I went to an Epiphany service yesterday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral.

The service consisted of a series of biblical readings and poems interspersed with congregational hymns and a varied selection of musical pieces presented by the St. Christopher Singers.

The first poem in the service was a poem I have never heard before by R.S. Thomas. It was the perfect way to introduce a service asking the congregation to reflect upon the deep meaning of the nativity season through which we had just passed.

In his poem “The Coming” Thomas imagines the pre-existent Christ in conversation with God. Together Father and Son look at the earth, contemplating the pain and struggle of the human community.

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe.  Look he said.
The son looked.  Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour.  The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
                On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky.  many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs.  The son watched
Them.  Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Often when I look at the world all I am able to see is “A scorched land of fierce / Color.”  It feels as if “a bright / serpent” has indeed “Uncoiled itself” upon the earth “radiant with slime”.

In the midst of the “slime,” human beings reach out “their thin arms” longing for some sign of spring, “waiting / For a vanished April.”

There is so much darkness in the world. Perhaps I am of an unnecessarily gloomy disposition, but it feels only honest to admit that, at times, I find myself  tempted to fell overwhelmed by the bleak prospect of human conduct on this “small globe.”

In Thomas’ poem God and Christ look together at the struggle of human beings. They behold the blighted lives of those who long for release from the hardship and pain they experience. In the midst of this painful vision, the Christ turns to his father and asks, “Let me go there.”

It is a touching reversal. The Son of God chooses, not to ignore or deny the reality of human suffering, but to be born in the very midst of the bleak reality that is so often the human condition.

Having heard the beautiful words of Thomas’ poem we in the congregation were invited to stand and sing James Montgomery’s hymn, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” which ends with the verse,

O’er every foe victorious, He on His throne shall rest;
From age to age more glorious, all blessing and all blest.
The tide of time shall never His covenant remove;
His Name shall stand forever, His Name to us is Love.

                                           James Montgomery (1771-1854)

For Montgomery, as for R. S. Thomas, the final word is not brokenness and despair. In Jesus, both poets see that God has affirmed the final word that reigns over all creation is “Love.”

It requires a careful eye and a tender heart to discern the outline of the “Love” in the midst of the chaos of the human condition. But the heart that allows itself to be broken open by the bewildering pain of so much of life, will discover that, in the midst of the darkness, there resides a radiant self-giving light. The heart of the universe is a power that never stops giving itself in a ceaseless outpouring of self-sacrificing love.

When we humans align ourselves with this power of love and allow that power to shape our lives, we will discover that “a vanished April” does indeed “return” to the “crossed / Boughs” on that “bare / Hill” where “a bare tree” so often saddens  “The sky. ”

There is always the promise of light.