, Ah!
Saying, Ah, make man after me, Ah!
God gazed upon the sun
And sent her back
to her blood-red socket
And shook His head, ha!
De Moon, Ha!
Grabbed up de reins of de tides
And dragged a thousand seas
behind her
As she walked around de throne—
Ah-h, please make man after me
But God said, No.
De stars bust out from
their diamond sockets
And circled de glitterin throne cryin
A-aah! Make man after me
God said, No!
I’ll make man in my own image, ha!
I’ll put him in de garden
And Jesus said, ha!
And if he sin,
I’ll go his bond before you mighty throne
Ah, he was yo friend
He make us all, ha!
Delegates to de judgement convention
Faith hasn’t got no eyes,
but she’s long-legged
But take de spy-glass of Faith
And look into dat upper room
When you are alone to yourself
When yo’ heart is burnt with fire, ha!
When de blood is lopen thru yo veins
Like de iron monsters on de rail
Look into dat upper chamber, ha!
We notice at de supper table
As He gazed upon His friends, ha!
His eyes flowing wid tears, ha!
“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful
unto death, ha!
For this night, ha!
One of you shall betray me, ha!
It were not a Roman officer, ha!
It were not a centurion soldier
But one of you
Who I have choosen my bosom friend
That sops in the dish with me
shall betray me.”
I want to draw a parable.
I see Jesus
Leaving heben with all of His grandeur
Disrobin Hisself of His matchless honor
Yieldin up de scepter
of revolving worlds
Clothing Hisself in de garment
of humanity
Coming into de world to rescue
His friends.
Two thousand years have went by
on their rusty ankles
But with the eye of faith
I can see Him
Look down from His high towers
of elevation
I can hear Him when He walks about
the golden streets
I can hear ‘em ring under his footsteps
Sol me-e-e-e, Sol do
Sol me-e-e-e, Sol do
I can see Him step out up
on the rim bones of nothing.
Crying I am de way
De truth and de light
God A’mighty!
I see Him grab de throttle
Of de well ordered train of mercy
I see kingdoms crush and crumble
Whilst de arc angels held de winds
in de corner chambers
I see Him arrive on dis earth
And walk de streets thirty
and three years
I see Him walking beside de sea
of Galilee wid His disciples
This declaration gendered on His lips
“Let us go on the other side”
God A’mighty!
Dey entered de boat
Wid their oars stuck in de back
Sails unfurled to de evening breeze
And de ship was now sailin
As she reached de center of de lake
Jesus was ‘sleep on a pillion
in de rear of de boat
And de dynamic powers of nature
become disturbed
And de mad winds broke de heads
of de western drums
And fell down on de Lake of Galilee
And buried themselves behind
de gallopin waves
And walked out like soldiers
goin to battle
And de zig-zag lightning
Licked out her fiery tongue
And de flying clouds
Threw their wings in the channels
of the deep
And bedded de waters like a road-plow
And faced de current
of de charging billows
And de terrific bolts of thunder—
they bust in de clouds
God A’mighty!
And one of de disciples called Jesus
“Master! Carest thou not
that we perish?”
And He arose
And de storm was in its pitch
And de lightnin played on His
raiments as He stood on the prow
of the boat
And placed His foot upon the neck
of the storm
And spoke to the howlin winds
And de sea fell at His feet
like a marble floor
And de thunders went back
in their vault
Then He set down on de rim of de ship
And took de hooks of his power
And lifted de billows in His lap
And rocked de winds to sleep in His arm
And said, “Peace be still.”
And de Bible says there was a calm.
I can see Him wid de eye of faith
When He went from Pilate’s house
Wid the crown of 72 wounds upon His head
I can see Him as He mounted Calvary
and hung upon de cross for our sins.
I can see-eee-ee
De mountains fall to their rocky knees
when He cried,
“My God, my God!
Why hast thou forsaken me?”
The mountains fell to their rocky knees
and trembled like a beast
From the stroke of the master’s axe
One angel took the flinches
of God’s eternal power
And bled the veins of the earth
One angel that stood at the gate
with a flaming sword
Was so well pleased with his power
Until he pierced the moon
with his sword
And she ran down in blood
And de sun
Batted her fiery eyes and put on
her judgement robe
And laid down in de cradle of eternity
And rocked herself into sleep
and slumber
He died until the great belt
in the wheel of time
And de geological strata fell aloose
And a thousand angels rushed
to de canopy of heben
With flaming swords in their hands
And placed their feet upon blue ether’s
bosom and looked back
at de dazzling throne
And de arc angels had veiled
their faces
And de throne was draped in mournin
And de orchestra had struck silent
for the space of half an hour
Angels had lifted their harps
to de weepin willows
And God had looked off to-wards
And blazin worlds fell off His teeth
And about that time Jesus groaned
on de cross and said, “It is finished”
And then de chambers of hell explode
And de damnable spirits
Come up from de Sodomistic world
and rushed into de smoky camps
of eternal night
And cried “Woe! Woe! Woe!”
And then de Centurion cried out
“Surely this is the Son of God.”
And about dat time
De angel of Justice unsheathed
his flaming sword and ripped de veil
of de temple
And de High Priest vacated his office
And then de sacrificial energy
penetrated de mighty strata
And quickened de bones of de prophets
And they arose from their graves
and walked about in de streets
of Jersualem
I heard de whistle of de damnation train
Dat pulled out from Garden of Eden
loaded wid cargo goin to hell
Ran at break-neck speed all de way
thru de law
All de way thru de prophetic age
All de way thru de reign of kinds
and judges—
Plowed her way thru de Jordan
And on her way to Calvary
when she blew for de switch
Jesus stood out on her track
like a rough-backed mountain
And she threw her cow-catcher
in His side and His blood
ditched de train,
He died for our sins.
Wounds in the house of His friends.
That’s where I got off
this damnation train
And dats where you must get off, ha!
For in dat mor-ornin’, ha!
When we shall all be delegates, ha!
To dat judgement convention, ha!
When de two trains of Time
shall meet on de trestle
And wreck de burning axles
of de unformed ether
And de mountains shall skip like lambs
When Jesus shall place one foot
on de neck of de sea, ha!
One foot on dry land
When his chariot wheels shall be
running hub-deep in fire
He shall take his friends thru
the open bosom of a unclouded sky
And place in their hands
de hosanna fan
And they shall stand round and round
His beatific throne
And praise His name forever.

after J. Rothenberg & G. Quasha, America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present, 1974

A vast area of American poetry is to be found in the Black oral tradition. The sermons of Black preacher-poets, for example (commonly set up in verse lines in the printed versions) are instances both of speech in complex motion and of a process of ongoing mythos, i.e. of ancient story made or remade in the telling. The contemporary African-American poet Tom Weatherly wrote: “Our tradition is composed of those work songs, field hollers, gospels, and blues. … That’s our poetry, our tradition, my main main, and if you put it down, you put down most of what is good in American song lyric and poetry, and you put down most of the base I build on.” The sermon-poem above follows Zora Neale Hurston’s transcription and reconstruction after an oral performance by Reverend C. C. Lovelace on May 3, 1929, in Eau Gallie, Florida. Her notes to the work read further: “The colored preacher, in his cooler passages, strives for grammatical correctness, but goes natural when he warms up. The ‘ha’ is a breathing device, done rhythmically to punctuate the lines. The congregation wants to hear the preacher breathing or ‘straining.’”

Posted over on Poems & Poetics

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