St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Easter Day 2016

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