The old man cradled Jacob’s head
Against his breast and felt the dread
Of giving up his youngest son
In death. The Sabbath had begun
And now the sun had set, and it
Was dark. He pressed against the slit
In Jacob’s side to hold the blood
And aloes in. The crimson flood
Had come so fast and full before
His father’s hand could stop the gore
From pouring out along the way
That led from Jesus’ grave. The fray
Was short. The gash was deep. He threw
His cape against the wound and drew
The bloody pack as tight against
Himself as possible, and sensed
That, as he carried Jacob through
The shadows to his home, he grew
More limp. As Nicodemus stroked
The forehead of his son, the choked
And muffled sobs of Jacob’s wife
Were mingled with his breathing: Life
Pleading for life. The baby lay
Asleep in grandma’s lap the way
He always slept, with tummy down
And on his face a tiny frown
Or tiny smile depending on
His dreams. The sudden shock was gone,
And now the agony and pain
Of waiting crawled across the stain
Where Jacob’s drying blood had dropped
Between the door and mat. There, propped
Against the wall, he held his son,
And wondered what he might have done
To save his life.
Three years had passed
Since Jesus spoke and made the last
Wine better than the first. Three years,
And everything had changed. More tears,
More joy than they had ever known.
More peace, more pain; more cause to groan
And to be glad. More zeal to burn
With love, more hatred in return.
More life and hope with ev’ry breath,
More risk and threatenings of death.
These were the best and worst of years,
Just like he said: “I’ll take your fears
But not your dangers. Everyone
Who follows me, I say, bar none,
Must take his cross and go with me
Wherever I am called to be.”
Together they had found new life,
The father and his son. Each wife,
At length, had put her faith in this
Life-giving Christ, and ev’ry kiss,
Henceforth, became a covenant
Of three, to bear the hostile brunt
Of hate, and blessing in the end.
They knew it was not safe to spend
A fortune on a hundred pounds
Of spices that in sacred grounds
Were only used for burying
The kings of Israel. The thing
Could not be done in secret. It
Would be the final piece to fit
The Council’s case against the man
Who dared blaspheme with such a plan,
And waste his royal spices on
A criminal. But Friday’s dawn
Found Nicodemus and his son
Awaiting Jesus’ trial to run
Its certain course. And then, like slaves,
More free than all the whitewashed graves
Called Pharisees, the father and
His son rose up and took their stand.
Each seized two corners of the sack,
The father first, and at the back
Of bold and weeping women, they
Ascended in the light of day
With royal spices for their king.
The Council soon knew everything
And made their plan. They would inflict
On Nicodemus pure and strict
Reprisal—“Suitable” they said,
“As fits the crime of one who spread
The lie that Jesus is the Son
Of God and would be pierced for none
Of his own sins. And so,” they thought,
“Let Nicodemus’ son be sought
And let us lay a deadly snare,
And then the man will bear
His pain for years instead of one
Brief moment at his death. His son
Will die before his eyes, and we
Will bring this damning blasphemy
Down on his aging head, and see
Him bear it to the grave.”
Of them with haste went to the head
Of all the Roman guard and spread
Their plan before him secretly,
And said, “You may be sure that we
Will pay you handsomely if you
Will send a band of men to do
A deed that Pilate and the whole
Sanhedrin will approve. The goal
Is peace, and we would simply end
This insurrection now, and send
A silent message to the few
Remaining followers: ‘If you
Persist in saying Jesus wears
The crown of Israel’s king, the snares
Of death will slay you in disgrace.’
Tonight send soldiers to the place
Where Nicodemus and his son
Enwrap with royal spice the one
Whom Pilate put to death. And when
They’re done, strike swiftly with your men,
And put to death the son, and let
The old man live.”
The plan was set,
So two armed men watched secretly
As Joseph lowered from the tree
The body of the Lord into
The arms of Mary. Then the few
Remaining followers each took
A portion of the shroud and shook
With reverence and fear as they
Conveyed the Lord along the way
That led from Calvary down to
The tomb that Joseph offered new
To Jesus’ family. Before
The sun went down, the old man tore
His linen into strips, and wound
The spices tenderly, and crowned
His king with fragrances of love.
The garden air was cool. Above,
The sky was darkening, and none
But Nicodemus and his son
Remained. “We’d better go. The time
Is short till Sabbath, and the climb
Back to the ridge is steep for old
And weary men like me.” He told
His son to follow close behind
So he could set the pace. “I’ll bind
You on my shoulders,” Jacob laughed. . .
His father turned, and saw a shaft
Of silver plunge into the side
Of Jacob’s abdomen. He cried
Out, “No!” with all his might and threw
Himself at once into the fray
With fire. Too late. They were away,
And Jacob lay blood-soaked across
The path. “I must prevent the loss
Of blood,” he thought. “O God, I need
Your help. Don’t let my Jacob bleed
To death.” He pressed his cape against
The flowing wound, and then he tensed
His weary back, and lifted him
And felt him dying through the dim
Beginning of the Sabbath eve.
The middle of the night, a heave
From Jacob woke his father from
His sleep. The old man, almost numb
Because of weariness, looked down,
Amazed, and saw his eyes, deep brown,
And flashing in the candlelight.
“It’s me. You’re going to be all right,
My son.” “Is Rachel there?” “She’s blessed
With sleep.” “Good. She will need her rest
For this.” “You’ll make it, Jacob. Yes,
You will. You’ll be all right. God bless
You, son. God give you life. You’ll be
All right.” “Yes, Father, I will see
The Lord in Paradise before
This night is past. I’m at the door,
Don’t hold me back. Did you and I
Together hear that sovereign cry
In vain? No, Father, not in vain.
By his own sacrifice and pain,
He said, ‘Today, you’ll be with me
In Paradise.’ I will be free
Before the Pharisees rejoice
That they have silenced one more voice.
But Father, promise me, you will
Not fear. The body they may kill,
And after that, what can they do?
You know their aim tonight was you.
They did not miss. They calculate
To break you down and reinstate
Your fear of man, and make you bow
Before their threats and silence now
The voice of Nicodemus. Don’t
Allow it. Promise me you won’t
Return to fear. Don’t let my death
Serve their design. Make ev’ry breath
Henceforth a fearless word, and plain,
That Jacob has not died in vain.
And, Father, one more thing. I heard
The Lord once say that at the word
Of his command someday the whole
Created world, not just the soul,
Will in the end be born again.
So, Father, don’t forget that when
Tonight you hold my lifeless shell,
The Lord will break the pow’r of hell
In two more days, and signal all
The universe that soon the fall
Will be reversed. And death will be
No more. And everything that he
Has made for us will be made new.
Don’t fear what they can do to you,
Our bodies will be born again.
Amen?” “Yes, yes, my son, Amen.”
So, Bethlehem, with candle three,
Are you afraid? Or are you free?
Do Christian-killers in the news
Make you a slave? Or do you choose
With Christ that they will make you brave?
What do you fear the most? The grave?
Did Jesus die and rise for this?
Or that the certain hope of bliss
Beyond the bullets and the blood
Would bless this planet with a flood
Of fearless sacrifice? What gun
Can cut us off from Jesus? None!
Nor tribulation or distress,
Nor danger, sword or nakedness.
Though we were killed like sheep all day,
The Shepherd of our souls holds sway.
And when he comes, it will be plain
That none of us has died in vain.
The body that was pierced and torn,
Never forget, will be reborn.