The Lament of Coryphaeus


“Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors” (CA XII, Of Repentance: 2b-6a).

What is the difference between Judas and St. Peter? Was the sin of the former qualitatively mortal; that of the latter, venial? No. The difference is faith. For the eye of faith beholds Christ Who is all forgiveness and love. In the face of such great love Peter believed and was forgiven; out of faith came hope and love. Faced with the same, Judas despaired. Great is the mystery of unbelief.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The Lament of Coryphaeus

Where can I go?
The Forgiver is gone.
Must I now forego what
the Giver bestowed?
And all that I wish
is to say that I’m sorry.
My Lord, oh what
have I done?

You are gone.

No Rock am I —
I am uncertain sand.
Not sifted wheat —
I am powdery flour.
No bold defender —
a traitor I am.
No Coryphaeus —
I sing dissonance.

Oh Lord, I must sink,
for Your hands are
withdrawn from me,
pierced by the foes
to whom I denied You,
extended in death
at the end of sore arms
lying lifeless behind
a cold curtain of stone.

I cannot walk the waves of shame
that froth atop this watery Hell.
A full washing, I insisted then:
“Not just my feet, but all of me.”
I knew not what it was I asked.
Oh extinguish me now,
Wash me out in Sheol.
For I must get behind you.
I am Satan; you said so.

What is this? Oh, my God.
The women, they say
He’s alive.
The Beloved outruns me.
falling behind.

How can I face the
One I’ve denied?
But, oh! How my
yearns within me.

Peace be you, Peter.
I said I would pray for you!
And I did, and I do.
And now I adjure you

to breathe, and receive
the Holy Ghost.
Now come, eat with me.
Tell me, do you love me?
Feed my sheep.

Last week you were young:
you girded yourself and
you walked where you would.
But now you are old.
You will stretch out your hands
and another will gird you.
And, again, I will carry you.

+       +       +

I’ve never written an interpretation of one of my own poems before, so this is a bit of a first for me. Perhaps I’ve been prevented by a bit of unconscious vanity, an underlying pretentious desire to be inscrutable. Whatever it was, the jig is now up: I can’t bloody-well interpret a meaningless poem, so this attempt will serve as the canary in the coal mine.

The portion of the poem comprising St. Peter’s narrative ends somewhat abruptly. While I know that this could be as much a result of my lack of poetic prowess as anything else, I did intend the abruptness to evoke the feeling of helplessness that I imagine St. Peter must have felt when he entered the empty tomb. Where is Jesus? Apparently He’s risen — but…where is He? It’s hard to say whether St. Peter would have been eager to see Jesus right then. It’s poetic fatuity to suggest that, no, he certainly wasn’t. But it’s not as foolish to imagine that St. Peter’s feelings were at least mixed: joy that Jesus was alive, fear over the prospect of facing Him after denying Him, yet topped off by a paradoxical hope that if anyone could forgive such heinous infidelity, it would be Jesus. But St. Peter doesn’t sort out this deliberative mess and make up his mind to seek out and find Jesus — Jesus seeks him; Jesus finds him; Jesus comes to St. Peter and the other disciples in the Upper Room through locked doors. This is more than a metaphor: Jesus, refulgent with the majesty of His divinity, passes through the door (pace Calvin) — not as some wraith, but in the flesh: “they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (St. Luke xxiv, 38-39).

With that said, I will assert with equal force that the locked doors are also not less than a metaphor: unless Jesus comes to us, we are locked in our rooms of fear and unbelief. As George MacDonald says, “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” But they are unlocked from the outside. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (The Revelation to St. John iii, 20). We don’t find Christ; He finds us. We don’t seek Him out; He seeks us out. We cannot ascend to Him, so He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I would welcome your comments.

Christos Anesti!