June 14, 2014

Work of Grace

Posted in Cleansing Fire, Grace, Hope, Moses, Pentecost, Spiritual Warfare, The Church tagged , at 5:52 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Surrounded by the swirling sea, the Upper Room
Held those who rested, waiting for the promised Gift.
Their enemy lurked near to orchestrate their doom,
To shake their confidence and set their hearts adrift.
But they were not in danger from his frail design.
This room, the ark of safety for the Lord’s elect,
Was hallowed ground where Love and Law would intertwine.
The Captain of salvation would their souls perfect
By unconsuming Flame in this high, holy place.
Isaiah’s coal fell on the branches of the Vine,
And Breath of Life ignited cleansing fire of grace,
The sea around them parted, as they saw the sign
Of Word made comprehensible to every ear
And Heaven’s Kingdom bursting into now and here.

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


The primary inspiration for this poem is the account of Pentecost in Acts 1 and 2, and the concept began with meditation on how Pentecost relates to other Scriptural events. I first had the notion of comparing the events of the Upper Room with the escape of the children of Israel through the parted waters of the sea. In Scripture, the sea is often used to represent the masses of the ungodly on this earth, and it seemed reasonable that the few faithful who went to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit might have felt themselves completely surrounded by a sea of unbelievers. Their opposition, of course, finds its focus in Satan the Opposer, who is constantly seeking whom he may devour. But I used the term “rest” to refer to the disciples because our Lord had called them into the rest that He provides, even though the stormy seas rage about us (Matthew 11:29).

Other passages that inform the poem are these:

Exodus 3, where Moses is commissioned at the burning bush
Isaiah 6:5-8, where the natural response to the cleansing power of the Lord is an offer of service to God.

All of these connections show why the key to the poem’s message is found in the title. Quite simply, there is no truly good work that we can do unless God’s Holy Spirit is working in and through us.


This is not exactly a sonnet, other than rhyme scheme and number of lines, because the meter is one foot too long for each line. My usual method of expression is iambic pentameter (sometimes even my grocery lists), but I couldn’t get all the required ideas into five feet per line.

I am not satisfied with the final line because the wording seems a bit trite, but it does accomplish one thing: it turns a cliché upside down. That the Kingdom of Heaven is upon us in the presence of the Church was made very tangible to me this week as I saw friends from around the world who are serving Christ faithfully, and as I saw the investiture of a new presiding bishop for the REC. The peaceful and orderly succession of leadership is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has given to this world.


I began writing this poem during a break at the REC General Council this past week, and I completed it today after arriving home, twelve hours later than planned due to storms.

May 24, 2014

True Vine

Posted in Cain, Darkness, Liturgical Calendar, Original Sin, Rogation, Suffering Servant, Tares, The Church, Thorns, 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 27, 2014

Sonnet of the Restless Dove

Posted in Spiritual Warfare, The Church, The Eucharist at 11:48 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Sent forth to find a pleasant dwelling place
She spread her graceful wings and soared away
Both far and wide she searched, yet found no trace
Of unsoaked ground day after weary day.
Finding no place to rest her foot, she flew
Back to the safety of the blesséd Ark
To be restored, her vigor to renew.
For as long as judgment waters left their mark,
The appointed refuge was her home secure.
While we traverse this earth much plagued by sin,
Let our feet find no rest in its allure.
May we return unto Your Ark again:
Your Holy Church, where we would be content
To feast upon your Word and Sacrament.

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


I had another poem in mind to write today, based on the Gospel reading from this morning, but the idea of the restless dove crowded it out. Perhaps it was the torrential rain that started me thinking about the dove that was released from the Ark, only to return because she could find no rest for the sole of her foot (Genesis 8:9). There is scriptural basis for seeing the Ark as a type of the Church (I Peter 3:20-21, for example), and St. Augustine makes this connection as well. Church architecture bears this out also; the large area where the congregation sits is known as the nave, or ship.

So tonight as I sit writing after today’s storms, some of which have taken lives in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and as I await a new wave of thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes, I thank my heavenly Father for the protection of the Church against the storms of life. I also thank Him for sending the Holy Dove, His Spirit, to draw me back to His Church for rest and refreshment.

April 20, 2014

Poems for Eastertide

Posted in Eastertide tagged at 7:42 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Alleluia, Christ is risen, and death is swallowed up in His victory!

Poems for Eastertide

 

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 gathered with sweet spices at first light.
Determined that His body 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 shone 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 shuffling 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 17, 2014

Poems for Good Friday

Posted in Liturgical Calendar at 10:04 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Poems for Good Friday

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 wooden cross 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!

Next page

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers

%d bloggers like this: