Did climb the tree
Our Lord to see.”
The New England Primer
St. Ann’s, like many Christian churches, has a steeple which helps identify both the building and our religion. It’s not just Christian churches which have upward spires. Mosques have minarets. Today, these structures are symbols for reaching for the heavens and God. In fact, these pieces of architecture were borrowed from ancient fertility rites, using the obelisk, upright spires, towers and pillars as phallic symbols transformed to be a symbol of our own.
I’d like to suggest that there is another symbol which predates any manmade piece of architecture. It is the tree. Trees are wonderous gifts from God and come in all shapes and sizes all over the world and which have a commonality of growing upright toward the sky, reaching for the heavens. They serve as living ladders and teaching aids to inform us about life and God.
We learn in Luke 19: 2-10 that short, rich Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, a sinner, was curious about Jesus and, so, ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to get a better vantage point to see the man about whom he had heard. Jesus noted him and called to Zacchaeus by name to come down from the tree, and then invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. Surprised, probably shocked, and humbled, Zacchaeus renounced his sinfulness and vowed to give to the poor. In response, Jesus stated that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s home that very day. The sycamore tree made the encounter possible.
I wonder if you are familiar with another kind of tree, the Bristlecone Pine tree. They grow in the Great Basin National Park in adverse growing conditions, cold temperatures and high winds. They are the longest-living tree, some thousands of years old. I learned that the pine cone they produce is tightly sealed with resin. When the cone falls to the forest floor, it remains in that sealed condition for years, perhaps centuries, until there is a forest fire which can melt the resin and then release the seeds within. This is the way that the Bristlecone Pine tree reproduces itself. In the same way, we also go through fire-like experiences in our lives; a sickness, a loss of job, a death, but in the end these experiences offer new and changed life for us.
During this season of Lent, we are especially aware of the days leading up to the crucifixion, when Jesus was nailed to parts of a tree, the cross. That tree was part of Jesus giving us eternal life. Trees are life giving. Whether it be by the sap that feeds us, the leaves which offer shade, the wood which provides shelter and ladders, and the metaphor they offer in providing a new vantage point. Stop. Today take some time and look up at a tree. Be ready for an encounter. Make it part of your Lenten Rule. See and hear our Lord speaking to you and be ready for the fire within.
To God be the glory.