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.
Jesus Dies on the Cross by Malcolm Guite
Today is Good Friday. It is the day we remember Jesus and His sacrificial and redemptive death. The sonnet by Malcolm 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.
Sacrifice is clearly out of fashion. The concept of spilling innocent blood offends our modern sensibilities. We think of these practices as barbaric and push away any thought of human sacrifice as an ancient rite of uncivilized tribal culture. What then do we do the cross? The very center of Christianity is established on the sacrificial death of the Lamb, both in foreshadow and in ultimate fulfillment.
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, Malcolm 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!
D I G D E E P E R
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. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page