I have played this song about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden and abandonment on the cross every Good Friday since 1983 when I wrote it as an 18 year old. Often that has been in a church service, but sometimes just for my own spiritual engagement with this time of year.
In 1996, I finally got around to recording the audio. My good friend Ian Baldwin helped me record a solo album (No Secret Message). But this song took some effort. Through another friend, we were given access to a beautiful grand piano (can’t remember whether it was a Bosendorfer or Yamaha) at the Hills Centre. Ian set up our portable studio (on permanent loan from one Fraser Tustian), played around with getting a bunch of microphones to capture the tone, and then I sat down to play.
The entire song was in my head, with a little room for improvisation. However, when I played a technically correct take, it ended up sounding too tame. If I went for emotion and power, there would always be a bum note or slip that ruined the recording.
That night Ian won the Nobel prize for patience and my wife Ruth won the Nobel prize for encouragement. With both of them urging me on, I kept going for it until finally we captured something that more or less did the song justice.
So the song has been around in a recorded form since 1996. It’s now 2020 – so time for a lyric video that might be useful for churches gathering online for Easter during the Covid-19 pandemic.
My in-laws, Ron and Margaret, provided the main photographs of olive trees at Gethsemane taken during their visit in 1991, including the one that appears to have a manic face in the trunk. They also provided the photo of the cross and stone tomb. These were supplemented with a picture I took of the fists in the air at a Prophets of Rage concert, and a fire lit for my team by the wonderful folk of Wagga Uniting Church. My friends Rev Dr Ian Robinson and Rev Dr Rob McFarlane also generously provided images of olive trees from Gethsemane, and I hope to one day join one of their expertly guided tours of the Holy Land.
I hope you encounter something of the historical Jesus and the living God as you listen to the tune.
One note about the lyric. The chorus, Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and reflects what Jesus is recorded to have shouted while on the cross. This version is from Matthew’s gospel, and there are quite a few variants in different Bible translations. Biblical scholars would not pronounce the phrase as I have done here, but no one knows – and I didn’t know any Biblical scholars back in 1983 or 1996! So I’m not losing any sleep over that…