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In this age of the In-between,

this long corridor in both space and time

I can stand on my toes and look back

to older brothers and sisters of yester-centuries

they nod to me and my companions of the Now

Like He was, many were stricken

they heard your call, heeded it,

to sword-point, to gallows, to beast’s maw and saw-blade

blood staining earth and hand

yet running life-giving stream deep to the roots

of the garden of God.

I see the faces of a few in the crowd,

from furthest to nearest

They paid what was asked

of them–I’ve seen the receipts:

Felicitatis, of good family under Marcus Aurelius:

1. seven children, all martyred;

2. one life, method of payment: beheading.

Overseer Sabinus from Spoleto:

1. one hand, with which he struck Jupiter;

2. one life, method of payment: scourging.

Alban, whose ticket I’ve read in the original:

1. the prestige of a pagan priesthood;

2. one life, method of payment: beheading.

Gardiner, of this our Bricstowe:

1. all worldly possessions gained as a young merchant;

2. one life, method of payment: roasting.

The queue is indeed long

of all these who have gone before

in such a way!

So much dross consumed, such gold refined,

Too many to count, too many to honor,

all these who cry out from beneath the throne.

From where I stand,

I face again the other way,

but that end of the hall is dark.

Only He knows what lies ahead!

He lights the way just before our feet,

and no more.

I do not know yet my own bill,

what will be demanded when the time comes.

The yoke’s on the shoulder for now,

and heavy enough it so often seems.

But His hand is at my back, under my arms–

the heat, the grief, the pain–

He bore it, and then bore them,

torture could not loosen their hold,

for the cross in its turn

strengthened their grip upon itself–

it seems He still carries us

and the weight

through the flames and the waves,

over spikes and over coals;

and with a glance back at the cloud of witnesses

–somehow they’re both behind and ahead!–

my companions and I, we say:

‘If this be all You ask of us, then we must do it.’

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