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.

March 22, 2013

Something for the Feast

Posted in Holy Week, Lamb of God, Liturgical Calendar, Maundy Thursday, Redeemer, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Tempter tagged , , at 6:44 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

With them you walked and closely held the purse,
The cunning one so trusted, yet so cursed.
Grave countenance to cover evil plans,
Imagining the coins in your hands,
You ate the bread, then lifted up your heel
To crush the One who offered you the meal.
Yes, quickly go into the dark of night
To make your deal; betray the One True Light.
For if you change your mind, the world is lost.
No other sacrifice can pay the cost.
Go, sell the perfect Lamb to the chief priest,
Obtaining what is needed for the Feast.
As your companions thought, your deeds secured
Provision for the poor, who had endured
The terrors of the one whose path you chose.
His plans the God of Heaven to oppose
Came to fruition on the bloody cross,
While deeper plans unraveled all his power.
He won and lost it all in that same hour.
There in the presence of our greatest foe
The feast was set and blessings overflow.

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

As I get ready to enter Holy Week this year, I am more aware than ever of the spiritual warfare that is captured so poignantly in St. John’s account of our Lord’s final hours. I keep going back to John 13 because one sentence captivates me. It is when our Lord says “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” Before the cross? Before the empty tomb? Before His victorious ascension and re-enthronement? It is astounding to think that the spiritual warfare had already been won in the giving of the Feast. His heart was so set on obedience that He could declare victory before it had happened in time because it had already happened in eternity. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

But Judas’ part in all this is where this poem dwells. It was not easy to write, for there is a sense of dread that I could so easily fall into the same trap that ensnared Judas. May God protect and defend His people from our own dark hearts.

Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:27-30)

February 24, 2013


Posted in Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Holy Week, Hope, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Original Sin, Redeemer, Resurrection, Sanctification, Self-Discipline, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Tempter, Word tagged , , at 12:11 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In the beginning, the battle line was drawn
When rebels stole what God had disallowed.
The evil one had used them as his pawn,
Pretending he could elevate the proud.
Then God in mercy banished them from Paradise
And charged an angel with a flaming sword
To guard them from the tree that would entice.
The tree of life could not be their reward.
Not life but death was due for their offense,
Yet as the battle raged throughout the years
Kinsman-redeemers came to their defense.
In expectation of the One who ends all fears.
Though dying on a tree, He won the day,
Pierced through by sword of Roman soldier rude.
And three days in the silent tomb He lay,
Till with His rising all things were renewed.
This time the Father charged the angel guard
To speak His peace to those who love the Son,
Soldiers of Christ armed with the Spirit’s Sword,
The Living Word who has the conquest won.
Now marching on to songs of victory
His army keeps the disciplines of war
Until all prisoners have been set free
And God is glorified on every shore.

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

This may be the most epic piece I’ve ever written because it spans all of history. A few days ago I started thinking about the three swords mentioned in the poem, and I was especially intrigued by the idea that the Roman soldier’s sword pierced through Him who is called the Word, and the Word is called the sword of the Spirit. Then tonight I was captured by the thought that there was an angel at the gate of Eden and one at the tomb. I know it is fruitless to dwell on questions like, “Could that have been the same angel?” But I still think it’s amazing that the angels are an integral part of the story of man’s reconciliation to God.

Completed in the hours just before the Second Sunday of Lent.

September 11, 2011

On Rocks and Bread

Posted in Holy Week, Lent, Son of God, Son of Man, Tempter, The Eucharist at 5:59 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He could have turned the stones to loaves,
Yet He refused the Tempter’s sly behest,
But then transformed a Rock to Bread
When with “This is My Body,” He did bless.
For He had been that Rock of old,
Providing water in the wilderness.
Oh, who would give his child a stone
Although life-giving bread was the request?
Our God provides both Rock and Bread
And makes us His beloved guests
After He brings our stony hearts to life.
Refreshing Rock, all evils to redress,
He is the Bread of Life, sustaining breath,
Whom lowly rocks would rise up to confess.

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

One of my favorite topics to research and write about is the Eucharist. I don’t mean getting lost in philosophications about the substance that is eaten and drunk. (It is bread and wine; it is the Body and Blood of Christ.) What I mean is being eternally grateful that the Almighty God has chosen to redeem His fallen creation; that He gives us the greatest blessing imaginable, His own presence; and that He gives us an enduring sign that the warfare is over by inviting us to feast at His table.

The poem begins with Matthew 4 and Satan’s desire to recreate the events of Genesis 3. It is no accident that this temptation occurs shortly after Jesus is baptized. In fact, the first words out of Satan’s lying lips (“If you are the Son of God . . .”) are a direct response to God’s pronouncement: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  It is also no accident that the temptation of both Eve and our Lord had to do with food. If Satan can get us to doubt God’s loving providence, then we will be in the right frame of mind to misuse God’s good gifts. Jesus’ response is fascinating. He has just been declared the Son of God by the voice of God, yet He identifies Himself with us by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, saying “MAN shall not live by bread alone.” That one word, “man,” should have been enough to cause Satan to draw back in horror to realize that he had finally met the Seed of the Woman who could defeat him. In that one day, Jesus was declared to be both Son of God and Son of Man.

The next two images of the poem combine the presence of the Son of God as the Rock who refreshed His people with the living waters of His presence in the wilderness with the presence of Christ in the Sacrament that He instituted on Maundy Thursday. (It is worthwhile to note that He was still alive and well, and separate from the bread, when He declared it to be His Body.) The poem continues with a reference to the Sermon on the Mount, where our Lord tries to get His followers to understand the ultimate goodness of the Father, who cannot be expected to do worse for His own dear children than an earthly father would do. If a beloved child asked for bread to sustain his life, no loving father in his right mind would hand that child a rock and say, “Eat up!” (Matthew 7:9). This reference sheds more light on the events of the temptation of Christ. Although He identified with us, He demonstrated His place in the Trinity by always behaving as One who sacrifices Himself to provide for His people and has no needs of His own; God is complete in Himself, and He does not exploit His creation.

There are two other references to stones in the poem. One is from Ezekiel 36:26, where God promises to do a heart transplant, exchanging our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. He promises, in other words, to make us fully human again, to raise us up to the nobility in which Adam and Eve were created. The poem ends with a reference to Jesus’ statement in Luke 19:40 that if the Pharisees could somehow manage to silence the gratitude of His disciples, the stones would cry out in praise to Him. The Eucharist which signifies the end of warfare between God and His children is also a sign of the promise that the work of Christ rolls back the curse on all of creation.

The original date for this poem poem is March 5, 2007, and it was edited February 21, 2008 during the dark times. I edited the second line again today to change the name I was using for Satan. The rhyme scheme, if you can call it that, is that every other line rhymes, making seven words that are rhymes or near-rhymes. I wish I could say that I had a lofty purpose for this method, but if I did I have forgotten it. It seems to work.

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