“Like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”–Psalm 1:3.
Last winter, when we were in the midst of construction of the new addition, some of us grew worried about our large ash tree in the front yard of the church. It’s a beautiful shade tree, with wide open spreading branches. We have an arborist, David Adams, who has been looking after the tree for some years now. He keeps us advised on the health of the tree, what needs to be done, and always responds when we need him. Some neighbors stopped me on the street every now and then, to mention their concern for the tree, as well.
Even a tree can preach about the kingdom of God.
The biblical writers often used trees as symbols of life and hope, as an image of God’s care or of the depth of spiritual life: the deep-rooted tree, for example, that can withstand all weather. Trees, being important sources of shelter, of beauty, of sanctuary, of abundance, of shade, of water or signs of water, of food, and construction material, are all over the bible.
Without looking all the citations up, here are some of the ones that come to my mind: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in the Garden of Eden; the fruit-bearing trees to feed our first parents, the Oak of Mamre where Abraham and Sarah camp; the cedars of Lebanon; the fable of the trees in Judges; terebinths–love that word; the broom tree under which Jonah sat; the righteous person as a tree by the stream in Psalm 1; the olive groves on the sides of Mount Olivet near Jerusalem, where Jesus and the disciples walked; Jesus’ parable of the fig tree, and the fig tree Jesus blasted; Jesus’ metaphor of the people of God as fruit-bearing trees; disciples “known by their fruit;” the great sheltering tree in the parable of the mustard seed; the palm branches of the palm trees on Palm Sunday–(ours specially collected and sent from a parishioner in Florida); the tree as the Holy Rood, the Holy Cross, the tree of life growing by the river in the City of God, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations, the healing of world in Revelation.
(We’re reading the great praise texts of Revelation during Easter so that came quickly to mind).
And then there is our ash tree that preaches silently about steadfastness and beauty, about shelter and hospitality, gentleness and strength, fragility and sturdiness, all at the same time.
What I love about our tree: even though the neighborhood people who have asked me about our tree do not come to church on Sunday morning, they have a concern for the tree. They have a connection to us, to God, however tenuous, through the branchs of our tree that reaches out to them. The children in the neighborhood play under the tree in spring, summer, and fall. In the fall, they make piles of leaves before we have raked them all, and jump into them. In spring they play catch. In the summer, after church, we gather under the tree for coffee. During our annual church fair, almost everybody takes a moment to rest under the tree and chat with old and new friends.
Recently, a lovely couple came to ask if they could be married under that tree. “Just us, and you, and the tree,” they said, intuitively understanding the symbol of life, roots, depth, branches, and hope that reaches to the sky.
Yesterday, I went to check on our tree after church. The buds are there, a modest swelling on the tips of the branches. Life is there, and will flower and bear fruit in God’s own time. It’s a good tree, that one.