First Place | 2024 Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest

“Christ to the Condemned”

By Katie Painter

I loved you into existence before that golden day,
The holy morn of your birth,
When the world glistened with new hope
And your eyes shone like sun-speckled glass,
And your mother breathed a rosy sigh
And I looked down on it all, rejoicing.

I held your hand as you blossomed,
Young and wild and carefree,
Spreading your roots in the meadow of life,
Radiant with possibility.

I stood at your back, propping you up,
In that benighted hour
When despair cast its shadow on your chest,
Wrapping sooty tendrils around your throat,
Choking out the divine fragrance in you,
And you fell away from me.
In that benighted hour, dear child—

I wept.

My heart did not curdle and seethe with venom,
Nor did I harden my countenance like steel,
Nor did I shake my fist to strike you from the Earth,
Nor did I cry out for blood in icy, rasping strains.


I whispered your name in the silence.
I kept it ever on my lips.
I begged for your return and reached out my hands,
Desperate to catch you if I could.
I stood in wait on the seashore, pressing my feet into the sand, Knowing what fruits would come to you
If only you dared reap them from the ashes underfoot.
For I had you in my mind, dear child,
When I stretched my arms out on the cross,
Enduring the white-hot sting of thorns,
Bleeding out tender love from my pierced side
And sending forth my spirit like the dewfall
For the salvation of the world.

Remember, my beloved: I came that you might have life,
And might have it abundantly.
I came, that you might know The Good
And drink deep silver drafts
From the well-spring of my mercy.

You who bear the weight of others’ unforgiveness,
Know that—with shuddering gasps
And blood-soaked tears upon my face—I bore it, too.
I want you now to lay down your load.
Turn your weary gaze to the light,
Come rest in the gentleness of God,

And live.

Katie Painter is a 23-year-old from Stow, Massachusetts currently completing a Master’s degree in theology at Oxford University.