When God creates all things good for human beings, a specific tree is mentioned: the Tree of Life (Gen 2. 9). It is put in the middle of the Garden of Eden: this garden planted by God (Gen 2. 8).
At the pivot point in the history of humanity is the Tree of the Cross, the life-giving tree.
History comes to an end as the Tree of Life is again mentioned. At the very end of time, it flourishes, perhaps as a group of trees, on both sides of the River of the Water of Life which flows from the Throne of God (Rev 22. 1 – 3). This is in the Holy City of the New Creation.
All through the Bible there is mention of trees and they are often used in familiar stories and events, in poetry and prophesy. They play a part in the story of redemption. In this set of reflections various aspects of trees (some admittedly fairly tenuous) will be examined. Hopefully this will lead to further thought or investigation on the part of the reader.
In general a chronological or historical approach will be used but some freedom and flexibility may also be applied if deemed appropriate or expedient.
This theme has been chosen to take us through the Trinity season because the liturgical colour for this season is green, evoking thoughts of new life, flourishing and hope.
Hung on a Tree: the Cross
At the end of his encounter with Zacchaeus we heard Jesus’ statement: the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost [Luke 19. 10].
Jesus indicates how this is to be accomplished when he speaks to his disciples at the Last Supper: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ [John12.32]
In the Law of Moses one of the punishments for ‘a crime punishable by death … (is to) hang him on a tree’ [Deut 21. 22]. The word for tree in Hebrew is also used to denote wood. The corpse, already dead by stoning or other means, before impaling on the tree, must be removed before nightfall and buried. It cannot be left hanging, as in the Roman punishment, since in Jewish Law it is ritually impure and would desecrate the area.
When taking over the land, Joshua captured the town of Ai, killed the king and hung him until sunset. His body was then buried under a pile of stones [Josh 8. 29]. He repeated this when five more kings were defeated [Josh 10. 26].
During the time when the Jews were ruled by the Persians, Ahasuerus looked for a new queen to replace the disgraced Queen Vashti. A prominent Jew, Mordecai had a cousin, Esther, who was very beautiful. The king found her very attractive and decided that she should be his new queen, but he did not know that she was a Jew. Unfortunately one of the king’s courtiers discovered her background and ordered a gallows to be erected for the hanging of Mordecai. But the conspirators were exposed and they were hanged instead [Esther 2. 23].
Another of the king’s officers, Haman, found that certain people were not bowing down to him and Haman ‘plotted to destroy all the Jews’ [Esther 3. 6]. Mordecai being a Jew is under threat and Haman builds a gallows in preparation for Mordecai’s hanging. [Esther 5. 14].Esther has hidden her Jewish identity from the king, but Mordecai asks her to risk her life by telling the king. She asks the king a favour and he says she shall have whatever she wants. Then Esther reveals to him that she is also a Jew and she relates Haman’s plot. She asks for the Jews to be saved from Haman [Esther 7. 3]. As a result Haman is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai. At the end of the story Mordecai becomes one of the king’s officials and ‘for the Jews there was light and gladness, honour and joy’ [Esther 8. 17].
This story is one of the most popular in the Jewish community today. The Feast of Purim [Esther 9. 26] celebrates the events. It gives hope to those living in times of oppression and there are parties and celebrations.
To save the lost:
Christ himself carried up our sins in his body to the tree.
The tree of shame was made the tree of glory.
Through this tree our Saviour cancels all our sin.
Come then, Lord, and help your people
bought with the price of your own blood
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.
For meditation you might find the following website helpful: The Crucified Tree Form in The Methodist Modern Art Collection
Most high and holy God,
lift our eyes to your Son
enthroned on Calvary;
and as we behold his meekness,
shatter our earthly pride;
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting
for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen