Thursday, April 9, 2009

Doggerel for Maundy Thursday

Are you old enough to remember Arch Books, paperback Bible stories in doggerel illustrated with cartoons? I wrote three of of them back in the 70s. Concordia published the first two, but the third was too much for them. It was always my favorite, so I offer it here, somewhat updated, for Maundy Thursday.

Thirteen men around a table, something obviously wrong.
Though their heads are wrapped in halos, twelve men wear their faces long.
James is signaling to Simon; Philip looks the other way;
Thomas shakes his fist at Matthew; John has not a word to say.
Big Bartholomew, exhausted, yawns and pushes back his chair;
James the Lesser, scowling broadly, with his finger carves the air.
Judas grimaces profoundly; Andrews scratches for a flea;
Thaddeus bumps into Peter--oh, what can the matter be?

Soon the Lord will claim his kingdom. Rome approaches zero hour.
In his new administration, who will wield the greatest power?
Peter, chief of staff, barks orders; Judas, hedge-fund king, dissents;
Thomas hopes to be Chief Justice; James and John opt for Defense.
Intrigues stir Simon the Zealot (why, is anybody's guess);
He will head the Secret Service; Matthew wants the IRS.
Heads of this and that department keep the ship of state on course.
Who will be the most important when God's kingdom comes in force?
Twelve men ready to be leaders, generals, great men of might,
Department heads and cabinet members: twelve men itching for a fight.

Thirteen men around a table, thirteen men about to eat.
There's the basin, where's the servant? Thirteen men have dirty feet.
Andrew, closest to the basin, quickly chooses not to budge:
Next year's military hero can't be this year's common drudge.
Cleaning dirt from people's toenails nauseates Bartholomew.
He nods at John, then at the basin; John misapprehends his cue.
Simon, cloak-and-dagger honcho, rises, drops back in his seat:
What a blot upon his record: "This man's good at washing feet."
James the Lesser squirms and reddens; Judas stares beyond the doors.
Talented administrators should not stoop to lowly chores.
Peter talks, though no one listens; Philip's overcome with heat;
Twelve men yawn and scratch and wonder, who is going to wash our feet?

Twelve men eager to do battle, all impatient for the coup--
But Jesus looks a bit disgruntled. What is Jesus going to do?

Jesus Christ, their Lord and teacher, famous healer, son of man,
Son of God, God's own Messiah, is picking up the water pan.
With one hand he takes a towel, tucks it in his belt, and then
Rolls his sleeves above his elbows, walks by twelve astonished men,
Pours some water in the basin, puts the basin on the tile
Next to open-mouthed Thaddaeus, takes his sandal with a smile,
Dips his feet into the water, washes well between his toes,
Pats them dry, refills the basin, tucks the towel back in, and goes
To Andrew, Thomas, John, and Philip, Simon and Bartholomew,
James the Greater, James the Lesser, Levi Matthew, and Judas too.

All the feet are washed but Peter's. Jesus takes the basin now,
Moves toward Peter, kneels beside him. Peter jumps. "I can't allow
You to do the servant's labor! You are not the slave of me.
You're my rabbi, friend, and master! Go away and let me be.
Dirty feet I've seen quite often. Dirty feet I've washed before.
If you'll let me have that basin, I can wash my feet once more."
Peter grabs, but Jesus dodges. "Peter, listen for my sake.
Here's a lesson you must study: when to give and when to take.
Give your all, but not for glory. Give as long as there is need.
As a servant in my kingdom, you can plant the gospel seed.
Take from me the right to enter heaven's kingdom come to earth.
Wash your soul in heaven's fountain: take from me the second birth."

Jesus sets aside the basin. Peter clutches him in dread.
"Master, stay and wash me fully! Wash my feet, my hands, my head!"
Kneeling, Jesus washes Peter's feet, and then says to his friend,
"One who's bathed is clean all over, when just his feet are washed again.
I, your master, played the servant. Each of you should do the same.
Servants all, serve one another when you gather in my name."

Thirteen men around a table, one alone is devil-led.
Twelve men, clean in soul and body, ready now for wine and bread.

Matthew doesn't ask the question; Luke is silent, as is Mark;
Likewise, John forgets to mention (scholars thus are in the dark):
Who washed Jesus' feet?

Copyright 1978 and 2009 by LaVonne Neff; all rights reserved


Erika Haub said...

My friends in L.A. all loved and collected the Arch Books, so my kids have read most of them and we own a handful. This was fun to see one that "might have been". Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

When I was young, my pastor used to recite this poem from memory at our footwashing services. One of the most memorable (repeated) services of my childhood. Thanks for sharing it here!
My plan is to do the same for a new generation of church-goers at my church now. . .