Good Friday 25 March 2016, The Tree of Love
“See my servant … for he grew up before the Lord like a young plant … out of the dry ground; he was despised and rejected by others; he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed. He was cut off from the land of the living. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant shall make many righteous, because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors, he shall be exalted and lifted up.”
The suffering servant of Isaiah 52 in the OT reading is seen as the role of Jesus who laid down his life for his friends in no greater love than this as he shared his message with his disciples at the last supper in John’s Gospel: “you are my friends, if you do what I command you that you love one another. As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, abide in my love. This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15: 9, 12–14). That is why St Francis of Assisi was so devoted to the Crucified Christ because the costly unconditional love of Christ even unto death moved him so much to abide in that love. Christ suffered and died for us whom he called his friends. No greater love can there be when Jesus willingly laid down his life for his friends. Christ by his suffering and death on the cross showed God’s steadfast love for us his creation.
As I said last night I want to use the theme of trees during this Easter Triduum following the Franciscan St Bonaventure’s Lignum Vitae (Tree of Life) a set of meditations on the life of Jesus in the Gospels. Yesterday I used this imaginary tree which I called tree of humble service to refer to Jesus’ call to his disciples to follow his example of foot-washing at the last supper. Today I want to invite you to consider Christ on the cross as the tree of love. Let us consider the words of hymns regarding the cross of Christ. The one we will sing later in this liturgy as the Reserved Sacrament is brought in from the Altar of Repose has the words:
Fulfilled is now what David told
In true prophetic song of old,
How God the nations’ king should be:
For God is reigning from the tree.
O tree of glory, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear,
How bright in royal robe it stood –
The purple of a Saviour’s blood!
Another translation of this hymn Pange Lingua gloriosi prodium by 6th century hymn writer Venantius Fortunatus has these words:
See the noble cross resplendent,
Standing tall and without peer.
Where. O Tree, have you a rival
In the leaf or fruit you bear?
Sweet the burden, sweet the ransom,
That through iron your branches bear.
Bend your boughs, O Tree, be gentle,
Bring relief to God’s own limbs,
Bow in homage to bring comfort
To the gentle King of kings;
Ease the throne where your creator
Harshly treated, calmly reigns;
For all the woods and forests
You were chosen out to hold
That fair prize that would win harbour
For a drifting storm-tossed world;
You whose wood has now been purpled,
By the Lamb’s own blood enfurled.
Finally, Erik Routley’s translation of a 17th century Hungarian hymn-writer Kiraly Imre von Pecsely:
There in God’s garden stands a tree of wisdom
Whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations:
Tree of all knowledge, tree of all compassion,
Tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that says ‘Our Saviour’:
There on its branches see the scars of suffering;
See where the tendrils of our human selfhood
Feed on its lifeblood.
Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage:
Our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it.
Yet, look, it lives: its grief has not destroyed it,
Nor fire consumed it.
See how its branches reach to us to welcome.
Hear what the voice says, ‘Come to me, ye weary;
Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow:
I will give blessing.”
All heaven is singing, ‘Thanks to Christ whose passion
Offers in mercy healing, strength and pardon:
Peoples and nations take it, take it freely.’
Amen, my Master.
So, my sisters and brothers, I invite you today to pray, meditate, imagine the Crucified Lord Jesus as the Tree of Love. It is Good Friday because Christ has revealed to us on the cross God’s steadfast love for us. So costly, so awesome that God in Christ is willing to offer his life for us, to lay down his life for those he called his friends. The call of Jesus is to all: come and see, come and know, come and experience God’s love for us, unconditional! As God the Good Shepherd search for us lost in our distractions and care of the world and as the Father waiting for the return of his wayward son, God’s love is waiting for us to make connection with the Source of our very being.
St Francis of Assisi’s response to the Crucified Lord Jesus was a huge identification with the cross that he was moved to tears and sobbing aloud when he meditated on Jesus’ suffering on the cross. He was so moved that on a retreat on Mt Alverna or La Verna he asked to share Jesus’ intense love for him on the cross that he received the Stigmata (or the five wounds of the Crucified Christ) around the feast of the Holy Cross (14 September). This is his prayer and we pray with him:
May the power of your love Lord Jesus, fiery and sweet so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven; grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love as you died for love of our love. Amen.
Br. Alfred BoonKong SSF.