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

Good Friday 2016

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.