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The Prayers of the Phoenix

Another fantastic excerpt from Eerdmans’ forthcoming reprint of the 16th century Four Birds of Noah’s Ark. This is the introduction to the fourth and final bird, the Phoenix, a collection of prayers relating to death and resurrection. 

The fourth bird is now flying out toward you; spread, therefore, your arms wide open to welcome it, and this Phoenix will carry you up and on to a second life that shall be ever, everlasting.

Among all birds, the Phoenix lives the longest–so must our prayers fly up in bright flames all the days of our lives. We must be petitioners even to the last hour and last minute of our breath. The Phoenix has the most beautiful feathers in the world, and prayers are the most beautiful wings by which we may mount into heaven. There is but one Phoenix upon earth, and it has but one tune in which God delights, and that is the prayer of a sinner. 

When the Phoenix knows she must die, she builds a nest of all the sweetest spices, and there, looking steadfastly at the sun, she beats her wings in its hottest beams and between them kindles a fire among those sweet spices and so burns herself to death. So, when we desire to die in the vanities of the world, we must build up a nest and fill it with faithful sighs, groans, tears, fasting and prayer, sackcloth and ashes–all of which are sweet spices in the nostrils of the Lord–and then, fixing our eyes upon the cross where the glorious Son of God paid the ransom of our sins, we must not cease till, with the wings of faith and repentance, we have kindled his mercy and in that sweet flame have all our fleshly corruptions consumed and purified. Out of those dead ashes of the Phoenix does a new Phoenix rise. And even so, out of the ashes of that one repentance shall we be regenerate and born anew.

Out of the purest flames of love, Christ kindled a fire that drank up the wrath of his Father, a fire in which all people should have been drowned for their sins, and in that fire did he die to redeem us who were lost. Yet he did not leave it there. To have died for us would have been worth nothing if he hadn’t also, like a true Phoenix, been raised up again. As a grain of wheat is cast into the earth and there first rots and then comes to life again and after yields itself in a tenfold measure, so was our Savior cast into his sepulcher, where his dead body lay for a time and then came to life again and then was raised up. And in that rising did he multiply those benefits that before he sowed among us, when he was torn in pieces and scattered on the cross.

When he died, he died alone, but when he did rise, he did not rise alone, for in his resurrection do we all ascend…

Jesus Christ the Pelican Mother

Here at Mbird HQ, sometimes you get an advance copy of a book from a publisher and you’re not exactly thrilled about opening it. This one, though, is an exception. It is a prayer book from the days of Shakespeare, written by layman (and playwright) Thomas Dekker. The book is divided into four parts, each part a “bird,” or form of prayer, flying from Noah’s Ark. The notion of the Ark as the human body/experience is a powerful one. This is Dekker’s introduction to his third bird, The Pelican. You can pre-order the book here.

The third bird that I call out of Noah’s ark is the Pelican. The nature of the Pelican is to peck her own bosom and with the drops of her blood to feed her young ones. Christ, the Son of God, is the Pelican whose blood was shed to feed us. The physician made a medicine of his own body to cure us. Look upon him well, and behold his wounds bleeding, his head bowed down (as if to kiss us), his very sides opened (as if to show how his heart loved us), his arms stretched out to their length (as if to embrace us). And judge by all these if Christ be not our truest Pelican.

He who was King of Heaven and Earth suffered his brow to wear a crown of thorns. He received wounds that are our health. He tasted the bitterness of death that is our salvation—what Pelican can do more for her young ones?

Our souls were spotted: Sin had pawned them, sin had lost them, sin had made them foul. All the medicine in the world could not purge our corruption, all the fountains in the world could not wash our spots, all the gold and silver on earth could not redeem our forfeitures, all the kings under heaven could not pay our ransoms. Nothing could free us from captivity but to make Christ a prisoner. Nothing could give us life but the heavenly Pelican’s death.