At this time, when the Coronavirus is causing immense suffering and casting a gloomy shadow over the world, people are crying out for hope and resurrection to a new and better way of life. So, it seemed appropriate at this Easter time to share a thought based on the poem, ‘A Better Resurrection’ by the famous Victorian poet, Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894).
I first came across this poem a few years ago during a Church weekend away at Lee Abbey. One evening, after supper prepared by the young hosts, and lively conversations amongst some people, I went rather despondently to the Library. Browsing through an anthology of poems, I came across this poem. It immediately struck home with me, as my own Christian faith was going through a slight ‘wobble’ for various personal reasons, and my future direction in life seemed unclear.
Christina’s poem reflects in clear, direct language and simple images, her own sadness and loss of hope: she went through a major religious crisis in 1857, the year it was written. Further emotional turmoil was also probably caused by her own ill health (a heart condition and depression, and later in life Graves’ Disease and breast cancer), and marriage proposals which she had rejected. Maybe she was also feeling personal disappointment about a lost opportunity in the aftermath of the Crimean War, having been turned down after volunteering to join Florence Nightingale in Scuitari. Even while her suffering world seemed hopeless, she turns to Jesus and finds hope in his resurrection power. In each verse, her call to Jesus and her hope grows stronger, and she prays that the “broken bowl” of her life might be refreshed, remoulded and made acceptable to Him, her King. Her reference in the first verse to her heart being “like a stone”, contrasts with the final line in her famous carol “In the Bleak Midwinter”, where she answers her own question about what she can give Jesus: “give Him my heart”.
The title of the poem is actually taken from the Bible: Hebrews 11, v35, referring to the “great cloud of witnesses” who endured suffering through faith – that is “being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see” (v1).
May our focus during Holy Week on Jesus’ death and resurrection give us hope for a better life emerging, like ‘the sap of Spring’ from the present crisis, and especially at Easter!
A Better Resurrection
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall – the sap of Spring:
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold:
Cast in the fire the perished thing:
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King;
O Jesus, drink of me.
Christina Rossetti (1857)