November 30, 2014

The Curse Undone

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Grace, Original Sin, Redeemer, Serpent, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , , at 10:20 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Hiding their faces from the evening sun,
They stood ashamed among the shuddering trees
And heard the bidding voice of God, the One
Whose judgment brought the sinners to their knees.

“You will give life, but mingled with deep woe,”
He said to Eve, who sold her children into war
With him who on his belly now must go,
His fangs poised for destruction near and far.

To Adam, careless watchman, God then said,
“And you will earn your food by toil and sweat,
The dirt shall thwart your quest for daily bread,
While children doomed for death you shall beget.”

But of the woman’s pain a Seed would come
Just at the moment of earth’s darkest night.
This promised Seed to sin could not succumb,
The Second Adam, who all wrongs would right.

For He would freely give Himself for food,
The Bread of Life to take the curse away.
His agony the grieving world renewed
As death gave way to life at break of day.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This is the companion piece to The Advent of Grace.

The idea that I could not let go in writing that piece was that the remedy for the curse is not only as real as the physical effects of sin have been upon mankind, but also is like in kind to the Fall and its results. Stolen food was the undoing of man; Food given freely now gives us life and nourishment. The Eucharist is the meal that we may have without money or price (Isaiah 55:1). Pain, toil, and death were sin’s reward; the Son of God bore all of these on our behalf, then threw them back into the face of the wily serpent as He crushed its wicked head.

I suddenly realized that reading most of my poems is like attending an abbreviated version of Lessons and Carols or The Great Vigil. This one starts with the Fall of man and ends with the Resurrection of the Man, Christ Jesus, which was the undoing of the Fall. Even the first and last lines are bookends of sorts, the first ending at evening and the last at dawn. Though it may not seem like it when you read the newspaper or watch the news, the victory has already been secured. Day has broken; let us walk in the light. Food has been provided; let us meet Him at His table.

April 19, 2014

Saturday’s Sorrow

Posted in Atonement, Cain, Darkness, Good Friday, Grief, Holy Saturday, Holy Week, Hope, Judas, Redeemer, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant at 2:53 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The room was silent, save for somber weeping
And weary feet that found no purpose now.
The faithful few their watch were keeping;
They could not bear their Lord to disavow.

But He was dead, and they began to wonder
If they had spent the past three years in vain,
For they had seen the blood and heard the thunder
Of “Crucify Him!” and “Release the son of Cain!”

To trade the Perfect Man for vile Barabbas
Confounded justice to its very core.
What evil had He done that He should die thus?
What were His deeds that we should so abhor?

Yet worse by far was Judas’ treason
For with the Lord his life was intertwined.
He walked with them but for a season
Till envious greed consumed his peace of mind.

In shock, the twelve were left to wait and ponder
The path that led them to this woeful night.
Was there a reason or did they just wander?
As darkness fell, they longed for morning’s light.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, a time of reflection upon the sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. Lent has brought us to this climax of horror at our sin, of sorrow that death is its reward, and of recognition that we were Cain and Barabbas but yet the perfect Son of God was the One who died.

If this poem feels disjointed and incomplete to you, then it has done its job. Anyone who has endured a major loss will understand those early responses in which deep pain circles back on numbness, in which the mind runs rampant with memories but cannot produce coherent a single coherent thought. This is where the disciples were on that Saturday that followed Good Friday.

But the last two words pull the poem up before it crashes completely. For no matter how dark the night, we have every reason to hope, just as the disciples did. The hope may be as dim as the promise of morning’s light, but it is real nonetheless.

April 18, 2014

Poured Out

Posted in Atonement, Creation, Creator, Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Holy Week, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Church, Water of Life tagged , at 10:17 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The river that poured out from Eden’s garden
And wound its way through time and history
Now flows from heaven’s throne, the font of pardon;
Its water holds the sacred mystery.
Its healing stream delights God’s city;
His people find refreshment for their soul.
Its cleansing power can restore the guilty;
In mercy it will every grief console.
On Golgotha its Source was manifest
When the Creator-King poured out His life.
The soldier pierced the heart of Heaven’s best,
And blood and water flowed to end our strife.
The Temple, briefly razed, would rise again.
The river from its threshold covers sin.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Today is Good Friday. At last evening’s Maundy Thursday mass I was struck by the concept of Jesus’ soul being poured out, mainly because it made me think of two related concepts. The first is the water and blood that flowed from His side when the soldier’s spear pierced through both His soul and that of His dear mother. The second was the prophecy in Ezekiel 47 of a river that would flow from the threshold of the Temple, would grow in influence, and would heal the sea when its water reached that far. That passage is one of my favorites, and it reads much like the creation story, which is only appropriate since it is the prophecy of the re-creation accomplished through the atonement.

Listed below are links to the Scripture passages on which the poem is based.

Genesis 2:8-17

Revelation 22:1-5

Psalm 46:4-5

Isaiah 53:11-12

Psalm 22:13-15

John 19:33-35

Ezekiel 47:1-12

His soul was poured out unto death, but in so doing, He drowned death with life. It is finished, and He is the victor. And thanks be to God, we share in His victory.

April 13, 2014

Fourth Day

Posted in Atonement, Creation, Creator, Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Lent, Original Sin, Palm Sunday, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, The Church at 8:41 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Sprawling sycamores and emerald fields,
With apple trees and every plant that yields
Rich food for man to gratefully receive,
Recoiled in horror as our mother Eve
Reached up and grabbed the fruit of doom.
With one swift bite great sorrow she consumed.
Though still the source of myrrh and frankincense
And spikenard for Christ’s feet, the plants were hence
Cursed, cursed for Adam’s sake by their own kind:
Food-yielding plants were choked by thorns that bind.
But at the appointed time Creation’s Lord
Entered Jerusalem, greatly adored.
Tall, graceful palms were hewn to smooth His way
And shouts of “Save now!” echoed for a day.
But all too soon the shouts were “Crucify!”
So on that woeful tree they lifted high
The Carpenter who formed the universe.
The King was crowned with thorns to heal the curse.
Third-day creation, plants that ne’er drew breath
Were made complicit in His gory death.
The third day Mary brought sweet oil and spice
To honor Him who paid sin’s awful price.
Her weeping ended when the Gardener she found;
Her sad laments in morning’s joy were drowned.
The Vine whose third-day triumph ransoms all
Bears fourth-day branches rescued from the Fall.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

14 April: I’m returning to annotate some of the scripture references. Sycamore trees are mentioned several times in the Scriptures, but most people remember them in connection with Zacchaeus, who climbed into a tree because he was having trouble seeing Jesus because of the crowd. The fields suggest the harvest that Jesus mentioned when He saw the multitudes and had compassion on them. Apple trees are mentioned in Song of Solomon (in reference to The Beloved), but also in Joel 1, withered apple trees (and other plants) demonstrate the effect of sin, and this idea is reinforced as the topic turns to creation and the fall.

But in the vein of Genesis 3:15, we are not left in despair because the next plant products that are mentioned are two of the gifts brought to our Lord at His birth. The poem then echoes the spiritual battle that has plagued the world since the Fall, finding its climax in the Cross.

That battle is demonstrated in the outcries from the final two crowds that swarmed around our Lord. The Palm Sunday crowd, by yelling “Hosanna!” (which means “Save now!”), was actually yelling “Crucify Him!” and didn’t even realize it. We could not be saved without His death on the cross. Was that crowd one-for-one the same as the crowd at the cross? No point in answering that question because it is not the point. What is true is that both crowds were representative of mankind. I was not there, but my sins nailed Jesus to the cross. What is also true is that there were faithful followers of Christ who stood at the foot of the cross and neither deserted Him nor called for His death. But nevertheless, He died for them.

The final references I want to highlight are Mary’s mistaking Jesus for a gardener (an event I’ve written about before), which calls the Garden of Eden into remembrance, and the reference to John 15, in which our Lord declares Himself to be the True Vine and His people to be the branches. Between those two images is a reference to Psalm 30:5, which is one way to summarize the events that occurred from Good Friday to Easter Sunday:

For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Thanks be to God that the morning is coming.

December 19, 2013

Song of the Christmas Sheep

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Sheep, Shepherd at 8:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

From the days of shepherd Abel
Our lives were paid as sacrifice:
Savory offerings on the table,
Signifying sin’s dread price.
Cursed by Adam’s sin, we waited
For the coming of the Lamb,
When misery would be abated
By the perfect, spotless Ram.
When the time had been fulfilled,
While we grazed in pastures green
And deeply drank from waters still,
The sky exploded with a scene
Of brilliant light and thunderous sound
As angels chimed the glorious song
Of peace to flood the whole world round
To end all woe and right all wrong.
Then leaving us, our shepherds went
To see their Shepherd, filled with grace,
Who from the heart of heaven was sent
As sacrifice to take our place.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I attended a sweet Christmas pageant at church last night, and when the actors in sheep’s clothing turned to listen to the “angel,” my heart was pierced with the realization that this glorious news of peace on earth, which we often take as completely man-centric, spoke of the animals’ freedom too. Just as the whole of creation was blighted by Adam’s sin, the coming of Christ to roll back the curse speaks freedom to them, but especially to the gentle sheep that had been slain as sacrifices. As the beloved Christmas hymn tells us, “He comes to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.”

The older I get, the stronger is the longing in my heart to see all things restored to their natural glory and to see death swallowed up completely in the victory of Christ. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The only poetry note I’ll add is that the word our in the last line should be read as referring not just to the sheep but to them and the shepherds, and indeed, to the entire world.

P.S. I just thought of another poetry note. The short, choppy lines are meant to signify the motion of sheep. Somehow all my poems about sheep end up with a short-metered line.

March 2, 2013

Firstfruits

Posted in Atonement, Good Friday, Holy Week, Hope, Incarnation, Liturgical Calendar, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist at 11:22 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our mother, Eve, stood gazing at the tree,
Then reached to pluck the firstfruits that hung there.
Deceived by him who hated liberty
And sought to separate her from God’s care.

Her via dolorosa into hiding led,
But Mercy bridged the chasm sin had cleft
And paved the way to resurrect the dead,
Returning hope to those who were bereft.

Through years of pain and hope the promise grew
Of One who could roll back the blight of sin.
Then at the darkest hour the Light shone through
To scatter night, restoring life again.

This Light, the Firstfruits of our righteousness,
Hung in disgrace upon a barren tree.
Suspended, bridging earth with heaven’s best,
While His dear mother stood in woe to see.

But in the moment that He bowed His head,
He lifted us to heaven’s lofty height.
The Fruit of Calvary’s tree, the wine and bread,
Is the sacrament of life that ends our plight.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

January 11, 2013

All for the Bride

Posted in Atonement, Bridegroom, Eastertide, Epiphany, Hope, Redeemer, Sheep, Shepherd, The Church, Water of Life tagged , , at 9:29 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He lay down with a stone under his head
And in his sleep to heaven’s gate was led.
Then Jacob traveled east to Laban’s land.
Arriving there, he met the shepherd band.
He saw sweet Rachel leading thirsty sheep;
Her gentle beauty caused his heart to leap.

The shepherds would have waited for the rest,
But Jacob saw the purpose of his quest.
So by himself he rolled away the stone,
Securing her whom he would call his own.
He freed life-giving water for the herd
And won a bride by honoring his word.

Another stone was rolled away that day
When Jesus proved He was not Satan’s prey.
Now on Christ’s Bride all blessings He bestows,
And for the Shepherd’s flock pure water flows.
His tomb appeared deserted, but it served
To swallow up the death that we deserved.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The resource for the first two stanzas is Genesis 29, with parallels drawn to the Gospel accounts of the the Lord and His Resurrection. The significance for the First Sunday after the Epiphany is the willingness of Rachel to be about the business of her family, and the parallels between Jacob and Jesus as the bride’s champion.


Started on 1 January 2013 with this idea: “His tomb was empty only for a while, for it has swallowed up our death.” As I began to research the idea of rolling away a stone, I was both amazed and pleased to find another story of a stone being rolled away.


December 29, 2012

A Question Answered

Posted in Atonement, Christmastide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Hope, Incarnation, Original Sin, Redeemer at 10:56 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He had given all they ever needed:
Sumptuous food and shelter, life and breath.
But His solemn warning went unheeded:
They disobeyed His word, begetting Death.
Here where their Father’s blessings freely flowed,
They had squandered life and sought a hiding place.
But in the Garden, Love’s voice echoed:
“Where are you?” Then Adam understood disgrace.
Looking past their vain equivocation
God saw souls in need of mercy mild.
He took fig leaves to clothe them with compassion,
And promised to provide a Saving Child.
So from the Cross we hear the cry resound:
“It is finished!” Thus the lost are found!

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


During Christmastide the emphasis is rightly on Bethlehem, but we should never forget that Golgotha looms in the distance, casting a cross-shaped shadow over the manger.


I started this poem on 25 March 2012, when I formed the question and answer concept (“Where are You?” combined with “It is finished!”) and completed it this morning (29 December 2012).

December 9, 2012

Renovation

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Lent, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , at 8:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lift up the valleys and raze every hill,
Repave the rocky roads and make them straight.
Level the hurdles so that nothing will
Obscure the vision that we all await:
The glory of the Lord shall be
Revealed for all the world to see.

Remove the walls and knock the scaffolds down
Take out the fences and fold up the gates.
Shout from the wilderness to every town,
For God has spoken, and His wrath abates.
The Word made flesh has borne our pains
And now as King forever reigns.

Comfort the people who were once beguiled
By dark desires that war against the soul;
Be kind to them, for though they’ve been reviled,
The Lord has come their sad hearts to console.
Behold the Lamb, who takes our guilt!
In Him all things shall be rebuilt.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Isaiah 40:1-11 is a Sunday reading during Advent in more than one lectionary, and so it seemed to warrant an Advent poem. I’ve purposely rearranged the ideas, because the passage starts with the concept of comforting God’s people, and the message I wanted to convey was better served in moving from the concept of leveling everything to that of lifting us up to Himself, comforting us, and rebuilding, only better. (I suppose that betrays my fondness for ascension theology.)

It occurred to me today in reading this passage that the tearing down of mountains and filling up of valleys seems to have a particular purpose: where there are mountains and valleys, the skyline is obscured, and so whatever is revealed would be hidden from some. The timing of Jesus’ arrival, as well as the location of His birth, supported the greatest opportunity for the message to be spread to all the earth. Also, He preached to rich and poor, outcasts and leaders, politicians and zealots, those who were afar off and those who were near. No haughty heart could withstand His gaze; no humble soul could fail to be comforted.

Finally, it is important to notice that there is no room for the status quo when Jesus breaks onto the scene. Everything that would keep us from loving Him sincerely must be knocked down, destroyed, ground to dust. But when He rebuilds our lives, He makes them strongholds.


I’ve been meditating a lot on the Advent passages for Sundays, and this one in particular is filled with poetic symbols that hold great meaning and great comfort. I began scribbling this during the service this morning and completed it this evening. The first line that came to me, since amended, was “break down the walls.” As I pondered this concept of breaking things and rearranging them, I heard an echo from The Hobbit, a book I read in childhood. When Gandalf finished “chipping the glasses and breaking the plates” in Bilbo’s life, his whole future had been rearranged, but both he and his beloved Shire were better off because he bravely endured many adventures.

November 24, 2012

Moriah’s Song

Posted in Atonement, Holy Week, Lamb of God, Liturgical Calendar, Suffering Servant at 11:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Strong, obedient, perfect ram,
Led by the God of Abraham
Up Moriah’s lonely hill
To fulfill His holy will.

Abraham was led here too,
With the wood that he did hew
Carried by his only son,
And other offering there was none.

“Behold the wood, behold the fire,
But where’s the lamb that we require?”
“God will provide, my precious child.”
So on they walked into the wild.

The altar built, the child lay down;
From heaven came a welcome sound.
“Stay your hand, O faithful one
Who did not spare your only son.”

Just then the ram bowed down its head,
Prepared to die in Isaac’s stead.
Lift your eyes, behold the Lamb,
The perfect One, the Great I Am.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I’ve written about this topic from Genesis 22 before (The Thicket and the Ram), but with a slightly different approach. What drew me back to meditate on it more was the idea that the ram was led up onto the mountain just as Abraham was. The one connection I wasn’t able to make explicitly is that Abraham and the ram came up the mountain by different paths, which would signify the path of righteousness that Jesus walked, in contrast to the sinful walk of man.

Rather than a long discursive explanation this time, I’ll just provide a few bullets, mainly because I’m running out of steam for the day:

  1. Moriah is considered by some to be the sight of the temple in Jerusalem. The song of Moriah (which may mean either “chosen by God” or “God teaches”) would always have to be about the Lamb, and never about the rams, goats, turtledoves, or any assorted animals that were sacrificed there. They were merely placeholders.
  2. Can you imagine what it was like for Abraham to chop the wood that he knew would be used to sacrifice his precious son? And in the line that says “other offering there was none” is intended to show that Abraham did not carry a backup, just-in-case lamb with them. God makes sure we know that by having the Scriptures record that Isaac asked about it.
  3. The ram bowing down his head, caught in the thicket, should bring to mind John 19:30, where we read that Jesus said, “It is finished,” and then bowed down His head to die.
  4. This was the first time I had noticed the connection between Isaac’s question in Genesis 22:7, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” and the answer uttered by John the Baptist (John 1:29): “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
  5. The final verse is a play between those last moments on the cross, when our Lord bowed His head to die for us, and the admonition we hear in Scriptures and in the liturgy to lift up our heads and lift up our hearts. He was bowed down so that we might be lifted up!

Hallelujah! Praise to the Lamb!


These ideas have been simmering for about three weeks, ever since a lectionary reading from Genesis 22. It started out as an address to the ram, but I couldn’t sustain that concept, and it somehow made the ideas seem less serious than they are. As it is, the short lines of the poem are teetering close to childish sing-song, but with the words of Isaac injected in the middle, it somehow seemed acceptable.


Previous page · Next page

%d bloggers like this: