33 Poems for Lent: Full Collection

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Now that Lent is over and we’ve walked through all thirty-three of Andrew Roycroft’s poems, we’re making the complete collection available here in a single post.

In case you’re just now hearing of this, our friend Andrew Roycroft (pastor and poet from Northern Ireland) adopted the medieval practice of writing thirty-three poems, each thirty-three words long—one word for each year of Jesus’ life. We posted these throughout Lent as opportunities to meditate on the narrative of John’s gospel.

I

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
—John 1:14

Into the wordless gap
sounds the Word made flesh—
new logic
granting grounds
for hope—
all former words 
will now deliver
their long pregnant promise
of a world, once spoken,
finally made fresh.

II

“These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
—John 1:28

His unstrapped sandals cast on Jordan’s shore,
Christ enters the stream
where before
all Israel
had plunged.
Emerging, shod
with good news,
he is ready to baptise
these lesser men
with heaven’s fire.

III

“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’”
—John 2:3

The last drunk wedding dregs
seem an unlikely place
to set a sign,
but such wine bloodied waters
will make glad the hearts of all
who taste
the ripe glory of this Vine.

IV

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”
—John 2:19

And so this fabric
will come asunder,
yield to deconstruction,
unravel all that was
so skillfully knit in conception;
a frail, torn down house,
whose ruin hints at hope
beyond its tattered veil.

V

“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’”
—John 3:4

This fleshly arm,
mechanism of muscled bone,
pulse and impulse
set in chain,
cannot open a mother’s womb
nor heaven’s gate;
instead the Rabbi speaks
the wind-borne work
of being born again.

VI

“And he had to pass through Samaria.”
—John 4:4

At Jacob’s well, Jacob’s Son
comes alone, weary for water.
A tarnished bride, midday travel
through adulterous hills
discovers to her
Christ
who, emptying himself, will one day
fill Sychar’s sons and daughters.

VII

“As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”
—John 5:26

Seeing the Father, so he, the Son,
per se,
living, will give life;
with words will bring from soiled beds
all
who rising, heed his summoning voice—
to judgement
or to joy
eternal.

VIII

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
—John 6:15

This Loaf King—
whom we would crown just for the crusts—insists on being Living Bread,
granting life through his flesh and blood,
on proving himself true manna
sent from heaven for us.

IX

“The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’”
—John 7:45

Ropes hang slack
from distracted hands,
their arresting grip
now lame.
Held in tension by
these word woven bands,
their forced confession,
tongues fettered to proclaim,
“No one ever spoke like this man.”

X

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
—John 8:56

The old man, adrift
in innumerable sands—
outnumbered
by hope’s expanse—
drowns moonwards
in a star ocean.
With nebulous glance,
eyes rejoicing
in the promised Son,
he lipreads,
“Before Abraham was,
I AM.”

XI

“Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud…”
—John 9:6

Tilth eyed,
muddling towards Siloam,
hands cupping refracted rays,
he rinses darkness
out of newborn sight—
once slackened retinae
now nerved
to perceive
the Light of the World,
unseen
by mud blind men.

XII

‘I am the good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.’
—John 10:14

Keeping the wolf from the Door,
the Shepherd calls;
bringing in his own
he shames the unsound staff
of pilfering crooks who came before.
Laying down,
he wrests
a flock into his care.

XIII

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
—John 11:5-6

A distance out from death Christ
remains,
love’s absence
forestalling glory.
If he had been here
a brother need not die,
but he, through tarrying presence
speaks of coming life,
and awakened joy.

XIV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
—John 12:24

Coming to the kernel of it all,
with earthen words Christ will explain
that this hour at which he
must fall
is harvest-sure
of life to come,
of hope
with the grain.

XV

“So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”
—John 13:30

Quitting upper room light,
having a bellyful of broken bread
and the stooping talk
of one who,
new anointed,
washes sinners’ feet,
Judas takes his course
through Jerusalem streets,
swallowed whole in night.

XVI

“Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’”
—John 13:37

Cocksure, Peter crows
that unlike this brood
he will stay,
will go as far as blood;
but Christ speaks
a denied dawn,
withheld light
which will wring
the breath out of such words.

XVII

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”
—John 14:5

Mere waste of breath
for Thomas,
this talk of home,
of place prepared
if no Way
is found to reach its gate,
no Truth
that substantiates
promised Life,
when Christ speaks
coming death.

XVIII

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
—John 15:1

New sap engorged,
these eager tendrils chance
across the wall;
stemming from the Branch,
fruit laced limbs with joy embrace
the ripening glory of life in Him,
the harsh pruning of His grace.

XIX

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”
—John 16:16

For a little while this labour,
pain’s lamented occupation,
surge of quickening contraction
and then
deliverance—
the Son’s advent once again,
the gasp of new life
deposing the cry
of scarce remembered struggle.

XX

“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered.”
—John 16:32

Making a run for it,
Each of you will scatter home, scuttle away as I sink
in suffering
not yet believing that I am
overcoming by being overcome,
left behind, but not alone.

XXI

“Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them ‘Whom do you seek?’”
—John 18:4

They seek Jesus,
through lantern-lit darkness,
over broken garden ground,
steeled and tooled to fell him
if need be; but on hearing his ‘I AM’
they each fall backwards, to their knees.

XXII

“And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.”
—John 19:2

Calloused hands, 
war hardened to thorns,
the flourishing cruelties
of iron bound earth,
plait a barbarous crown,
embed it on the blood-sweated brow
of a smitten King,
before whose shame they bow.

XXIII

“He went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull.”
—John 19:17

His own,
this cross—
although others might have borne
its rude timber at a time—
shouldering the beam, not light,
he lumbers towards the brink,
where laying down
he will be lifted high.

XXIV

“There they crucified him…”
—John 19:18

A point put on the words—
to crucify—
to jar and joggle every joint,
upheave unbroken bone,
crush cartilage, nailing every nerve
to die. The gasping Word of God
contracted to a groan.

XXV

“Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’”
—John 19:22

His hands new cleansed 
Pilate will engrave heaven’s King 
into a cross;
and though disdaining truth, he still
sets words to work,
openly proclaims a suffering Sovereign,
crushed by his own people’s will.

XXVI

“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts.”
—John 19:23

These remnants,
final effects of a criminal left alone,
are now divided—like flesh, torn.
Boasting that evening
at the barrack mess
or at hearth,
each will bring a piece of Calvary home.

XXVII

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’”
—John 19:28

His withering tongue—
palate parched—
creaks out encrusted thirst,
and savours sour wine salve,
(the cup drained dry).
Such bitter balm will grace
his arid lips to lisp
the blood-wrought word,
‘Tetelestai.’

XXVIII

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”
—John 19:34

Mere carrion, these carcasses now,
the soldiers congregate,
before this central Man.
Finding no more breath in him,
they spare his unbroken bones,
probe his heart,
and saturate
with bloody water
Golgotha’s brow.

XXIX

“So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”
—John 19:42

In vacant space
they lay him down,
prepare him a place
and him prepare;
bind death in linen cloth,
weeping wounds they dress in myrrh.
With sabbath’s dawning sunset
they leave him there.

XXX

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.”
—John 20:11

In darkness still,
the grave still darker,
Mary glosses stony absence,
reads aloud a stolen Lord
from the tomb’s
mouthing toothless yawn.
Retracing her steps
she recounts
the blank nothing of no dawn.

XXXI

“The other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.”
—John 20:4-5

Nameless,
this believing man
leans deeper into death’s
cast remnants
and, with unscripted heartbeat’s trust,
embraces what the Christ could be,
alive
to the breathing possibility
that, he, dying
might rise,
and must.

XXXII

“Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore…”
—John 21:4

Lap lulled by lifeless waters,
ill-cast nets bearing no weight,
the fishermen see against
charcoal dawn
the lone figure of the Lord—
come to draw them in again,
and launch them out.

XXXIII

“I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
—John 21:25

Though all the world a long room lined,
and every shelf with volumes crammed,
though all in fairest minuscule inscribed
—they never could contain the sense
of this eternal Word,
or capture Christ.

Click here to explore Andrew’s blog.

These images are from The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels from the 9th century. This particular page is the first from John’s gospel: “In principio bid erat verbum” translates to “In the beginning was the Word.”
This image from the Book of Kells portrays St. John the Evangelist.
This is the Chi-Rho monogram—the first two Greek letters of Khristos, which means Christ.
This illustration depicts Christ enthroned.

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