Jesus Dies On The Cross
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black
We watch him as he labours to draw breath.
He takes our breath away to give it back,
Return it to its birth through his slow death.
We hear him struggle, breathing through the pain,
Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,
Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain
And drew us into consciousness from sleep.
His Spirit and his life he breathes in all,
Mantles his world in his one atmosphere,
And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall
Of our pollutions, draw our injured air
To cleanse it and renew. His final breath
Breathes and bears us through the gates of death.
Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem
Today is Good Friday. It is the day we remember Jesus and His sacrificial and redemptive death. The sonnet by Malcom Guite is one of fifteen he wrote for the Stations of the Cross which are included in his book Sounding the Sonnets that may be read and heard in their entirety HERE.
The words ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are identical in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible. We easily understand breath as the essence of life, for without it life quickly expires. In Genesis we see the Holy Spirit as breath in creation and on Good Friday we see Jesus releasing His spirit on the cross.
In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite writes:
Contained in the pattern of our breathing is the whole story of our salvation. For a Christian in prayer the very act of breathing can become a return to our birth, a receiving of original life from the breath of God, as we breathe in with Adam in the garden of our beginnings, an offering of all that needs letting go and redeeming, as we breathe out with Christ on the cross; a glad acceptance of new life in the Holy spirit as we breathe in again receiving our life and commission afresh from the risen Lord.
At the end of the sonnet, I return to the image I had hinted at in the cleansing of the temple, that as Jesus breathed his last the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, a barrier has been broken, a gate has been opened. We are through at last.
How has the cross affected you?
It is finished!
Dig Deeper: Literature, Liturgy & Art
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.
Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.
Art: Lamb of God (in Latin, Agnus Dei) (1635–40) is an oil painting by the Spanish Baroque artist Francisco de Zurbarán. It is housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.