Poem: “Resurgam”

I wrote this for Preaching class in 2003.


1666 is not a good year for the common in London.
Fire purges dross, filth, and the badly laid-out city of man.
Five days of inferno destroys four centuries
Of hasty, “build for the moment, no thought for tomorrow” construction.

Lives are spared — but works of a lifetime perish.

Enter the master architect, with a plan to renew from the ashes
A city worthy of a king.
Broad streets will replace crowded alleys,
Precious stone replaces wood, hay and stubble.
Fire will never again threaten the proud capital —

But only if the people will listen, follow his lead, obey the plan.

They don’t.

The king himself cannot enforce the dictate:
Too many people, not enough enforcers.
The process begins anew:
Again lives rebuilt as they were;
Again, no thought for the future. Present matters
Pervade the common, overwhelm the eternal.

Yet —

The king, powerless to control the profane, reserves the master architect for the sacred. The master architect will have his way in building the cathedral.

Or will he?

Plans are drawn, models constructed.
But the religious do not like what they see.
“It’s too much.” “It’s too catholic.” “Tone it down!”

Will he listen?

The king winks. The architect nods and grins to himself.

Stones from the previous cathedral form the core of the new.
On one stone, the architect finds a phoenix with a word written in Latin beneath:
“Resurgam.” “I shall rise again.”
A stone once burned receives new life in the new building.

The building grows.
Scaffolds rise;
Tapestries hide progress from prying eyes as flesh hides the soul.
Decades pass; the architect ages; his design holds fast.

And when the folds fall away, the genius of the architect becomes plain
In the magnificence of his creation.
The dome towers to the heavens, far above the profane ramshackle buildings of the commoners.
Neither English, nor any other language uttered by mere man, can describe
The beauty of the architect’s finished masterpiece.
The profane will burn again;
The cathedral outlasts the ravages of man, the horror of war, the terror of the Blitz,
To stand until the fire of God purges the world and makes all things new.

Travel to St. Paul’s today, and in the Crypt you will see the final resting place
Of Sir Christopher Wren.
It is plain, inscribed with one phrase:
“Lector, monumentum requiris, circumspice —”
“Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you.”

St. Paul himself would have been proud.
For, you see, St. Paul, too, was an architect, the Corinthians his masterpiece.
The fire of salvation purges their lives,
Leaving only the foundation of faith laid by Christ Himself.
What will they build? What materials will they use?

Temptations are rife in the profane city of Corinth. Profane materials abound.
The wise — or those who think of themselves as wise —
Seek to use wood, hay, stubble to re-construct themselves
On a sacred foundation.
They sacrifice the eternal for the expediency of the now;
Or worse, succomb to the religious
And their legalistic desires for something less
Than what the Architect would give.

But fire cometh.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.”
The ancient prophets proclaim,
“The LORD thy God is a consuming fire;”
“He is like a refiner’s fire.”

Dross will evaporate before Him.
The folds of flesh fall away to reveal the true building.
Wood, hay, stubble will flash into non-existence.
Only gold, silver, and precious stones will survive.
The now fails; the eternal survives.
Temporal wisdom reveals itself as eternal foolishness.

But —

From those who build with godly goods
Using instructions considered folly by the world —

“Resurgam” transforms into “Resurrexi!”
“I have risen!” resounds triumphantly throughout the heavens;
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord!”
Their priceless works have followed them
And from the disaster of judgment arises new life,
Everlasting life;

And to see their memorial,
“Lector, monumentum requiris, circumspice —”
Look about them at the glory of God,
The eternal city
Not made with hands,
Worthy to be the capital of the King of Kings;
Built on the firm foundation
Laid by the Master Builder of heaven itself.

Note: On Sunday night 12 October 2003, PBS presented a short history of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The parallels between St. Paul, St. Paul’s, Sir Christopher Wren, and 1 Corinthians 3:11-22 were too great for me to ignore. — JA