EASTER DAY: The Tree of Life
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being: for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15: 20–22). Christ is risen! Alleluia! He has risen indeed! Alleluia!
Having experienced Holy Week in the Northern Hemisphere in the UK and signs of new life at Easter – spring time after a long cold winter, new buds breaking into blossoms and fresh new growth leaves, Easter eggs and bunnies – I wonder what I can see as relevant signs of new life in Christ in my native Malaysia near the equator or here down under in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the same with the Lunar or Chinese New Year, essentially a spring festival with signs of new life and prosperity or blessing as we hear in the OT reading of a new earth and new heavens and a new Jerusalem with vineyards and the promise of a good harvest of good fruits and longevity of life: twigs of willow buds ready to break into new growth, cherry and peach blossoms, and mandarin oranges and golden pineapples symbolic of the gold in prosperity! So I look for the new pink or red flushes of new growth in trees such as the lillypilly and bottlebrush, blossoms of any kind such as the autumn flowering and candle-like Banksias and the young of our fauna like the joeys of our wallabies at Stroud, alas no young koalas been sighted but little black belly snakes are perhaps not as welcome: they are all our sisters and brothers of creation! So let us embrace such signs of new life in our context pointing us to new life in Christ, that Jesus brought about by rising from the dead.
At the Good Friday liturgy just before Communion we heard the quote from St John’s Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life loses it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour” (12:24–26). The same quote is used at the beginning of the Principles of the Society of St Francis, Anglican Franciscans, that we follow in the footprints of Jesus our Master in his life of self-giving and fruit-bearing. Every Thursday I go as a volunteer to the Hunter Wetlands Centre in Shortland to propagate native plants as a member of the Australian Plants Society. We take cuttings of a variety of plants and put them in tubes of potting mix under a misting unit in a tunnel house. Rooted cuttings will then be transplanted into bigger tubes and pots for sale to inspire and encourage others to grow native plants. Some plants were propagated from seeds such as everlasting daisies or those difficult to strike from cuttings. It is amazing to see how new plants can be propagated from cuttings and new life come about in this way. Not only a seed but a cutting if it falls into the ground and dies, that is give up its life, it will bear much fruit in the new life as a plant, a shrub and a tree!
In keeping then with my theme of trees as on Maundy Thursday on the Tree of Humble Service and Good Friday on the Tree of Love, we come today to the Tree of Life as described by the Franciscan St Bonaventure. A set of meditations on an imaginary tree, the Lignum Vitae (Tree of Life), they are based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Gospel. This tree has 12 branches bearing a fruit each with a total of 12 fruits: the first four based on his origin and early life; the next four on his suffering and the final four on his glorification. This tree recalls the tree of life in the Book of Revelation which bears 12 fruits one for each month with leaves for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:1–2). This tree in turn calls to mind a similar tree in the Garden of Eden, “the tree of life is also in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). This comparison of the two trees leads to the contrast of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in seeking knowledge that would made them gods to the obedience of Jesus “though in the form of God … humbled himself, becoming obedient to death even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 6–8). So Bonaventure warned against following Adam’s example in seeking the fruit of the wrong tree! The voice of Jesus would be interpreted as saying “I was exalted like a cedar in Lebanon, and as a cypress tree, a palm tree, an olive tree” in Ecclesiasticus or the Book of Sirach 23:13–14 in association with the Gospel of John as “the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3: 14–15).
Another reference is made of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision in Chapter 47: “There was water flowing from under the threshold of the temple … with very many trees on the banks of the river… wherever the river flows everything will spring to life. Along the banks of the river grow trees bearing every kind of fruit, their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail. Their fruit will serve for food, their leaves for the healing of the nations (Ezek 47: 1, 7, 12). In St John’s vision of the new Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation (Rev 22:1–2), a similar tree of life on the banks of the river flows not from the temple but from the throne of God and of the Lamb instead. These fruits have healing properties and for Bonaventure, the fruit of the Tree of Life is Christ who reached maturity on the tree of the cross. So let us seek the fruit that is Christ from the Tree of Life and not from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil as Adam and Eve did. Let us seek the true knowledge of God, the holy wisdom of abiding in Christ so that we may have abundant life eternal. Let us leave this holy ground and gathering of God’s people, being sent by our loving and humble God with our eyes alight with the glory we have seen in the risen Christ and our hearts aflame with resurrection joy, as a truly Easter people, full of hope, peace and love.
Let us pray with St Bonaventure in this prayer from his Tree of Life:
Believing, hoping, loving, with our whole heart, with our whole mind, and with our whole strength, may be carried to you, beloved Jesus, as to the goal of all things, because you alone ar sufficient, you alone are good and pleasing. Amen.
Christ is risen! Alleluia! He has risen indeed! Alleluia!
Br. Alfred BoonKong SSF