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!

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 fearful tyrant roused the holy seers
To learn the prophecy of his own doom.
Under his frown the sunlight disappears;
And so he plots 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 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, 2014

The Voice in Ramah

Posted in Holy Innocents, The Sanctity of Life, Unbelief at 9:31 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

A king, in fear that he would be undone,
Spoke death on every baby that might be the One.
And every infant in cruel Herod’s sway
Died violently that day.
And Rachel wept aloud.

Heart-shattered mothers mourned for babes adored,
Sweet lives erased, hopes severed by the sword.
But many now no pity know; they feel no dread
Of unborn babies dead.
And Rachel weeps again.

The world says they’re not humans, so you may
Dispose of them remorselessly without delay.
That day in Judah mothers cried.
Now hundreds daily die.
And Rachel weeps alone.

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


I share this poem tonight with both gravity and compassion on the eve of yet another anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade. Staggering numbers of babies have been lost to the world since that day, and all technically legal. Staggering numbers of women and men have been deceived into believing there are no consequences of aborting their child. One of the most insidious arguments for keeping abortion legal is that women would seek abortions anyway, so the procedure should be safe, for their protection. The fact is that abortion is absolutely not safe for the most vulnerable party, who is made in the image of God, and it is absolutely not psychologically safe for mothers to ignore within themselves the image of God, which should lead them to protect and nurture their children. To sanction abortion is to kick the very props from under humanity itself. We have lived now with 41 years of the fallout from this terrible sin against the Giver of life. We have sown the wind, and as a nation do not even have the sense to realize we are engulfed by the whirlwind. That is gravity of which I spoke.

But I also mentioned compassion, which should extend first to the millions of children who will never see the light of day, but then also to the mothers who have lived to regret their decision and their family members who have been hurt by the loss. You have heard, no doubt, that abortion stops a beating heart. It also breaks another heart—at least one; if family members are aware of the event, their hearts are broken too. My compassion even extends to those who have not yet regretted their decision. Any who do not feel sorrow over such an action are more miserable than they can ever know. The good news is that we serve a God whose property is always to have mercy, and He will forgive and restore those who turn to Him.

Pray that you are never able to hear of the loss of any innocent life without being overcome by a deep and abiding sorrow, as well as a desire to speak out for those who have no voice.

Rachel should not weep alone.


The original version of this poem is dated 11 January 1993. I hadn’t looked at it in several years until I received an email tonight with a link to another poem on this topic. When I read my poem again, I realized that I was displeased with the tone I had employed 21 years ago because it lacked the compassion that I have come to see as necessary. Those who would be heard must speak the truth in love.


The only poetry note I want to mention is the use of the word remorselessly, which expresses the biggest lie told by those who support abortion. This word is an awkward mouthful, a tongue twister, and that is exactly the point. Such concepts in this context should not fall trippingly off the tongue.

December 24, 2013

Sonnet to Bethlehem

Posted in Christmastide, David, Incarnation, Shepherd, Son of God, The Eucharist, The Trinity, Word at 4:45 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

House of Bread, be chancel to the Bread of Life tonight,
Receive the blessed body of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Enfold the Word proceeding from the Father up on high,
And tune your soul to hear the sounds that fill the starry sky
As shepherds hear the angel tell of peace and God’s good will
Brought by the Shepherd who protects His sheep from every ill.
The second Adam, sent to bear the burden of our toils,
With bloody brow our bread will win and take the Victor’s spoils.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God,
Yet here the Bread and Word converge, and every heart is awed.
Birthplace of David, bend the knee to David’s greater Son,
For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead three in one.
O Bethlehem, once lowly town, now rise to greet your King.
Naomi’s night of grief has passed, and now hosannas ring.

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


This morning I was dwelling on the idea of Christ as the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread.” I had written about eight lines of the poem before I had to leave for noon mass, but I was struggling to find a conclusion. So when the priest mentioned the Hebrew name of Bethlehem in his sermon, I came home with renewed zeal to finish the poem today.

The imagery of bread pervades the Scriptures, and so it also pervades the poem, even when it is not as obvious as it is in the first few lines. The reference to David should bring to mind the story of his taking the shewbread (“the bread of the presence”) for his starving soldiers, an act which Jesus links with His disciples’ gleaning on the Sabbath. The concept of gleaning should bring to mind Naomi and Ruth, who would have died from lack of bread had it not been for the generosity of Boaz, who was a type of Christ.

Just as physical life is sustained by food, for which bread is used as a synecdoche (sorry, non-literary folks), our spiritual life is sustained by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, in the Eucharist:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

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