Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani
By: Matt Schur
It was Monday.
Jesus stretched on the sunny steps
awaiting glad tidings of great joy.
Bob Marley’s little birds
wailed their reassurances from a beat-up phone
and syncopated steel drum metallic melodies sang
with the guitar on the off beat.
Full-throated and smiling, Jesus sang along.
He first heard this one in college, he told me
before the legion demon voices
the felony sex offense
the scarlet letter marking him unclean
before hearing The Accuser’s voice
deny him shelter seventy times seven times.
“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,”
he mumbled to the departing rental agent.
And a freight train left Birmingham.
It was Tuesday.
Foxes have holes, birds have nests;
but other than the flattened box
behind the dumpster next to Duffy’s Tavern,
dirty smelly unshaven sex offender Jesus
had nowhere to lay his head.
“Who do you say that I am?” he asked the wind.
And a freight train roared toward Memphis.
It was Wednesday.
Driven to a random flop house wilderness
serpent syringes hissed promises of escape
through glistening fangs.
“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus whispered
toward a crumpled reminder card.
And a freight train approached Springfield.
It was Thursday.
Flickering streetlights conjured dancing demons
on the pavement and across the grass
forming an unholy halo circling the head
of a solitary holy silhouette
holding a half-empty bottle of booze
and a half-empty bag of stale crackers.
“Can we meet tomorrow?” I asked.
“Do quickly what you are going to do,” Jesus sighed.
“If it is possible, take this cup away from me.”
And a freight train picked up speed north of Kansas City.
It was Friday.
Clouds obscured the afternoon sun
as Jesus jumped off the O Street Bridge,
his body broken for our sins
against the front of a speeding freight train
on its way to Billings.
Matt Schur is the author of Cross Sections (2021), and has had writing featured in Valiant Scribe Literary Journal and Unlikely Stories. He holds a BA in English from Truman State University and an MA in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. When he’s not writing, Matt assists people experiencing homelessness as a full-time housing specialist and case manager in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"Much of what I write is informed by my experience as a theologian and a case manager working with a vulnerable and ostracized population, and this piece is no exception. Based on a tragically true story that haunts me to this day, I reframed many of the details to fit the Holy Week narrative, culminating in a Good Friday death 'for our sins'—our societal sin of placing often insurmountable barriers in front of those we have labeled 'untouchable.' The seemingly random detail at the end of each stanza about a train’s progress across the country is meant to create a growing question for the reader that makes the end feel almost inevitable in retrospect. The imagery at the beginning is light and cheerful, growing darker and more depressing with each passing day. Thursday contains echoes both of the Last Supper (booze and crackers, Jesus telling Judas/narrator 'do quickly what you’re going to do'), and of the agony in the garden (demon shadows, 'take this cup away'). The title itself is an Aramaic transliteration of Jesus’s words from the cross: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' and foreshadows the poem’s ending."