“The Arid Chains of Death Were Burst”—A Good Friday Sonnet


“If anyone is thirsty, let him come
To me and drink”—this drink that can’t be sold
Or bought, thirst-quenching nectar, spirit gold,
This fountain out of heaven, given, not won.
Beyond all praise, beyond all princely sum,
The heavenly draught bestows a wealth untold,
The life of God. The thirsty may be bold
To claim the gift held out by God’s own Son.

A drink so rich could not be wholly free:
Fulfilling Scripture, Jesus speaks again:
He gives the draught—transcendent irony—
Who whispers, “I am thirsty,” through his pain.

A human thing, this agony of thirst
By which the arid chains of death were burst.

—D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century, p. 53. (Out of print but available as a free PDF here. Sonnet based on John 7:37 and 19:28-29.)

Karl Barth, Porn, a Minister and Me: An Unlikely Lenten Story

A year ago during Lent while at my favorite used bookstore, I spied a book by stalwart Reformed Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Beaming over my bounty and fingering through the pages I found a small piece of paper tucked away deep in the book’s binding. I figured it was the receipt from the book’s original owner.

Boy was I wrong.

It was a receipt all right, but not for the book. Instead, it was from a now defunct “adult” video store, listing two gay porn flicks rented in 1998.

Obviously I was intrigued. Barth and gay porn in a used bookstore during Lent? Somehow it didn’t fit.

Upon further examination I discovered the receipt included the person’s name, address and phone number. Googling the man’s name I discovered he currently serves as a minister in a local church. Moreover, he was married with children. (And just to be clear: This was the 1990′s, when to be legally married meant it was actually someone from the opposite sex). And he still lives in the same house listed on the receipt’s address.

What was I to do? Inform the church where he serves, known for being open and affirming of the gay lifestyle? (Alas, there are many such churches in the Minneapolis area.) What sort of response would I get if I spoke with someone on their staff about my discovery? I imagined a disinterested shrug.

Perhaps I mail him the receipt along with an anonymous letter littered with various Scripture references regarding sexual sin and let him know I’m praying for him? But then what if his wife stumbles upon it, or even opens the letter instead of him?

I’ve since unexpectedly seen this individual at several public functions. Twice he walked right past me. Do I break the ice and take the plunge? “(Ahem) Apologies for the intrusion but you’re _________________, correct? Just so you know, I, uh, found a receipt of yours from 1998 for a couple of gay porn flicks you rented…..” Not the sort of thing you discuss during first introductions, especially in the context of our very public gathering. So I declined.

I still have the receipt. And we’ve yet to meet.

Admittedly, I sometimes feel like Jimmy Stewart’s character from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, conflicted about my accidental voyeurism into this imgresman’s very personal life and responsible for what I do (or don’t do) with the receipt and the information it contains. But more than that I feel genuinely sorry, even concerned, for this man. Yes, 16 years have transpired since the video transaction. Perhaps he’s repented? But perhaps not. I’ll likely never know.

And so a year later at the dawn of a new Lenten season, I prayerfully remember this man and his family and how we strangely yet Providentially met via an unassuming Barthian tome in my favorite used bookstore a year ago.

Presently writing with newly ashen cross placed on my forehead, I remember that the tragically beautiful season of Lent—the Christ of Lent—is as much for him and his sins as it is for me and mine.

But it is the latter that I most struggle to remember.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, prefect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From The Book of Common Prayer designated reading for Ash Wednesday

Lord of all mercy, hear our prayer indeed.

What Lent Does

Today’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What does Lent do?

The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus. It helps to imprint the form of the cross in our lives, recognizing that the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the cross. Lent prepares us to experience the reality of resurrection joy only by first recognizing the depth of our sin that pinned Christ to the cross.

—Philip Reinders, Seeking God’s Face: Praying the Bible Through the Year (pp. 233-234).

(Read also Trinity House’s brief apologetic on why we should have Ash Wednesday services.)

Lent: Why Bother?

Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season next Wednesday, March 4.

Here are five helpful Lent resources:

  1. Elliot Grudem and Bruce Benedict ask “Why Bother With Lent?”
  2. John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship suggests a yes and no approach to Lent.
  3. Christ Church (Austin, TX) produced this daily Lenten devotional of various prayers and Scripture readings. (Note: it was formatted for 2013, but one could easily reformat it for 2014).
  4. A Reformed Anglican in the US asks why we should consider Lent
  5. Cardiphonia compiled a helpful one-stop site for all things Lent (articles, music, liturgy and art).

New Lent Album from Page CXVI

Lent To Maundy Thursday CoverPage CXVI, aiming to make old hymns more accessible for the modern ear, releases their new album, Lent to Maundy Thursday, on March 4.

Here’s a video preview of the song, “This Blessed Day”:

And here’s their take on “And Can It Be”

and “Before the Throne”

Update 03/03/14: Stream the album for free here.