This Holy Week and Easter, we continue to pray for those who are held as hostages throughout the world, and in particular we pray for those in the Middle East who have been abducted by ISIS, including Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church.
In the autumn term of 1992, I had a sabbatical at Yale University, and during that time Terry Waite came to speak to the students. He had been kept as a hostage by militant Islamists in Beirut for four years, mostly in solitary confinement. No deal was made in his case, and I meditated on this concept of a hostage and the narrative of Jesus at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
I later wrote the poem that appears below: Terry’s first name is embedded in the third verse. The poem combines the atonement metaphors of substitution, absorption, and ransom. Some of the early Eastern Church fathers spoke of the atonement as the deception of the Devil. Gregory of Nyssa (ca. AD 335-395) wrote:
When the enemy saw the power [of the miracles], he recognized in Christ a bargain which offered him more than he held. For this reason he chose him as the ransom for those whom he had shut up in death’s prison. (Gregory of Nyssa, “An Address on Religious Instruction,” 23)
Gregory later compared the Devil to a hungry fish, caught on the hook of Christ’s deity when he was enticed to swallow it by the bait of Christ’s flesh. In the poem, I have changed the deception of the Devil to that of the personification of Death. Lazarus is released as Death rejoices over an even greater prize, but the ultimate end is of Death.
The Hostage Deal
Between the rolling of the stone
and the crying of the name
came the agonising.
Shuddering, Jesus stares into the tomb,
Making a deal with death in the depths.
A greedy exchange is strangely agreed:
Lazarus comes out and he will go in,
The prize of life for the price of death.
The hour of starkness fully come,
The Dealer is struck and laid in the tomb.
Then is the end, but the end is of death:
Through terrifying life in the depths,
Death is destroyed, exploded inside.
Before the rolling of the stone
and the coming of the women
came the rising.
—Graham Kings, Signs and Seasons (2008), p. 43.
Other posts by Graham Kings are here. The featured image is a stained glass in a mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles. The photo was taken by Flickr user emilyd10 and is licensed under Creative Commons.