the penultimate WORD


Series 2009 - March

A scalding prayer... Sabacthani...








I should have been too saved – I see

Too rescued – Fear too dim to me

That I could spell the Prayer

I knew so perfect – yesterday –

That Scalding One – Sabacthani –

Recited fluent – here –

Emily Dickinson




And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46




A scalding prayer – Sabachthani – echoes in the valleys of Moriah and rends more than one heart this day.  The words belonged to Jesus.  Was the sentiment his as well?  Parched lips stuck to dry teeth strained to shape the accusation of consonant and vowel – Sabachthani!

The Century’s gaze caught a raising head and straining throat as into the darkened sky the heat of passion pleaded confusion and assault, disbelief and anger.

If this cup should pass me by – but not my will prevail in this darkened hour.  By completing the task you have given me to do – so glory has been given as oblation in this moment.  Forsaken!

And is obedience to be rewarded with forsakenness.  Has Jesus voiced our disappointment in our feigned faithfulness rewarded with forsakenness?  Does his searing sentiment draw him close to our side?  Is  Trust betrayed?



No less than a kiss in an isolated corner of a familiar garden, the moist breeze touches his cheek as a caress, and betrays arms extended in anticipated embrace.  Sabachthani!

The Lamb of God as “Faith” bleats to understand!

I should have had the Joy / Without the Fear – to justify – knowing I was effecting the will of my Father.  What place belongs to Fear in this bonding of Son and Father? 

In an earlier day, an earlier Son of Promise mingled Joy with Fear in these heights of Moriah.  Isaac accompanied Abraham up this path and casting his eyes from east to west had Joy diluted by Fear as Abraham bound him tight and lifted him on the altar.

‘God will provide, my Son, my only Son.  God will provide the sacrifice

‘Sabachthani!’ pleaded Isaac as Abraham raised his knife.  The terror of human sacrifice written on the faces of both Father and Son washed away in relief with the bleating of a ram, there – caught in a thicket.  Thorns encompassed its crown and it was held fast.

The Palm – without the Calvary – allowed for a triumphal welcome but avoided the cost of covenant So Savior – crucify – and Jesus’ prayer in the midst of his dereliction.  Sabachthani!

The words scald in every generation.  When I have used them, I have scalded both God and another.  Others have used them of me.  And God has as well.  We are both forsaken and we have been forsaken.  The upshot is our isolation and utter dependence on our own adequacy.  Left alone, we discover our need of one another and of God as well.  That moment was palpable in the darkness of Golgotha when self-reliance proved empty and demonstrated how much like us Jesus had become. 



The Word took on flesh, we say, and we have beheld his glory – such glory as befits the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  In the scalding heat of the moment, in this furnace of redemption, Grace and Truth are exposed not to the light of day, but to the darkness of men’s hearts.  Glory other than such as this touches no one.  Glory such as this brings healing on wings that rescues and reclaims, as God’s own.

Such vitalized Wine is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: finding a new covenant and its attending new Promise in the very dregs of a Cup drained.  Jesus provides vitality and new life at the point of despair.  Defeat and dangerous reefs compass us about on every side and we discover our complete reliance on Grace – never warranted.  The Mediterranean winds find the reefs outside a City wall and regardless of age or station, defeat seeps around the crosses.  Nameless witnesses of the dead and dying linger out of curiosity and fear and hear a word of prayer that sounds familiar in the darkened hour: Sabachthani!



Priest and Century, Mother and Disciple, Felon and Beggar hear, as in their own voice, and as one voice: Forsaken!  And in that instant, God’s presence overflows the hilltop with his train – and in that moment feet stand on holy ground.


Copyright © 2009 James T. Irvine

Midi: Turn Back O Man from Godspell

Series 2009

Ashes to Easter



Jesus’ Last Words

My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?