“Last Words”

The Lord of light and life has bared his back
To suffer spiteful scourging, spread his hands
In painful welcome wide beneath the nails,
And hung in human agony for hours.
But, as the soldiers gambled for his clothes,
His labored, anguished breath gave voice to grace:
“Forgive, because they know not what they do.”

As scoffing foes, and former followers,
And even one who, guilty, hung beside,
Made mockery of righteousness betrayed,
One just as guilty guards him in belief,
And he speaks in assurance to that thief,
Who asks but memory: “I truly say
That you’ll join me in Paradise today.”

Among those crying at the cross’s foot,
He sees his sole dependent, and his friend
Who shall alone outlive the wrath to come
Upon Jerusalem, for which he wept,
And so he makes provision for her care:
“Dear woman, see your son”—“Behold, your mother.”

With hours of shadow shrouding all the land,
And, sinless, bearing all his people’s sin
And all God’s holy wrath that it deserves,
Though tempted to despair, he cried to God:
“Why, O my God, have you abandoned me?”

As his last human strength ebbed, drained away,
And he remembered words his Spirit spoke
Through prophets’ mouths in ages long ago,
He voiced his body’s anguish, thus: “I thirst.”

His task accomplished, punishment complete,
All necessary payment made in full
For all the sins of past and future men,
And victory in principle assured,
Before he breathed his last he spoke one word
Of sure and certain triumph: “It is finished.”

And when at last the final moment came
That he elected to lay down his life
And sleep three days in death that men might live,
His trust in God his Father ever sure,
He prayed in perfect confidence, “My Father,
I commit my spirit to your hands.”

Painting of "What Our Lord Saw From the Cross" by James Tissot

I wrote this poem earlier this week, wishing to have some poem to mark the day. I began with the opening lines, but did not expect the poem to go on to cover Jesus’ Seven Words until I found the first lines leading inexorably to a quotation of the first.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.


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