Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states and kings;
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious thins,
The which to measure it doth more behove;
Yet few there are that sound them, ‒ Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A Man so wrung with pains, that all His hair,
His skin, His garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice which, on the cross, a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like,
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.
The Agony by George Herbert
How are we to understand the agony of Christ in Gethsemane where the Bible says He sweat great drops of blood in prayer? We must certainly begin with the resignation that we cannot plumb its depth. At its least it rightfully informs us of the horror of sin in separating us from the Father, but at best it reveals the unspeakable love of God. Only eternity will show how far Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Writing in The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite says:
In Isaiah the wine crushed from the grapes symbolizes blood, in the radical Christian reading of that passage, the garments dipped in blood presage Christ’s gift of his own blood as wine. And all this symbolic background is focused, and expressed (in every sense of that term) in the concentrated imagery of the poem; the sign of wrath becomes the sign of redemption as ‘Sin’ is transmuted by ‘Love’ and from this ‘press’ flows the wine which will be the life of the communicant church. So in his third and final stanza Herbert moves from the contemplation in Christ of ‘sin’ to contemplation in Christ of that ‘love’ which redeems sin. He who trod the wine-press alone becomes the cask of wine to be pierced, ‘set abroach,’ opened, to refresh his people.
What does Christ’s agony mean to you?
I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes.
D i g D e e p e r
George Herbert by Malcolm Guite
On February 27th the Church of England keeps the feast and celebrates the memory of George Herbert, the gentle poet priest whose book the Temple, published posthumously in 1633 by his friend Nicholas Ferrar has done so much to help and inspire Christians ever since. In an earlier blog post I gave a talk on George Herbert and the Insights of Prayer. I offer this sonnet, part of a sequence called ‘Clouds of Witness” in my most recent poetry book The Singing Bowl. The sequence is a celebration of the saints, intended to complement my sequence Sounding the Seasons.
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.