by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter
When the weather is warmer, go stand underneath a tree and look up. If the tree is healthy, you’ll see a sturdy trunk and twisting, reaching branches, tightly anchored where they join the trunk, more delicate at the tips. You may see an expanse of foliage, positioned for prime exposure to light, the tree’s source of energy to power growth. The limbs are anchored to maximize resilience. There may be seeds or flowers, ready for replication. There may be birds (or that gorgeous barred owl living in my chestnut in the back yard), squirrels (despite the owl, who looks at them scornfully), butterflies, spreading the tree to other places as they travel and take seeds and pollen with them.
Now look down.
Imagine you could instantly dissolve the earth under your feet to see the vast network of roots. The trunk extends below ground as the strong taproot, anchoring the tree to its spot, and the roots spread out wide around you, mirroring the canopy overhead, deep underneath your feet, bringing nutrients and water to every part of the tree.
Did you know that trees are mentioned more than any other living thing (besides people) in the Bible? There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis, in the first Psalm, on the first page of the New Testament, and on the last page of Revelation. Every major event in the Bible has a tree marking the spot, from the fall to the flood to the overthrow of Pharaoh. Jesus said He is the true vine, and His Father the dresser of the garden (John 15:1), Proverbs 3:18 refers to the Bible as a tree of Life, and we God’s people are told to be like trees planted by streams of water that yield their fruit in season (Psalm 1:3).
And did you know that major characters in the Bible appear in conjunction with a tree? Noah received the olive branch to mark the end of the flood (Genesis 8:11), Abraham sat under the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1), Moses stood barefoot in front of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2–5), Jonah was shaded by a tree until God took it away (Jonah 4:6), Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore fig (Luke 19:1-4), the blind man saw people as if they were trees walking (Mark 8:24), the disciples gathered on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39), the apostle Paul asserted that if we have gone for a walk in the woods we are without excuse for knowing God (Romans 1:20), Romans states we are like branches grafted into Israel’s trunk, with roots that help us stand fast and firm no matter what troubles come our way (Romans 11:17-18).
And of course Jesus died on a tree. While the Romans had many ways of killing people, the only thing that actually could kill Jesus was a tree. Deuteronomy 21:23 states that he who dies on a tree is cursed. Jesus died on a tree, cursed, so that we wouldn’t have to (Galatians 3:13).
Too often we are rooted to the things of this world – prestige, acclaim, fortune.
Too often we are rooted to the symbols and rituals and buildings of worship.
I pray this day in Lent, and every day as we approach Good Friday and that Cross that was a tree, that you and I choose first to anchor ourselves firmly to the Tree to which we are grafted, connected to the Roots that bring us Living Water, and reaching for the Branches that bring Light to our souls, that we too might grow to be more like residents of the Kingdom that we are called to be.