Salvation in Tree and Leaf
Text: Rev. 22:1-6, 12-20
7 Easter, C
Regardless of the culture, creed or history some images just seem to be ingrained in the human heart and mind. Take the tree, for instance. In nearly every culture and mythology the tree is an important symbol of both life and of things eternal. The Norse had a great world tree call Yggdrasil, the Maya believed in Yaxchė, a tree in the center of the world which held up the layers of the sky. Ancient Egyptians venerated the sycamore, Chinese the pear and mulberry, the Druids the oak. The Bode tree is important in the Buddhist's story of enlightenment. Bonsai trees are a well known fixture in Zen and meditation.
We may have grown away from the mythological importance of trees these days, but we still see the echoes of life and death in the branches of our trees. All around us, new buds are forming and life is finally returning. Over the summer it will swell and green and ripen. And then will come the autumn colours and the falling leaves, the stripping of the branches ... a prelude to the long winter months when the trees look dead. But we don't worry, for we know the spring will come once more. Time and again, we look to trees for reminders of life and death, and things beyond.
But why is the tree so fixed in the hearts, minds and religions of the world? Why the sacred importance in nearly every culture on earth? It is because (pardon the pun) we all share the same roots. We all go back to the same parents. The Tree of Life is still etched in the human psyche. A tree (of the knowledge of good and evil) IS at the center. But not of the world, rather, our fall into sin. Through that one tree we lost our way and our hope of tasting the fruit of the Tree of Life.
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They enjoyed His company in paradise having everything God could give them, including free access to the Tree of Life! There was only one stipulation. The tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was off limits. In the end, however, that wasn't good enough for them. It wasn't enough to simply worship God, they wanted to worship themselves too. satan tempted, they listened, and a tree became the instrument of our downfall.
Genesis 3:17, 22-24 And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you ... Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever – therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Ever since people have been trying to invent their own way back into the garden, to the Tree of Life. Science, philosophy, man-made religions. Each seeks to grant life, or give greater meaning to life. Each seeks to counterfeit the fruit of the tree we lost in the garden. But the longer and the harder we struggle to find it through our own searching or creating, the farther away it seems to fade. Science brings us better medicine but worse toxins, climate change, and weapons of mass destruction. Genetic engineering until the fruit turns monstrous. Philosophy asks the questions, but in the end doesn't really care about the answers. Forever pruning ... never harvesting. Man-made religions set up rules and regulations for growing your own tree. A tree that one can only hope will be good enough to please god (whatever he/she/it may be). A tree that one can only pray will be strong enough to weather the droughts of fear and heartache, doubt and despair. In the end, just like our first father and mother, for all our effort we are left standing naked behind some leaves. In the end, whether we choose to worship our intelligence, our ingenuity, or our spirituality, all we have left is no real tree, no hope of life, and leaves that are quickly turning brown and falling off.
But if there is one thing that we know in this Easter season it is that dead things can come back to life! Jesus who died, has risen again, and in Him so too does our hope of once again eating from the Tree of Life. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that it is already waiting for us!
(1-2) “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Once paradise was lost to sin, guarded by a terrible cherub with a flaming sword. But now in Christ paradise is restored, enlarged, recreated! The picture comes across as almost paltry in English, but it is not so. Not one small lane, with a little stream running in a gutter and a tree overhanging. Think of Central Park, or our river valley trails ... a luscious garden in the heart of the city. Trees and streams and roads paved with gold throughout! And the Trees are always green and full, always in fruit, always a source of joy and life! In the shade of their leaves is rest for the weary. In their gentle rustle is the music that calms and soothes the troubled soul. In the fragrance of blossom and fruit is joy and refreshment for the heart.
And how can this paradise be restored and reopened to us children of Adam and Eve? (3) “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. The Tree of Life is ours, because our Lord gave up His life on a Tree of death. We have been grafted back into the promise of the garden, because Jesus was accursed – “cut off.” Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Cursed, cut down and thrown out on the dead wood of the cross so our disgrace at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil could be cut down and thrown out too. And then when Christ arose on the third day – new life from the stump of Jesse – life was restored for one and all.
And further, Christ then went ahead into heaven to prepare that great and glorious paradise for His beloved brothers and sisters. And He will come again and call us back into the garden we were banished from so long ago. (4-5)They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
And they will reign, literally: they shall “king it.” Where God is King and the Lamb is King we shall be kings with them. A kingdom unlike any other that has ever existed on this old earth. It will be a kingdom made up entirely of kings and no subjects with Jesus truly the “King of kings”. A kingdom with no tree of knowledge of good and evil. For the evil we once knew will be no more, and not one of us will want to go back! (6) “And he said to me, These words are trustworthy and true.” What the old rugged cross bought for us is now attained. Paradise lost is now paradise regained.