The Jerusalem Lamb

Canto XIV

"Flawless," that merry queen,
"Unblemished am I, without a blot,
And that in majesty I maintain;
But 'matchless queen' then said I not.
The Lamb's brides in bliss we've been,
A hundred and forty four thousand flock,
As in the Apocalypse 'tis seen.
Saint John saw them all in a knot
On the hill of Zion, that seemly spot;
The apostle saw them in ghostly dream,
Arrayed for wedding on that hilltop,
The new city of Jerusalem.


"Of Jerusalem in speech I spell.
If thou wouldst know what kind he be--
My Lamb, my Lord, my dear Jewel,
My Joy, my Bliss, my Lover free--
The prophet Isaiah of him did tell
Piteously of his debonairity,
That glorious guiltless one men did quell
Without any reason of felony.
As sheep to the slaughter there led was he
And as lamb the shearer takes in hand,
So closed he his mouth to each query
When the Jews judged him in Jerusalem.


"In Jerusalem was my lover slain
And rent on the rood amongst boys bold.
All our bale to bear full benigh,
He took on himself our cares so cold.
With buffets was his face flayed,
Which once so fair was to behold.
For sin he set himself in vain,
Who ne'er by it had been controlled.
For us, himself was flagged and flailed
And broken upon a boisterous beam.
As meek as a lamb that no plaint told
For us he died in Jerusalem.


"Jerusalem, Jordan, and Galilee--
There, as baptized the good Saint john,
His words with Isaiah's did agree.
When Jesus then toward him had gone,
He spoke of him this prophesy:
'Lo, God's Lamb, as true as stone,
Who doth for the sins stand warranty
Which all this world hath wrought upon.'
Of himself surely he wrought none,
Yet on himself took all the stain.
His generation, who can reckon,
Who died for us in Jerusalem?

The poet, it would seem, has correctly located and interpreted the "Jesus as Lamb" symbol according to the understanding of the early Christian tradition itself--spotting it, as he does, in the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah, in John the Baptist's statements in the opening chapters of the Gospel of John, and finally, in Revelation.

This meditation on the suffering and the atoning death of Jesus is very appropriate to the theme of Christian comfort. Merely to get our attention off our own suffering and onto his is a great gain. In the face of the cross, self-centeredness has to begin to give way.

Finally and perhaps most important, after the cross, it is impossible anymore to think of the God whom we address in our grief as being merely the worker of that grief, the observer of that grief. No, now we must admit that our sufferings have pained him more than they have us. The Lord is the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (while we have resisted grief and refused its positive acquaintance). In the face of the cross, then, we must know that he has been with us in suffering. So if there is antagonism, it can be only because we have been against him, rather than he against us.


"In Jerusalem thus my lover sweet
Twice for a lamb was taken there
By record true of either prophet,
For his mode so meek and his way so fair.
The third time is thereto full meet,
In the Apocalypse 'tis written clear;
Amidst the throne 'round which saints took seat,
The Apostle John saw him right there,
Opening the book with pages square
Were seven signets were set in line.
And at that sight all froze in fear--
In hell, in earth, and Jerusalem.

Copyright (c) 1983