November 20, 2017

The Advent of the Law

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Moses, Redeemer, Sanctification, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , at 11:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

On Sinai, Moses held the perfect heart of God
Inscribed on two smooth stones to testify abroad
God’s Law, carved by His very finger on the stone,
Front and back, to fill them with His Word alone.
But stony human hearts can never perfect be,
And Adam’s ruined children yearned to be set free.
Who can deliver us from Death’s unyielding bands?
The Perfect Lamb with nail scars in His feet and hands,
Whose heart of flesh, pierced through by soldier’s cruel blade,
Poured forth sweet mercy even though He was betrayed.
His holy blood transforms our stony hearts to flesh,
His bread, His holy body, will our souls refresh.
The Advent of the Son of God new life imparts,
And His Spirit writes His law upon our hearts.

Copyright © 2017 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

So many scriptures are distilled in this poem; here are a few of the references:

Exodus 31:18

Exodus 32:15

1 Samuel 17:40

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Jeremiah 31:33

Hebrews 8:10

Hebrews 10:16


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.

June 5, 2013

A Sonnet of Sweat

Posted in Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Lent, Moses, Obedience, Original Sin, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , , at 6:53 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our father Adam tilled the stony ground;
In chains of sin and grief he stumbled, bound.
Anointed by the sweat of his own face,
His efforts could not merit God’s free grace.
In linen garments that prevented sweat,
The Levite servants never could forget
Their labor could not pay the price of sin,
But pointed to the One who can save men.
Our Saviour, deep in prayer, sweat drops of blood.
In anguish He endured the wrathful flood,
Though never disobedient, He became
The price of sin to wash away our shame.
And when His work was finished, He proclaimed
Salvation to all men who trust His name.

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

Recently I became interested in the parallel between the pronouncement on Adam that he would earn his living through the sweat of his brow and the account of Jesus in the Garden sweating great drops of blood. The title of the poem is not glamorous, but neither is sin. There is such profound grace to be found in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

May we always glory in the Cross, for there is no glory in our own frail frame.

I started this about a week ago and completed it this morning, 5 June 2013.

May 28, 2013

Peace Meal

Posted in Darkness, David, Incarnation, Maundy Thursday, Moses, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Son of Man, Word tagged , , , , , at 11:23 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Piecemeal the plan unfolded from creation to the Cross:
Through Abraham and Moses sacrifices showed the cost.
Then David served as king, anticipating Jesus’ reign,
But kings who followed spoiled the sacred, making it profane.
And time and time again the prophets preached the truth of God
To those who spoke of justice but whose hearts were hiding fraud.
Then the worst, the years of silence with no prophet, priest or king;
No word from God to kindle hope, though darkness loomed foreboding.
Until an angel broke the silence to proclaim Immanuel
In whom all offices were gathered in one Man to dwell:
The Word of God and Prophet bold, who was the Truth and Way,
To pierce the darkness, He was Light and brought us endless day.
As God with man, the Son of Man, both Sacrifice and Priest,
King David’s greater Son whose righteousness will never cease.
He lived and died and lives again, His people’s wounds to heal.
And now enthroned, He is the Host who serves the great Peace Meal.

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

This is another sweeping summary of the story of redemption. The underlying concept is that only in Christ is found all three offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Only in Him are all the pieces and threads brought together in a perfect whole.

A couple of weeks ago I was giving a devotional about the Eucharist at choir practice, and I called it the Peace Meal. In the back of my head, the homonym “piecemeal” started rattling around, and this poem is the result.

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.

May 23, 2012

Holy Fire

Posted in Bridegroom, Holy Spirit, Moses, Obedience, Pentecost, Sanctification tagged , , at 11:01 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In fire the LORD came down, and awe
Engulfed the people, flesh and blood and bone.
And then His prophet waited for the Law
To be inscribed upon the brittle stone.
And they, though called His kingdom and His priests,
Could not ascend to Sinai’s lofty peak.
And so they stayed and danced among the feasts,
Forsaking covenant, a new god they did seek.
But Moses interceded for their crimes,
And they were spared from death in ancient times.

In latter days in one accord they prayed,
Christ’s faithful servants, gathered at His will.
So waiting for His promised gift, they stayed.
By now they knew His Word He would fulfill.
Though He was gone, His bride was not alone,
He sent God’s mighty breath for comfort kind,
Gave hearts of flesh in place of brittle stone,
Inscribed the Law upon their heart and mind.
With fire the Spirit of the LORD made them
A living sacrifice, and holy unto Him.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

Finished on the Wednesday of Ascensiontide, May 23, 2012

October 24, 2011

Unto the Hills

Posted in Atonement, David, Holy Week, Moses, Redeemer, Suffering Servant at 10:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

I will lift up my hands!
I will lift up my weary hands,
Unto the hills,
The hill of battle.
The hill where Moses lifted up
His weary hands to heaven,
To seek God’s blessing
Upon His army.
The hill where Moses raised his hands
To bring the victory down
Unto God’s people,
The hill that Moses called

I will lift up my eyes!
I will lift up my longing eyes,
Unto the hills,
The hill of Zion.
The hill where David lifted up
His joyful eyes to heaven,
For God will shine forth
From out of Zion,
The hill where David raised his eyes
In prayer and praise to God,
Who blessed His people
On the hill forever called
The City of David.

I will lift up my prayer!
I will lift up my fervent prayer,
Unto the hills,
The Mount of Olives,
From whence Christ Jesus lifted up
His woeful prayer to heaven
To seek His Father’s will,
He prayed in agony;
The hill where He sweat drops of blood,
To wait for Judas’ kiss.
Betrayed, abandoned,
Arrested in the place
They called Gethsemane.

I will lift up my voice!
I will lift up my thankful voice,
Unto the hills,
The Hill of Calvary.
The hill where Jesus lifted up
His life upon a tree.
He took upon himself
The curse of Adam.
The hill where Jesus raised His voice
Declaring, “It is finished!”
For all God’s people.
There on the hill forever called
The Hill Golgotha.

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

After realizing that I had written yet another piece that pulls together scenes from the Old and New Testaments (Exodus, Psalms, II Samuel, Matthew, Luke, and John, at the very least), I suddenly realized why my poems sweep across the landscape of the Bible. My favorite liturgies are those that include a series of readings spanning the history of redemption: the Great Vigil of Easter and the service of Lessons and Carols.

Focusing on one aspect of His-story puts us in danger of missing one or more important facets of the jewel of redemption. Would we ignore Moses? He is the greatest prophet who ever lived (Deuteronomy 34:10). Would we ignore David? Jesus is both the Son of David and the One whom David called Lord (Matthew 22:41-46). No, it is infinitely better for us to maintain all of these ideas together so that we can gain the fullest picture of salvation.

Pulling all the threads together also saves us from the worst enemy of good theology: oversimplification, including false dichotomies. For example, the first stanza of the poem ends with a name that identifies the place of victory with the Covenant God, “The LORD is my Banner” (Exodus 17:14-15). He who is the great “I AM” has as many names as the many ways in which He interacts with His beloved people, and some names for the ways in which He interacts with His (and our) enemies. All of these names are true, and each of them teaches us something vital about His character. He is no simple stock figure in a weekly drama; He is complex enough to be beautiful and dreadful, tender and fierce, and a thousand other ways all at the same time. He is God and there is none else, and when we fear Him, we need fear nothing else, because He fights for us.

This last point is evident in the name that ends the poem. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, is identified with Goliath according to many scholars, including Bishop Ray Sutton, one of my professors at Cranmer House. Young David did not defeat the giant; God did. Similarly, we have no means in ourselves to defeat the Evil One, but God’s promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head (skull) of the serpent was fulfilled when the cross of Christ was driven into the Place of the Skull. There is no way for Satan to win, so we lift up our hands, eyes, prayers, and voices to Almighty God who saves us!

Publishing this poem tonight is a great breakthrough for me, as it is the first substantial amount of poetry that I’ve written in several months. The general idea and a few of the lines in the first verse were jotted down on March 10, 2006. Over the past five years, I’ve returned to the draft occasionally, but until tonight I was unable to pull all of the concepts together that I wanted to express. If you were to count the number of lines in each stanza, you might ask the obvious question: Why 13 lines? My answer is that I don’t really know. Perhaps there was a general flow of ideas that naturally ended after 13 lines. I didn’t set out for that number, but it worked.

Over the years I’ve had people tell me that my poetry is too difficult for the average reader, that it is too dense and obtuse to be easily accessible. Though I have not purposely tried to deviate from my usual style, I believe this piece to be much simpler than most, at least on the surface. Though it has no rhyme, I’ve imposed a repeating structure that uses some of the devices of Hebrew poetry. There was no point in re-writing Psalm 121, as David had done a splendid job of that. My goal was to advance the argument from a place in history before David to the place to which his whole life pointed. By no means does my simple piece replace David’s Song of Ascents; it is merely a loving tribute to the Poet King, but mostly to the God whom he served.

September 1, 2011

Cleft of the Rock

Posted in Moses, Son of God, The Eucharist at 8:02 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

“Show me thy glory, Lord,” was Moses’ plea.
But God in love refused to let him see.
Swift death it was for man to view His face.
Even His prophet could not gain this grace.

So Moses stood where YHWH told him to
And in that rock a crevice He did hew.
The Lord passed by and sheltered Moses there,
Revealing what humanity could bear.

Another Rock God’s glory did disclose,
The Rock from whom life-giving water flows.
For in Christ’s face, the Father was revealed.
His followers saw God’s splendor unconcealed.

They touched the Son of God and handled Him.
He, no illusion, walked with them.
Christ, cleft for Moses, Stone not cut by hands,
Rejected on this earth but chief in Heaven’s plans.

Now we, partaking of His blood and bread,
Take shelter in the Rock who is our Head.
We taste and handle God’s consuming fire.
In Sacrament we find Moses’ desire.

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

In Exodus 33, a fascinating discussion takes place between Moses and God. Moses had reluctantly started his ministry after hearing God’s voice from a burning bush and had seen God’s hand at work multiple times since that day. Yet after the children of Israel ask a compliant Aaron to provide the golden calf as an alternative worship experience, God gets angry with His people, and Moses gets frustrated with his job. Now, Moses really does have a difficult time, and we might be compelled to feel sorry for him except that his task is to lead people who are impatient and fickle—you know, people like himself. People who are like me. Possibly even like you. How do we know they were like Moses? Well, he had just been on the mountaintop with God, hearing in beautiful detail how God was working out the salvation of His people. God was not so busy dictating the Law that He missed seeing the shenanigans at the foot of the mountain. The faithlessness of the Israelites could not negate God’s eternal faithfulness. At Moses insistence (I’m convinced He only wanted Moses to recognize that forgiveness was necessary), God decided not to destroy them all. After punishing the unrepentant, God tells Moses it’s time for them to go. And Moses asks for a sign of God’s glory. Yet, he had been seeing God’s glory through a glass darkly all along. To see the full glory of God is not possible for sinful beings, even if they are chosen as God’s prophet.

So God was merciful enough NOT to give Moses what he asked for. But He did give Moses what he needed and what the people needed. He gave them Himself. That is ultimately what He always gives us, and it is what we always need. If you compare Exodus 33:12-17 with John 14:5-11, you find amazing parallels. Thomas is confused when Jesus tells them they can eventually come to where He is going. Like Moses, He seems to think the journey is primarily about place, when it is really about our Traveling Companion. Jesus is always inviting His people to come “further up and further in” (to borrow a phrase from Lewis’ The Last Battle). And as He does, He is always the way, the truth, the life, the bread, the door, the rock, and our shelter from the ultimate storm, which is the Father’s wrath that we deserve because of our sins. Philip, like Moses, asks to see the glory of God (“Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us”), but that Glory is standing before him.

How many times we miss the presence of God because we don’t understand what it is supposed to look like! For us, it very often looks like bread and wine, blessed by the Holy Spirit. Now, as with Philip and with Moses, God’s presence is truly with us.

This poem was completed on May 12, 2008, a few months after my son’s death. Those dark days required the presence of the Lord, but even more than that, I needed to know that the God who sustains me day by day was the same God who has been working on this earth throughout history, walking with His own people and saving them from the horror of their own sins. What a great comfort that truth was, as I contemplated how badly my own plans for my life had gone awry! The grace and mercy of God does not always meet our expectations, but only because our expectations are faulty. It required a massive stretching of my soul to understand that because what we see on this earth is not all there is, what happens here is of little importance unless it has eternal consequences. A serious illness that teaches us to trust in God is the kindest gift our Lord can provide.

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