Poems for Holy Week (VII)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last…

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.  Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body.  Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

LUKE 23:44-46; 50-53


Into Your Hands


It’s the care of commitment when all is done—

Reverberant cry lobbed as a prayer;

Silence echoes inside the hum.


Light bleeds as a cure from the staggering sun

And by some unseen hand the veil is split with

Care.  Such commitment to a job well done


Hangs like a flag, pounds like a drum.

Were you always first to volunteer to face

The silence that blares inside the hum?


You held the note and held the line—

Did you hold your breath to exhale your life?

This, the care of commitment.  All is done.


When the spectacle sinks, flies or slumps,

We stagger blind, shell-shocked and dumb.

Silence rings inside the hum.


Is war silent?  Combat, still?

Hush of linen wrapped limb by limb to fulfill

The care of commitment.  All is done

To silence the scream inside the hum.


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut











“Descent from the Cross” (Rembrandt)



Poems for Holy Week (VI)

sWhen he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.   

JOHN 19:30-34




The wine severs in its descent.

How long has it been poured

before spilling in grisly torrents


down your chin?  It rends you as it rides

this seismic current from heaven

to earth until it finds the spear’s slit.


Until now each dove and lamb

were fingers plugging holes

in the most impossible dam.


But you are the burst wall

so water and blood gush eternal—

you break to effect the impossible


turning of the most impossible tide.

Come.  Put your hand into my side.


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut



Poems for Holy Week (V)

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

JOHN 19:28-29


Sour Wine


In the beginning was the Cross


And the Cross was with God.  And the Cross was God.

Moreover the depths: surf-stacked


Towers tilting right, tilting left.          Pass through,

Hurry now—over the long, dry tongue of sand.

I am the Lord upon many waters, I am the

Rung-out God, enthroned above the flood.

See it now?  These rivers of living water?

Tip your wine-soaked sponge to my split lips—

Yes, the wine is mine.  The water, too.  And the thirst.


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut


Christ of Saint John of the Cross.jpg








“Christ of Saint John of the Cross”

by Salvador Dalí (1951)


Poems for Holy Week (IV)

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

MARK 15:29-34

(See also PSALM 22)




So far from the words of my groaning,

my God, you do not respond.        The day

is night and I am a worm

in the downpour.             Yet you are holy.


I am the skunked wine they lift

and spill over this desert tongue;

I am encompassed, I am hung

by a madness so complete they call it sane—


your name be praised.    My God,

what have you done?    The wick

grows dim, the wax runs, I melt—

I cannot fill myself           with breath—


and would you snuf me out?


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut


“Crucifixion” by Graham Sutherland OM (1946)


Poems for Holy Week (III)

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

JOHN 19:25-27

Mary’s Song


My soul magnifies—                     Spirit, rejoice—

Almost spent              he spares me

Groan by groan                and his words drop like stones—

Name him Holy.                             Spirit, rejoice

In God my Savior—        O my son!  O spent one!  Do you

Feed me from those vaulted beams?        Lay a table

In the presence of enemies?              Fill

Cup after bottomless cup?            My cracked hands, cupped—

And what is this broken blessing?               Your blood—

The stones cry out—                     These stones, this bread.


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut





Poems for Holy Week (II)

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise

LUKE 23:39-43



I came to his defense in a rush, in a breath.

With all that was left, I came without pretense.

Perhaps the splintered song of his voice

begging forgiveness, begging ignorance, as if

he had a say, and his end, a point.


For me, life was a bone out of joint—

I was not the first or last to ride the wreckage

of the hell-bent. Each want

clawed my belly to shreds—

and it ate me.


But riding these rails like a reckoning I cannot say

what strange jewel unearthed itself in time.

Perhaps forgiveness cuts at a slant.  Perhaps

I simply asked for the one thing I had never had:

Evidence to refute the thousand proofs

I was damned before my life began.


Then I bled in earnest.

And I tell you, his words burned like a promise

and life was something I wanted, could have,

but could not have guessed.                        I tell you,

when they swung clubs to break my bones

the end of the end was already gone


and I split, as if on reflex, into a shock of a smile

and it laid with me                         and it carried me

the first of countless, uncharted miles.


-Sarah Crowley Chestnut


“Crucifixion” by Hans Baldung



Poems for Holy Week (I)

As this term draws to a close and we draw near Easter, we are reading and praying with the seven last words of Christ from the cross during early morning prayer.  Also, the Lenten sermon series at my church (Highrock MetroWest), has been on Christ’s seven last words.  As a way of responding to these gospel passages and to the truly good news of the finished work of Christ, I have written a poem for each of the seven words.  I will post one poem each day this week as we journey with Christ to the cross, and enter the silence of his death with him.  After the poem, I will include a piece of art depicting the crucifixion–a visual space in which to ponder the words of the gospel text and the poem.  I pray these poems help to bring the crucified Jesus into greater focus for you this week, and prepare you to celebrate the victory of his resurrection–without which we would have no hope of boldly asking, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).

-Sarah Chestnut

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

LUKE 23:32-34


To Know Not


The women are weeping as usual; to mourn is

a calling they answer; the women clock in,

are skilled.


Mob gone mad, the people are a river of expectations

and they love to be carried along—who knows

why?  Today, three


are crucified.  Hammered and hung as a canvas

the bodies sweat and heave.  Is the body

a temple the gods can take


or leave?  Curse this shame, this norm.

A cross becomes the human form:

criss-crossed roads, billboards that beg us


see, to know not what we do: drift thoughtless down

well-worn paths, ride this river expertly, take

turns with the dice


to have a story to tell.  What is wrong with you?

With me?            Forgive the thrill that rises,

and the relief; forgive our systematic


separation of soul from skin; forgive this din,

this sanctioned scoffing, the squalor of spirit

we live in.  Forgive the soul who forgets he’s


a soul; forgive the sport of it; the sin.










“The Wales Window” (16th St. Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL)