August 28, 2011

Epiclesis

Posted in Creation, Epiphany, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Pentecost, Resurrection, The Eucharist tagged , at 6:21 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Breath of God, swoop down to hover
O’er frail elements as once Thou did
To birth the earth, and then again to cover
Blessed Mary, Ark whom Gabriel bid
To bear the perfect Son and Lamb of God:
The Uncreated on His creation trod.

Bright Spirit, now alight as on that day
The Son of Man cleansed Jordan’s stream;
As when, transfiguring Him, Thou showed the Way
And brought bright heaven down to beam
On humankind, who could not quench the Light:
The rising Star has overcome sin’s night.

Holy Dove, brood now between the seraphim;
Open the Ark, and break the heavenly Manna free,
And once again frail earth convert to honor Him.
Make wine His Blood, make bread His Body be.
Then, as at Pentecost, transform Christ’s own:
His Body, His Bride whose sins He did atone.

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


So I’ve already broken my own rule about limiting Greek and Hebrew words, but in this case there is little choice. There is no adequate English word for epiclesis, the point in the Eucharistic service in which the priest, Christ’s representative to the Church, calls down the Holy Spirit to turn mere bread and wine into Sacrament. I suppose blessing or invocation would come close, but they still do not capture the full concept. In my studies for a paper about the prayer of epiclesis in various liturgies, I came to realize that this work of the Holy Spirit is just one in a long line of creative-redemptive-sanctifying moments throughout the history of the world, so the poem is another sweeping panorama that catalogs many of the key points in Scripture where the Holy Spirit is at work in this earth. The point at the end of the poem is that the Church (including me!) is part of that creative-redemptive-sanctifying purpose accomplished by the Holy Spirit.


In scouring all my resources for a poem to post this Lord’s Day that would also be appropriate for the Feast of St. Augustine, I found this one in an email I sent to a fellow seminary student on the Feast of Epiphany in 2008. I remember quite distinctly that the poem grew out of a paper I had written for Bishop Sutton’s Liturgics class. As I read my dialog with Jonathan (now Fr. Jonathan) I had to shake my head because I had sent him an early draft of the poem and then made the poor man read several paragraphs of pure angst spent in revising a few words to make sure the meter and sense were both correct. At the conclusion of the process, I wrote, “So now you’ve briefly been inside the head of a poet. Most of the time it’s a dreadful place, really. And when I obsess with these details, it’s a crashing bore.”

But he was gracious, and in his analysis he added this quotation from St. Augustine of Hippo via Garry Wills:

“If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle Paul tells believers: ‘You are Christ’s body and his members’ (1 Cor. 12:27). If, then, you are Christ’s body and his members, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar—what you receive is a symbol of yourself.  When you say ‘Amen’ to what you are, your saying it affirms it. You hear the priest say ‘The body of Christ,’ and you answer ‘Amen,’ and you must be the body of Christ to make that ‘Amen’ take effect. And why are you a bread? Hear the Apostle again, speaking of this very symbol: ‘We though many are one bread, one body (1 Cor. 10:17).'”

“This then is the ‘bread that comes down from heaven, so that the one eating it shall not die (Jn. 6:50).’  But these words apply only to the validity of the mystery, not to its visibility—to an inner eating, not an external one; to what the heart consumes, not what the teeth chew.”

[From Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills—p. 141—quotes are from Augustine’s Interpreting John’s Gospel 30.2, 28.2 and 26.12]

To become a part of God’s eternal purpose through participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, is the grandest calling the human heart can ever hear.

August 26, 2011

Ascension

Posted in Ascensiontide, Christmastide, Creation, Eastertide, Incarnation, Original Sin, Pentecost, Son of God at 9:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Once noble, earth’s dust heard the Lord’s command
To burst forth with abundant sustenance.
Thus grass and trees and all food-bearing plants
Were ready for the lively creature band.

Then, hallowed even more, the lowly dust
Was touched by God to make in His likeness
Mankind to take dominion and to bless
The earth, to be obedient and just.

Had Adam trusted Providence, then Eden’s sod
Would ever have produced enough for all.
Yet reaching up too high, he then did fall
And brought upon mankind the wrath of God.

The serpent, for his part, received the blight
Of eating dust and making violent war
With those in whom God’s image he did mar
By tempting them to turn from God’s pure light.

Then He who breathed His life into the earth
Condemned it to grow thistles with the wheat,
Compelled the man to labor in the heat,
And cursed the woman with great pain in birth.

Now dust we are and go to it again,
And dust and ashes mark our deep regret.
But the Covenant God would not forget dust yet,
For as the dust will number Abraham’s kin.

Awake, and sing, O you who dwell in dust,
For earth has given back the Holy Dead,
And through the One who took away our dread,
We rise again from deadly sin and lust.

For God’s own Son took dust to be His frame
And sanctified the earth by treading here.
He breathed again on those that He held dear
And cleansed them from their deepest dusty shame.

Now blessed are we who would have died alone.
All who receive the Word as fruitful soil
Are noble through the God Incarnate’s toil,
For in Him earth’s dust sits on heaven’s throne.

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


This poem has a sweeping Scriptural scope, beginning joyfully as it does in Genesis 1 with Creation and ending triumphantly with re-creation in the risen, ascended Lord Jesus on the throne of Heaven. Between those happy bookends, it deals with the dusty death proclaimed in the curses of Genesis 3 and announces the hope that is offered in Genesis 13 when the Covenant God promises Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the dust particles on earth. Interestingly enough, in Genesis 15, when God repeats His promise to give Abraham many descendents, He says they will be as numerous as the stars in the heaven. This theme of raising dust to heaven is completed in the sanctification of dust that was accomplished in the Incarnation. Our salvation is secured by the holy life, bloody death, glorious resurrection, and triumphant ascension of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

The Fall of man is a fact of life (actually a fact of death, I suppose), yet an even greater fact of life is that our hope is found in the ascension made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. Through Him, we die to sin and rise to newness of life. We ascend every time we are raised to commune with Him, and we will eventually be raised to see Him face to face in our glorified bodies. And with St. John, we hear Him say, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Revelation 1:17b-18)


I suppose if I had to choose a favorite of my poems, it would have to be “Ascension.” The last line is purposely difficult, with lots of consonants banging against each other to slow down the rhythm and make the reader think about the concept of earth’s dust (almost a tongue twister!) dwelling not just in the heavenly places, which would be amazing enough, but on heaven’s very throne. This poem began with my reflection on an Ascension day sermon preached by Father Stuart Smith in 2007. He is now a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Fort Worth, and I am quite certain he is still preaching the Truth.

On a personal note, while I was finishing this poem on September 7, 2007, I was at the bedside of my son James who was enduring a two-day medical procedure in a futile attempt to discover the cause of his seizures. Once I finally had all the words the way I wanted them, I handed James the laptop so that he could read it, and he broke out into that handsome smile that would light up a room and put everyone at ease. Less than five months later he died from complications of a seizure. In my grief, I have found it a great blessing to know that God is not limited by the fragility of these earthen vessels; He chose to work through the Son of Man’s earthen vessel to accomplish our redemption. That is a great comfort to me today of all days. James would have been 33 today.

To God be the glory.

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