This Holy Week and Easter, we continue to pray for those who are held as hostages throughout the world, and in particular in the Middle East 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, but 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 following poem: Terry’s first name is embedded in the third verse. It combines within it the atonement metaphors of substitution, absorption and ransom.
Some of the early Eastern Church fathers framed the concept of the deception of the Devil.
Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395 AD) 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 Religous Instruction," Chapter 23. Library of Christian Classics, III, 300)
Gregory later compared the Devil to a hungry fish who is caught on the hook of Christ’s deity when he is enticed to swallow it by the bait of Christ’s flesh. (Gregory of Nyssa, "An Address on Religous Instruction," Chapter 24.
Library of Christian Classics, III, 301)
In the poem, I have changed the deception of the Devil to that of the personification of Death. Lazarus is released as Death rejoices about 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.
This poem, is published in Graham Kings, Signs and Seasons (Canterbury Press, 2008) p. 43 and was originally posted on Fulcrum in 2010. It appeared with this new introduction on Covenant and Mission Theology and we are grateful for permission to reproduce it here.
The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Hon Assistant Bishop and World Mission Adviser, Diocese of Southwark, and SCR Member, St Chad’s College, Durham. He has been theological secretary of Fulcrum since its founding.