Before Abraham Was, I AM

The-God-who-Called-us-is-the-Great-I-AM-and-He-is-the-God-of-our-FathersI have begun a series of sermons at Girton College Chapel on the mysterious ‘I AM’ sayings in John’s gospel.  I started the series with the strange saying that perhaps provides the key to all the others, in John 8:58: ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’. Scholars agree that this is no mere confusion of tenses but rather a proclamation by  Jesus that he is indeed the great I AM, the one who disclosed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as the God of Abraham and who named himself  ‘I AM’. We know that this is how his first hearers interpreted this saying, for they heard it as blasphemous and tried to stone Jesus for having said it (John 8:59).But for those of us who accept that Jesus is the great I AM, that revelation is the very root of our faith. The first and primal reality, the foundation of the Cosmos, is ‘I AM’, not ‘it is’. The deepest reality is not a collection of meaningless objects, but a personal God who speaks in the first person and shares the gift of personhood with us. When we turn to Christ we turn towards the great I AM, the source and origin of our own little ‘I-Amness’. Turning and returning to that source is always a great refreshment. No longer do we toil to ‘make ourselves’, no longer are we anxious about who we are, we simply receive our being as what it has always been: a gift. For this reason link this saying in my mind with Jeus beautiful call ‘come unto me all ye who labour and I will give you rest’. You can hear the sermon Here. I have brought both sayings together in this sonnet which will be part of my forthcoming Parable and Paradox collection with Canterbury Press.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.


Before Abraham Was I AM


Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58


Oh pure I AM, the source of everything,

The wellspring of my inner consciousness,

The song within the songs I find to sing,

The bliss of being and the crown of bliss.

You iterate and indwell all the instants

Wherein I wake and wonder that I am,

As every moment of my own existence

Runs over from the fountain of your name.


I turn with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham,

With everyone whom you have called to be,

I turn with all the fallen race of Adam

To hear you calling, calling ‘Come to me’.

With them I come, all weary and oppressed,

And lay my labours at your feet, and rest.



Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

10 responses to “Before Abraham Was, I AM

  1. I saved this post until I could read it slowly–the I am’s of Jesus have always spoken to me, especially this one, the greatest mystery. Beautiful.

  2. Rita banfield

    So full of meaning evoking deep feelings thank you

  3. This sonnet gives me yet another glimpse into GOD’S never-ceasing effort to reveal HIMSELF. It blesses my soul, and I will praise HIM all the more for it. Also, I find it interesting to think about the English “grammar” of the Clause – I AM THE I AM – perhaps by looking at the Linking Verb (to be) followed by a Predicate Nominative (after THE) or Relative Clause (after WHO) depending on the Translation used.
    All that aside (as so few care about “grammar” anyway), it does make us think about the MYSTERY OF THE VERY PERSONA OF GOD. What a MIRACLE it is to communicate with Him, to “call upon” HIM and have the assurance that HE both hears and answers the “calls” of “mere mortals.”

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Mary it’s wonderful how many ways this mysterious name can be translated and understood – all of them helpful in different ways

  4. Another fine weaving. There can be no simpler sentence than “I am” – but coming from the mouth of Jesus nothing could be more profound.
    A little contemplation:

  5. Pingback: I Am the Resurrection and the Life | Malcolm Guite

  6. Pingback: S2:E16 - Holy Week: Tuesday, Remembering Abraham - Matthew Clark

  7. Pingback: S3:E13 - Holy Week: Tuesday, Remembering Abraham - Matthew Clark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.