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)

January 21, 2013

Peace Offering

Posted in Bridegroom, Epiphany, Marriage, Sanctification, Thankfulness, The Church, The Eucharist, Water of Life at 12:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Long days ago when sacrifice made conflict cease,
The people brought a perfect offering to kill
And then consumed the sacred flesh and grain in peace.
Communing with both God and man, they ate their fill.

God to His holy people grace and mercy showed.
His goodness showered bounty unconfined
Where in the temple blood and water freely flowed
To purify them soul and body, heart and mind.

Long days ago stone water jars in Cana stood
In silent witness that the people must be purified.
The guests regaled themselves with wine and food,
Quite unaware the groom would soon be mortified.

The news was grim: the wedding wine was failing fast,
And powerless, he sought in vain to find a remedy.
The old wine spent, the celebration could not last.
How could his bride forgive such insufficiency?

But then the Great I AM said “Let there be” again:
From stony jars, now purified themselves, flowed better wine.
The feast thus rescued, grateful bride and groom attain
Your better feast in latter days on which to dine.

For from the site of Your sufficient sacrifice
Water and wine now flow to cleanse our hearts of stone.
Our peace is made in You, whose death has paid the price.
The Better Groom directs His feast from Heaven’s throne.

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


The Gospel for The Third Sunday after Epiphany (or the Second after, depending on the lectionary that your parish follows) is the beautiful story from John 2 about the wedding in Cana. So much, so very much, is demonstrated in this miracle, but this time the concept that captivated me was that of better wine. I think we miss the point if we just see the surface truth that this wine was tastier than what had been served during the earlier part of the feast. It seems also to be a narrative demonstration of the concepts found in Hebrews 1, where we read that our Lord was better than the prophets and better than the angels. Purifying water flows in baptism, to replace the blood of circumcision, and the Eucharist of bread and wine supersede the Passover Lamb.

I also took some liberties by parallelling the wedding feast with the feast that would follow the Peace Offering. They are not the same thing, I know, but I think in both we see a beautiful picture of the Eucharist, where our peace with God and man is celebrated. Technically, the purpose of the Peace Offering was to invoke God’s blessing, but that could not happen unless Atonement had been made so that conflict would cease. In Christ, the Perfect Lamb, all the sacrifices are fulfilled and all their purposes achieved.


Started on The Second Sunday after The Epiphany, 2013, and completed the next day, 21 January 2013.

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.


January 6, 2013

Sonnet for Epiphany

Posted in Creation, Epiphany, Hope at 10:37 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Born on day four with a host of other twinkling lights
Created to count days and seasons, months and years,
The star beamed out through numerous unchanging nights,
Joining the great celestial dance with countless shining spheres.
A minor player, yet content God’s glory to declare,
The star remained unnoticed by beleaguered man
Until a special glory it was called to share.
The glory of the One Light beamed in orient land
To call the Gentile seers to seek the promised King.
Their journey was with highest hope spurred on.
From half a world away they trudged, their gifts to bring,
As starlight’s rays connected earth to heaven’s dawn.
Obscure the star, obscure the Magi from the east as well.
Then Christ-Light beamed on all, their darkness to dispel.

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


This poem might be described as Genesis 1 meets Psalm 19, Matthew 2, and John 1. The interesting thing about the birth of our Lord is that every one of the people who took the time and effort to believe God’s word and come to see Him for themselves went away joyful. But those who did not desire the Light could neither be drawn nor illumined by it, namely Herod and the chief priests and scribes. There is no way to fathom the deceptive wickedness of Herod, who pretended to want to worship our Lord, while all the time plotting against Him (bringing to mind Genesis 3:15). There will always be opposition to the clear truth of Christ. But the Light cannot be extinguished. Dawn will break, and it will encompass the world.


Started and finished on The Feast of The Epiphany, 2013.


November 10, 2011

Laver of Life

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Epiphany, Holy Week, Sanctification at 6:23 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lord Christ, who cleansed the Jordan
When the waters touched thy head,
Touch thy people, purify us.
For our cleansing thou hast bled.

Precious Giver, thou art given
By thy Father for our sin.
Wash us with thy blood so crimson
That we may be pure within.

We, baptized into thy covenant,
Need thy daily washing still.
Bathe our feet, Lord, in thy goodness
That our hearts may seek thy will.

Thus beautiful, our feet will follow
In thy paths of righteousness,
Bringing tidings of thy mercy
To the nations thou shalt bless.

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

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.

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