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.

November 23, 2014

The Advent of Grace

Posted in Advent, Redeemer, Serpent, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Thorns/Thistles/Tares tagged , , , at 8:57 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The sibilant voice poured pride into her soul
While her protector, silent, shirked his role.
The perfect garden at her feet, Eve reached
To pluck forbidden fruit, and thus she breached
The kind decree that promised life and breath,
And opened up her home to pain and death.
For when she said, “Take, eat,” and Adam took,
The curse unfurled, and seas and mountains shook.
Their stolen meal brought famine yet unknown,
Dearth earned for taking what is God’s alone.
The outlaws hid, believing all was lost,
Their eyes now open to the dreadful cost
Of plundering God’s throne, for with that hand
They had instead laid waste to Earth’s fair land.
Still worse, they had estranged themselves from Love,
But God took pity on them from above.
At His appointed time, His Word rang out
To say, “Where are you?” and to bring about
Undoing of the curse that fell upon their head,
Of pain in birth and sweat poured out for bread.
The garden lay in ruins many a year,
Till Advent bells rang out unbridled cheer.
For the power and the glory man had sought
Rest in the Man whose blood their lives has bought.
He freely left His throne to seek and save
The lost; God’s Son was traded for the knave.

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


I often provide detailed explanations of my poems, but this time, I would suggest that a reader who wants to know more should pay very close attention to the word choices. In some cases, you should be reminded of other scriptures, in other cases to the Eucharistic liturgy, and in still others, to the liturgical calendar. I’ve purposely conflated time in a couple of places and added an anachronism at the end in the reference to Advent, but I will blame it on poetic licence. If you don’t get anything else from the poem, remember that the Father who would not forsake the criminals in the Garden, but sought them out, sent His Son to die for them, and in so doing forsook His only Son for a brief period on the cross.

Adam and Eve never had to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The first two lines refer to the fact that many scholars believe Adam was present during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. I have also attempted to pull together two concepts that have been used in contrast to each other through the years. At the risk of oversimplifying the argument, the Western Church looks at sin as a judicial matter. The  law has been broken, and a penalty is to be paid. The Eastern Church looks at sin as a breach in the relationship between God the Father and the children He created. I do not see any conflict between these ideas; there are scriptures that support each view. They are, in fact, both true. But Grace consumes it all. The penalty is paid and the relationship is restored. Thanks be to God.


I’ve been trying to finish this poem for several weeks now, and the ideas would not fall together until today. It always amazes me to see how the ideas unfold as I meditate on the concepts from Scripture. I actually started with a slightly different idea, so there is a poem yet to be written….

May 24, 2014

True Vine

Posted in Cain, Darkness, Liturgical Calendar, Original Sin, Rogation, Suffering Servant, The Church, Thorns/Thistles/Tares tagged , , , , at 11:10 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In the beginning every plant was good,
Bursting with food, and weeds remained at bay.
But Adam disobeyed, so on that day
Before the Lord in ruined shame he stood.
Rebellion produced loss and scarcity.
Abundant now are thistles, thorns, and pain:
Darkness and death began their cruel reign,
And sons would die through much adversity.
Now parched and tired, we fight the thorns, our foe,
And they retreat, but only to regroup.
Their sly advance outstrips desired fruit,
For true branches require time to grow.
To garden ably, we must persevere
In cultivating all that will endure.
Though tares abound, the harvest is secure.
The Vine’s good fruit will certainly appear.

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


Little explanation is required for the theology, but I wanted to make a note about word choice. The words “produced” and “abundant” were chosen to emphasize that Adam’s sin had an opposite harvest from that of God’s good creation. Also, though it is true that both sons and daughters are now subject to death, the primary reason for the phrase “sons would die” is to juxtapose the death of righteous Abel against that of Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Tomorrow is Rogation Sunday 2014, and this is certainly a Rogation theme, but the nearer occasion for this poem was that I did yard work today, and I realized that in a manner of speaking, the weeds were laughing at me. I know quite well that they will be back next week. But a day is coming when all the thorns and thistles of this life will be gone, swept away by the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

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)

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.

April 4, 2013

Sonnet of the Forty Days

Posted in Eastertide, Lent, Moses, Resurrection, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Tempter tagged , , at 11:04 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

For every day Your judgment’s raindrops fiercely poured
To cleanse the earth from evil spread by wicked man;
For each day Moses in the cloud lived on Your word;
For every day the spies searched out Your Promised Land,
Goliath petrified the army led by Saul,
Elijah journeyed on the strength of angel’s bread,
And Jonah counted time before Your wrath would fall;
For every day Ezekiel marked the coming dread;
You spent a day of testing in the wilderness,
Midst clever invitations to be Satan’s thrall.
And though tormented, You would never acquiesce.
Then when it seemed that he had conquered all,
You left an empty tomb that echoes endless praise
And roamed the earth triumphantly for forty days.

Copyright © 2013, 2016 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The period of forty days is charged with theological meaning, specifically with the concepts of judgment and redemption. The forty days of temptation that directly followed Christ’s baptism can also be considered in light of the forty years spent by the Israelites, as discussed below. All of the Old Testament events referenced in the poem are listed below with the their scriptural references. These offer plenty of food for further thought and study.

  • Exodus 24:18; 34:28. Moses on the mountain, obtaining the Law of God. As with Jesus’ time in the wilderness, this was a period of fasting from food but not from the Word of God.
  • Numbers 13 and 14. The account of the spies scouting out the land of Canaan: This was the Israelites’ opportunity to trust God, despite the apparent dangers of the land, and they failed the test. They were given one year of wandering in the wilderness for every day the spies spent in the land, ten of them not believing in God’s power. That is why Jesus’ period of temptation could be forty days and not forty years. He would be faithful.
  • I Samuel 17. For forty days Goliath strutted out in his armor and his gargantuan height to terrify God’s army. They were tested, and this time there was redemption, in the form of David’s slingshot. The stones that struck Goliath were made of the same stuff as the stone that was rolled away from the empty tomb.
  • I Kings 19:7-9. After his spiritual battle with the prophets of Baal, Elijah was spiritually exhausted, one might say he was in spiritual shock. God took pity on him and sent an angel to minister to him, feeding him bread and water. The strength he obtained from this meal sustained him for a forty-day journey to Horeb for his encounter with God’s still, small voice.
  • Jonah 3:3-5. Once Jonah was finally obedient to God’s command, he went to Nineveh and announced that they had a period of forty days before judgment would fall. They repented, of course, but their probation period was in line with the judgment/redemption theme.
  • Ezekiel 4:5-7. Ezekiel was given several dramatic acts to perform as demonstrations of the prophecies with which God had entrusted him. One of those was to lie on his right side for forty days, as a prophecy of the impending siege of Jerusalem.

As we reflect on the Lord’s triumph during this Eastertide, we should remember that both of the forty-day periods which serve as bookends of His ministry are essential to the Gospel. His triumph over temptation in the wilderness is as important as His victory over the grave, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by His continual appearances to those who knew and loved Him.


The ideas for this poem have been clattering around in my head for several days, but only now have I had the opportunity (and the discipline!) to pull it together. I think this may end up being a more fragmented and obtuse piece than I have written in a while, but that may be appropriate. I can just imagine that the forty-day period after the resurrection felt fragmented and disjointed and exciting all at the same time. It was also a time in which a fuller understanding of all the Old Testament prophecies came pouring over the disciples.

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