All at Calvary - Cord J. Whitaker
NOTE: this poem was originally shared as part of a special worship service, A Love Song to Calvary, February 14, 2021
I have heard it said that cavalry is Calvary
By those who would search and destroy
By those who make mockery
By those for whom words mean little
Unless and until words mean what they want.
But I have known it true that Calvary is the cavalry
Coming for to take those who are lost
To be loved
And to limn the contours of something like
Unbound and spun out into forever.
Where to be in Calvary is to float on a sea, of
That is calm when tossed
Yet that tosses when it must
So that placid blue reflecting-sky
Waters fill the need of every eye
That sees this sea,
Yet, no, flame is not quenched.
It descends, comes down
Upon the heads of all
Parthians, Medes, Elamites
Libyans, Egyptians, Pamphilians, Phrygians
All with one voice
Raised heavenly high
Bell tones like saints, or Ella’s notes, I
am carried above each rowhouse’s flat roof,
each Victorian peak.
We sell all and freely give it.
Let the world have its wealth!
All for one, one for all. This is spiritual health.
I am carried along, on a Calvary sea
Of our soul’s energy.
Once seen, this sea, it welcomes in
Every entrant through this soul-shore’s red door
At 48th & Baltimore
Where rest is found
Where peace abounds
Where every heart, to its core,
is filled with love’s sweet, sweet sound.
This poem was inspired by my love for the strong, even stalwart, beloved community that is Calvary. I heard a corruption of our name a few days ago. During his second impeachment trial, Trump’s defense team submitted as evidence one rioter’s tweet that read, in reference to plans to attack the U.S. Capitol, “the calvary is coming.” In context, it is clear she meant to say “cavalry”—either she or her autocorrect got it wrong—but Trump’s lawyers spun it to argue that she was clearly referring to the peace and love that Christian faith ought to bring with it. This, they argued, was evidence that the rioters meant to be peaceful. That, counter to fact, there was no insurrection being incited.
But they were so wrong, on so many counts. Aside from the plainly twisted logic and downright shameful invocation of Christian faith to explain a white nationalist riot, they just get the very idea of Calvary wrong. It is peace, it is love. But it’s also fire. It’s also passion. It’s a hard love that leaves you unable to go along to get along; unable to pretend you conform to that which is most acceptable; unable to pretend you don’t love who you love, think what you think, feel what you feel; unable to pretend you don’t see the struggling victim in need, that you don’t see the homeless in need; that leaves you unable to lock the doors for comfort once everyone who is supposed to be inside is inside. It’s a hard love that forces you to go out into the world and love it hard, to seek injustice, and to strive to install justice in its place.
The poem was also inspired by the beloved community of the Apostles in Acts, chapter 2, where after the Pentecost breaks down barriers of language and knowledge and culture, Phrygians and Egyptians and Elamites are all found speaking together in one Spirit-given tongue. The Apostles and thousands of new believers form a community where they sell all their possessions and share all and give to whomever is in need and live communally. Every day, more and more people hear about them and come to join them. Theologically, that community is why I subscribe to Christian Marxism. Spiritually, it’s why I come to Calvary, where we share and give and, in the contexts of the 21st century and our city and our country, we do a pretty good job of being like that apostolic community. Where “we sell all and freely give it,” where “every heart it filled with love’s sweet, sweet sound,” and where “All means All.”