April 20, 2014

First Light

Posted in Creator, Darkness, Eastertide, Light of the World, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare tagged , , at 2:05 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The first day of the week, the Sabbath ended,
The women brought sweet spices at first light.
Determined that His corpse would be attended,
They made their way to Jesus’ burial site.

But who would roll away the ponderous stone
Or break the seal the Romans had required?
They reached the tomb to find it overthrown;
An angel sat, in brilliant white attired.

Creation’s First Light had issued forth in power;
And Death’s dominion crumbled at His feet.
He harrowed Hell, and at the appointed hour
He pierced the gloom and made His foes retreat.

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


This is a retelling of the resurrection narrative from the Gospel of Mark, with a play on words between “first light” of dawn, when the women went to the tomb, and Christ as the Light of the World, the origin of all other lights.

The term “harrowed Hell” is related to the teaching from the Creed that Jesus “descended into Hell,” which is taught in the following two Scriptures:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says

“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.” (a reference to Psalm 68:18)

(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:7-9)

__________________________

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (I Peter 3:18-22)

A blessed and joyful Eastertide awaits all those who welcome the Light of His day.

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.

April 2, 2014

To See the Kingdom

Posted in Bread of Life, Kingdom, Laetare, Lent, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Church, The Eucharist at 11:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

They had watched the water transformed into wine,
And later saw Christ heal Bethesda’s thrall.
But the twelve could see no remedy at all
When the hungry multitude approached to dine.

They had no money, nor could food be bought
For those who came for signs and benisons.
Just five small loaves from one of Judah’s sons,
A meager gift, but he gave all he brought.

How could this paltry portion feed the scores
Who hungered for the very Bread of Life,
Who lived their days in bitter toil and strife,
Who looked for manna from the heavenly stores?

Christ made the men sit down and take their rest
In verdant pastures while He blessed the food.
They ate until their hunger was subdued.
The prodigals received the Father’s best.

Seated on earth cursed for their crime,
These sons of Adam sweated not a drop
Yet ate like princes on the mountaintop
And glimpsed the Kingdom coming in their time.

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


The Gospel lesson for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (sometimes called Refreshment Sunday) is one I have written about before, but this year as I listened to it I was struck by additional connections to other scriptures, in part thanks to an excellent sermon by our priest. This poem carries the same connection between John 6, Genesis 3, and Isaiah 55 that I have used in the past. Those concepts are all so interconnected that to leave any out would do the Gospel a disservice. This year, our priest brought in the connection between the Gospel and Psalm 23, so that has found an emphasis in verse 4. The other addition is the emphasis not only on “free bread” which rolls back the curse of sweaty work, but on the fact that Jesus has them sit down on the very earth that was cursed because of them. Now, however, the bread, the people, and the earth are all blessed by the presence of the Bread of Life.

The thread that runs throughout the poem is that of seeing. I once heard a speaker say that when Jesus said those who are not born again cannot see the kingdom of God, He didn’t just mean that they would be denied entrance into heaven. He meant that they also do not recognize the kingdom here, in the people of God, the Church.

One final word about scripture references in the poem. I have always been fascinated by Exodus 24, a passage in which God calls Moses and 73 of the elders to “come up” and worship Him. Verses 10 and 11 in particular have a striking connection with John 6:

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

Thanks be to Him who calls us up to worship, to rest from our labors, to dine with Him in the everlasting Eucharist, to see His Kingdom in all of its life-giving glory!

March 13, 2014

Foolishness

Posted in Christmastide, Epiphany, Herod, Incarnation, Lent, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant at 12:04 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The Magi trudged long miles from East to West,
Chasing a star and notions of a king.
Convinced a palace was the object of their quest,
They proudly bore a princely offering.

The dreaded tyrant roused his scribes and seers
To learn the prophecy of his own doom.
The wise men’s message fed his deepest fears.
So he resolved the true King to entomb.

Dismissed to Bethlehem, the wise men trekked
With hope revived; but found no palace there.
The star had led where they did not expect:
The Child-King in a lowly mother’s care.

But through the eyes of faith the wise men saw
That Mary held the King of heaven and earth,
That David’s Son deserved their deepest awe
For He left heaven to live in deepest dearth.

Such foolishness to yield allegiance to a Lord
Who for a Lenten time gave up His throne!
Who wields His power not by brutal sword
But by the heart of mercy He has shown.

Yet we would foolish be, for His dear sake
Whose precious blood can cleanse our every stain.
And giving up our selves, His cross to take,
As living sacrifices we will rise again.

Copyright © 2014, 2016 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


It may seem odd to write about an Epiphany text during Lent, but Matthew 2 has been on my heart this week.  I’m not sure why, but I began to consider how much faith it took for the Magi first to leave their own country to seek the “King of the Jews” (Why, we might ask?), but then also to leave Herod’s splendid palace to search for a King in Bethlehem of all places. Furthermore, it took great faith upon finding Him in a cottage for them to fall down and worship Him. There was a Lenten quality about their giving up their ideas of grandeur and simply following the star that I found intriguing.

The reference of their traveling East to West has a two-fold meaning here. First, it must put the reader in mind of Psalm 103:12, where we are assured that God has removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west. (Think about it: If you go far enough north, you will eventually go south again. But that can never happen if you go from east to west, or vice versa.) Second, the direction they traveled is the opposite of the direction that the earth turns on its axis. It adds to the idea of “foolishness” or being backward from the rest of the world.

Another concept with an intended double meaning is that of calling Herod “fearful.” It can either mean “being very afraid” or “causing fear in others.” Which of those applies to Herod? Both, as with any who usurp authority.

There are also some intentional devices used in the second verse. In speaking of the tyrant Herod, the last two lines switch to present tense from past tense. This, along with the fact that Herod’s name is never used, is meant to suggest that he is representative of the spiritual warfare that has been waging since the Fall. He is of that seed described in Genesis 3:15 which will war against the Lord and His people until He finally puts all opposition in the past tense.

The Hebrews 12:1 reference on which the poem ends is another of those “foolishness” passages along the lines of losing one’s life to find it. These are the things that don’t make sense to the world. St. Paul said they wouldn’t (I Corinthians 1:18). To those who are perishing, it doesn’t make sense to embark on a Lenten journey, to give up selfish desires, to throw all our lot in with a Lord who lived in poverty and died a humiliating death. But this is the foolishness that leads to life. It is the foolishness of truly wise men.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (II Corinthians 2:14-16)

December 24, 2013

Sonnet to Bethlehem

Posted in Christmastide, David, Incarnation, Shepherd, Son of God, The Eucharist, The Trinity, Word at 4:45 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

House of Bread, be chancel to the Bread of Life tonight,
Receive the blessed body of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Enfold the Word proceeding from the Father up on high,
And tune your soul to hear the sounds that fill the starry sky
As shepherds hear the angel tell of peace and God’s good will
Brought by the Shepherd who protects His sheep from every ill.
The second Adam, sent to bear the burden of our toils,
With bloody brow our bread will win and take the Victor’s spoils.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God,
Yet here the Bread and Word converge, and every heart is awed.
Birthplace of David, bend the knee to David’s greater Son,
For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead three in one.
O Bethlehem, once lowly town, now rise to greet your King.
Naomi’s night of grief has passed, and now hosannas ring.

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


This morning I was dwelling on the idea of Christ as the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread.” I had written about eight lines of the poem before I had to leave for noon mass, but I was struggling to find a conclusion. So when the priest mentioned the Hebrew name of Bethlehem in his sermon, I came home with renewed zeal to finish the poem today.

The imagery of bread pervades the Scriptures, and so it also pervades the poem, even when it is not as obvious as it is in the first few lines. The reference to David should bring to mind the story of his taking the shewbread (“the bread of the presence”) for his starving soldiers, an act which Jesus links with His disciples’ gleaning on the Sabbath. The concept of gleaning should bring to mind Naomi and Ruth, who would have died from lack of bread had it not been for the generosity of Boaz, who was a type of Christ.

Just as physical life is sustained by food, for which bread is used as a synecdoche (sorry, non-literary folks), our spiritual life is sustained by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, in the Eucharist:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

November 8, 2013

Winter’s End

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Eastertide, Incarnation, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Water of Life at 6:45 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Cruel frost will coat the desiccated leaves,
And brutal winds will harry evergreens.
Ruthless snow will smother cropless fields
While creatures flee from winter’s bitter bite.
The lengthening nights will silence laughing birds,
As shortened days steal light and joy from men,
And gloom enshrouds the flowers on each grave.
But underneath bleak snow a seed abides
And naked trees dip fingers into earth
Made holy when Immanuel came down.
In Him is hope for life to shine anew
When resurrected by the Easter’s morning dew.
For though the sun will fade and fail to glow
The constant Son’s Light melts the winter snow.

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


This poem has the same theme as Dragon Death (previous post). As I become more dreadfully aware of the spiritual battles that surround us every day, I feel the need to acknowledge their reality, but not without asserting the greater reality: Our Lord has conquered sin and death, and in Him, we are more than conquerors. As the Advent and Christmas seasons approach, I have to remind myself that Christmas finds its full meaning in Easter, and Advent looks both backward and forward. I long for the day when the Son’s light will consume all of the winter-ills that plague us: sin, sickness, pain, loss, and death.

As for the technicalities of poetry, I purposely did not introduce rhyme until the final four lines, to signify that His name brings order out of chaos.

July 7, 2013

Naaman the Blind

Posted in Faith, Grace, Leprosy, Obedience, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Thankfulness, Water of Life, Word tagged , , , , at 7:03 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Respected man, much favored by his lord,
Fearless in battle, an expert with the sword.
Though skilled in war, one fight o’ercame his soul,
For pride had Naaman in its grim control.
It blinded him to God’s life-giving word
Delivered by the prophet he had heard.
A leper with the remedy supplied:
The Jordan? Why not a river clean and wide?
Ignoble water for a man of high esteem!
The prophet mocked his greatness, it would seem.
But with no other cure in sight, he deigned
To do as God had said, and health regained.
Now one more lesson Naaman had to learn:
That gifts of God cannot be bought or earned.
His leprous skin was clean; his pride was tamed,
No longer blind, God’s promises he claimed.
Thus baptized in the Jordan, like our Lord,
Through whose obedience we are restored.

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


This morning, the Old Testament reading was 2 Kings 5:1-14, which is the story of the healing of Naaman the leper. Apparently leprosy was not viewed the same in Syria as in Israel because it does not appear that Naaman was ostracized because of his condition. To the contrary, he was commander of the army of Syria and very highly regarded for his successes on the battlefield. Yet his pride in his success was his primary ailment. When given the opportunity to be free of leprosy, he balked at the humble nature of the cure. He wanted Elisha to make a big production, to wave his hands, say noble and compelling words, and order God to cure Naaman. What a disappointment to this great man to be told to do something so humiliating as bathe in God’s dirty stream. If there was to be no grand, theatrical production, why could it not at least be a beautiful, clean river in his own country? His anger revealed his blindness, caused by pride in his own accomplishments. It took his servants, who had no aspirations to greatness, to teach him that he needed to obey God, regardless of the ignominy.

But even after humbling himself enough to take a chance that the dirty waters could make him clean, Naaman still didn’t fully understand the nature of God’s grace. He tried to pay Elisha for the cure. God had done something for him, and he would settle the debt and be back on equal footing, perhaps. But the prophet wisely refused any payment. How could we ever hope to repay God? We owe Christ our service out of gratitude, not out of any notion that we can repay a debt. And thanks be to God, Naaman finally saw exactly what was required: obedience in all things that were within his power to do.

I could not leave Naaman’s story without pointing us to the Christ, the perfectly obedient Son. He humbled himself to be baptized in the Jordan, not to be cleansed but to cleanse the water and open the way for us to be healed from all our afflictions. He took on our shame so that we might be set free from sin and shame.

Glory be to thee, O Lord!

June 5, 2013

A Sonnet of Sweat

Posted in Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Lent, Moses, Obedience, Original Sin, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , , at 6:53 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our father Adam tilled the stony ground;
In chains of sin and grief he stumbled, bound.
Anointed by the sweat of his own face,
His efforts could not merit God’s free grace.
In linen garments that prevented sweat,
The Levite servants never could forget
Their labor could not pay the price of sin,
But pointed to the One who can save men.
Our Saviour, deep in prayer, sweat drops of blood.
In anguish He endured the wrathful flood,
Though never disobedient, He became
The price of sin to wash away our shame.
And when His work was finished, He proclaimed
Salvation to all men who trust His name.

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


Recently I became interested in the parallel between the pronouncement on Adam that he would earn his living through the sweat of his brow and the account of Jesus in the Garden sweating great drops of blood. The title of the poem is not glamorous, but neither is sin. There is such profound grace to be found in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

May we always glory in the Cross, for there is no glory in our own frail frame.


I started this about a week ago and completed it this morning, 5 June 2013.

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