The Lay of the Lord
by Christopher Yokel
The true story of Jesus’s life remains an epic full of emotion, unexpected twists and turns, and tragedy and triumph. Sometimes its familiarity makes us forget, though. Christopher Yokel recasts the gospels as an epic poem, recapturing our wonder at what Jesus has done. Beginning with the announcement of John’s impending birth to Zechariah and ending Easter evening, the book walks with Jesus and leads us to gasp again at the story we have known for so long.
This book has power. I would not give it to a newbie Christian or someone who isn’t Christian unless they were the type of person who likes looking deeper and looking up allusions. It is filled with poetic shadows and illustrations and mentions that I understood, but would fly over the head of someone not familiar with the history of salvation. Scapegoats? Moriah? Fig trees?
He also doesn’t straight-out tell the stories. He seems to assume familiarity with sections of Scripture like Simeon and Anna, the Sermon on the Mount, and so on. If you don’t already know the section he’s talking about, some of this will really just not make any sense. Instead, most of his tellings focus on the imagery rather than the events. A few exceptions would be a narrative poem talking about Jesus cursing the fig tree, which isn’t exactly a common story! If Yokel put out any other editions of this, I’d ask that maybe he include references so someone might look up the original if they wanted to read more deeply. (Honestly, an annotated edition of this would be great.)
That said, the content is potent. Yokel makes connections I never did. They don’t “heighten” the story of salvation at all, but added new little wrinkles for me.
The leather dances through the air,
device of torture
executes its purpose well.
Yet through the torn veil of flesh,
blood-drenched we enter.
In mockery He is enthroned,
no gold to grace His brow,
but the fruit of the curse roughly caresses
the forehead of the Son of Adam.
No iron scepter of power, not yet,
but the staff with which
the soldiers bludgeon their eternal Sovereign.
The comic homage now complete,
the King to His elevation they escort.
That said, there are a few red flags that popped up as I read. For instance, in the section on the Sermon on the Mount, Yokel refers to Jesus bringing “the new law.” The word Gospel, I think, never appears (I could be wrong there). Even with that, though, Jesus as sacrifice for sins is clearly portrayed. Jesus is not the new law-giver, but in one line, maybe Yokel portrays him that way…? Hard to say with poetry. And there’s a few lines like that which make me say, “Well, maybe not all of this is great….” But again, in general, everything seems on the up-and-up.
So, yeah, you need to be cautious with this one. That said, since I’d only be handing this to people who are already familiar with the history of salvation, any such possible missteps I don’t think would mislead. Instead, such a reader could appreciate the artistry and connections and maybe reawaken some of the wonder that is Jesus’s rescue of sinners like us.
The book is short, and that’s probably my biggest disappointment. Roughly twenty pages for the birth narrative, twenty pages for Jesus’s ministry, and twenty pages for his Passion. The birth section was paced exactly right for me. The ministry section, while obviously being an overview, didn’t feel rushed to me. The Passion section, though! Oh, I wanted to spend more time there. I wish he’d lingered with Jesus on the cross longer.
If my biggest complaint is that a book is too short, I think that’s really a compliment.
The shortness is also an asset, though. I suspect I’ll be rereading this one often, simply because of its depth and accessibility. I highly recommend it. Take some time to soak it in. You’ll be glad that you did.