September 5, 2011

Pillar of Cloud

Posted in Good Friday, Holy Week, Suffering Servant at 1:35 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Kneeling at his feet, I am enshrouded
By clouds of what could only be perfume.
I cannot quite discern the scent,
So delicately sweet and out of place
Here, where torture rules the day and every grace
Has long since taken flight.

He does not struggle as I drive the spikes.
How odd! The horror of the spilling blood
Should drown the glorious essence
That hovers still and covers all around.
A holy cloud of incense sanctifies the ground
And rises to the sky.

I have nailed many a villain to a cross.
But never have I seen a face like His.
Oh wait, I recognize the fragrance now!
It overcame me once as we marched through
A valley filled with lilies bathed in dew.
I must remove my shoes.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This piece is fanciful, but as the concept formed itself in my head, it seemed to pull together several biblical elements into a tight bundle. Jesus had said that Mary was anointing Him for His burial (Mark 14:8; John 12:7), so I just followed the trail of the fragrant oil and stopped where it might have had some effect on one who was taking part in a pivotal historical event without fully comprehending the enormity of it. Told from the point of view of a Roman soldier who is nailing our Lord’s feet to the Cross, the poem is his internal dialog with One he does not yet recognize, but we would know as the Holy Spirit leading him to the truth. According to the Biblical account, the events of that day led some of the soldiers to proclaim, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

The title, of course, is from the Exodus, where the Second Person of the Trinity went before the Israelites as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. In His death, burial, and resurrection, He accomplished the ultimate exodus, the freeing of His people from the Egypt of their sin. The concepts from Isaiah 52-53 that are woven throughout the poem are most evident in the second verse, which emphasizes that Jesus did not struggle against His oppressors. The second line of the last verse is purposely oblique. Isaiah 52:14 indicates that in His death, “His visage was marred more than any man,” but those who may have seen Him as He ministered to the crowds would also have remembered the pure love that they saw there.

The last two lines of the poem also reach back to the Old Testament, first to the lily of the valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1) and then to Moses standing on another mountain, being ordered to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). That concept had been introduced near the end of the second verse, with the notion that the spilled blood mingled with the spikenard sanctified the ground. It is a most triumphant thought to realize that our Lord sanctified everything He touched while on this earth and that His blood continues to renew the earth, cursed as it was for the sake of Adam’s sin.


This is a companion piece to yesterday’s “Heaven Scent.” I began writing this piece as far back as 1 August 1998, but I updated it in July of 2007 during seminary days. There is very little rhyme, but that is intentional. I impose the rigor of rhyme and meter on the deeper theological pieces, but this one, coming as it does from an initially unconverted heart, has only a modicum of form to mirror the image of God and the working of the Holy Spirit.

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  1. […] Teresa Roberts Johnson:  Pillar of Cloud […]

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