December 19, 2013

Song of the Christmas Sheep

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Sheep, Shepherd at 8:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

From the days of shepherd Abel
Our lives were paid as sacrifice:
Savory offerings on the table,
Signifying sin’s dread price.
Cursed by Adam’s sin, we waited
For the coming of the Lamb,
When misery would be abated
By the perfect, spotless Ram.
When the time had been fulfilled,
While we grazed in pastures green
And deeply drank from waters still,
The sky exploded with a scene
Of brilliant light and thunderous sound
As angels chimed the glorious song
Of peace to flood the whole world round
To end all woe and right all wrong.
Then leaving us, our shepherds went
To see their Shepherd, filled with grace,
Who from the heart of heaven was sent
As sacrifice to take our place.

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

I attended a sweet Christmas pageant at church last night, and when the actors in sheep’s clothing turned to listen to the “angel,” my heart was pierced with the realization that this glorious news of peace on earth, which we often take as completely man-centric, spoke of the animals’ freedom too. Just as the whole of creation was blighted by Adam’s sin, the coming of Christ to roll back the curse speaks freedom to them, but especially to the gentle sheep that had been slain as sacrifices. As the beloved Christmas hymn tells us, “He comes to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.”

The older I get, the stronger is the longing in my heart to see all things restored to their natural glory and to see death swallowed up completely in the victory of Christ. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The only poetry note I’ll add is that the word our in the last line should be read as referring not just to the sheep but to them and the shepherds, and indeed, to the entire world.

P.S. I just thought of another poetry note. The short, choppy lines are meant to signify the motion of sheep. Somehow all my poems about sheep end up with a short-metered line.

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.

September 3, 2011

Behold the Lamb of God

Posted in Advent, Kingdom, Lent, Sheep, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare at 9:08 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Behold the God-man true, who took our place
To ransom Adam’s doomed and broken race.
As one of us, though deity, He trod
On earth that we might ever dwell with God.

Behold the Shepherd-Lamb who gently leads
Unruly sheep and gives each one just what it needs.
Tending His flock, He rescues us from every harm
And brings the wanderers home in His strong arm.

Behold the Servant-King, whose mighty reign
Encompasses this frail world to cure all bane.
His kindly kingdom vanquishes each foe.
Earth touches heaven where His healing waters flow.

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

If I heard once in seminary that Christ Jesus was 100% man and 100% God, I heard it a hundred times. In different classes, in different contexts, that truth was shown to be a lynchpin not only to Anglican theology but to all Christian truth. Throughout the Scriptures, the Son of God is shown to be the only bridge between heaven and earth. The first verse in the poem scratches the surface of the atonement, a topic about which much ink has been shed to propose so-called competing theories. I would prefer to spend less time arguing about exactly why Jesus had to die and exactly what His death accomplished from God’s point of view and more time in gratitude that He rescued His people from sin and death. While on earth, Jesus gave His apostles the keys to the kingdom, but the risen and ascended Lord told St. John that He Himself holds the keys to Death and to Hell (Revelation 1:18). His is the victory, and we can share in it.

The second verse draws together those verses that speak of our Lord as the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. This theme is a continuation of the God-man theme, but it goes more specifically to the concept of sacrificial love of the Shepherd who risks everything to save His sheep and provide for them. As shepherds, Moses and David were types of Jesus, who is the Shepherd who supplies all our needs (Psalm 23). Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all delivered God’s promise of a Shepherd who would gather His people.

The third verse turns to the image of our Lord as King of all the earth. The world’s idea of a king is of someone who exploits his people for his own benefit. Not so with Jesus Christ. While He was on earth, the only placard He had to declare His reign was a rudely made sign that hung on the Cross. Through word and deed, He taught the concept of the servant-leader, as He washed His disciples’ feet and warned them about competing for the title of “Greatest.” He who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) prefers to vanquish His foes by converting them. The Great Commission was His royal decree to the Church to conquer the world in His name, not by the power of earthly weapons but with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Dated 18 February 2008, this is another poem that grew out of the weeks right after I returned to seminary following the death of my son James. As I worked through the pain, I thought a lot about the relationship between Heaven and Earth. People dealing with loss sometimes drown in sentimentalism, so I tried very hard to avoid all of those mawkish notions like “James’ death means that heaven has another angel.” James is no angel. He was a sinner saved by grace, and it was much more comforting to me to know that there is a Saviour, who knows our sorrows but who is also the loving Shepherd and all-powerful King.

August 25, 2011

Regarding Sheep

Posted in Obedience, Sheep, Shepherd at 10:45 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Sometimes they are so hurt,
So smudged with dirt,
A careless shepherd might
Forget they’re white
And beautiful when neat.
But hear them bleat!
They’re always needy,
Even greedy,
And rarely do they crave
The things that save,
Yet foolishly they blame
The one who came
To gently pasture them
And bring them home to Him.

Their Chief Shepherd, through the years,
Instructs their feeble ears
To heed His firm but tender voice,
So that they make the choice
To find contentment in the fold,
His safe, secure stronghold.
Then as they learn to trust,
Avoid the mire and dust,
And feed in pastures richly green,
Their lives become serene.
Beside the crystal waters still,
They deeply drink their fill,
Then follow Him down any road
For His way leads to His abode.

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

I have always been fascinated by the Biblical concept of God’s people as sheep and Himself as their Shepherd. I think if we were going to describe ourselves we wouldn’t choose anything as mundane as sheep. We would want to be known as sleek racehorses, perhaps willful, but even in our willfulness a creature to be admired for strength and beauty. But that is not who we are. Having wandered away on the thorny, treacherous mountain of sin, we are neither lovely nor admirable. We are scuffed and bloody and tangled with thorns. What’s even worse is that we are silly enough to be prone to wander away from the very love and goodness that should drive us home. We have all gone astray like lost sheep (Isaiah 53:6). But there is hope, for there is a Good Shepherd who fills our every need, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Furthermore, He has risen to the heights of heaven and intercedes for us. Though it is ultimately the Chief Shepherd who leads His people, there are earthly shepherds who assist Him with keeping us from going astray, and I thank God for those who take their ministry seriously enough to seek after the sheep with whom they have been entrusted.

One of my favorite pieces in Handel’s Messiah is the setting for Isaiah 53:6-7, in which Handel uses tone painting first to represent the light, airy, staccato movement of sheep skipping over the meadows and mountains. But then the tone of the wording turns somber, along with the music, which continues in a minor key with long, drawn out phrases repeated by the various voices, all resolving in a tragically beautiful harmony for the words “The iniquity of us all.” I certainly had that piece in mind when I wrote my first long verse of short, quick staccato lines. Then in the second verse, each line is longer and the words are chosen for a more peaceful, less frantic sound, just as our lives become when we follow the Shepherd. Finally, the title has a triple meaning. I’ve used regarding to mean “about,” “to look on,” “to show concern for,” and “to esteem.” There is nothing in us that would cause our Lord to esteem us, yet He gave His Son to redeem us.

My notes indicate that this poem was written on 2/7/03 at 6:09 PM. I’m not quite sure why I thought it important to record the time, but there it is. I then revised it on 4/7/03, 02/16/05, and 07/01/07. I wish I could remember why it needed so much revision. And what time of day it was revised on those days.

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