Webteam: April 2020
Sunday Service 2020 Rev. Fran Rhys
Christ is the Tree of Life
Alleluia Christ is risen — Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Hymn Singing the Faith 298: Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia
"as the first day of the week was dawning" (Matthew 28:1)
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green;
The trees of nature fruitless be,
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.
His beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see,
In Jesus Christ the Appletree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought;
I missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the Appletree.
I'm weary with my former toil -
Here I will sit and rest awhile,
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the Appletree.
Richard Hutchins (attributed) 1761
Gospel Reading: Matthew 28: 1-10
I saw on the BBC website that the theme of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby's sermon is the resurrection of our common life. I wish that theme had come into my mind! I really think that's great for a time such as this — symbolised in a small way by rounds of applauding the NHS on Thursday evenings in our streets and out of our windows. Instead the theme I believe I have been given by the Holy Spirit is trees, and specifically the tree on which Jesus died which, after the traumatic events of Holy Week, today suddenly sprouts new life — bunches of soft blossoms which make one gasp at their appearance and beauty. Even if we live somewhere without a garden, there are still trees out of our windows, flowers in window boxes, a tiny roof garden perhaps, or the common life of parks. We're still allowed to go to parks, and I know I made more use of these precious spaces of common life when I didn't have a garden. Is there a favourite tree from your childhood you remember?
Trees are being re-valued just when we're globally at the point of losing so many ancient forests and trees. We're realising trees are like the lungs of the world, taking in some of the poisonous carbon dioxide we produce from our wasteful ways of living, and instead producing oxygen for all life to use. On Day Seven of the Methodist Prayer Handbook we read how the United Church of Zambia is working to increase forest cover by planting six million trees in five years. Rightly much has been made of the fact that, as it is required for our own safety to stay in our homes as much as possible and to simply take daily walks, the skies and the roads have gone quiet. We can clearly hear the birds in the trees and bushes sing again. It's important to acknowledge that, however beneficial trees can be, planting trees will never be a substitute for decreasing fossil fuel emissions of oil, gas, and coal. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that 2.3 billion acres of new forests (equivalent to the size of the USA) could help limit by 2050 the increase in global temperature to 1.5-degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels.
The empty cross, indicating Christ's resurrection, has often been referred to as the tree of life. The bursting into life of blossoms and lime green leaves out of dead-looking over-wintered branches has a miraculous quality, which has felt to many a helpful way to describe the inexplicable experience of Christ's resurrection. In the book of Genesis, chapter 2, where there is much emphasis on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we can easily miss hearing about the "tree of life" which is also in the garden of Eden, alongside the story, "out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Genesis 2:9). I wonder what trees you can see from your window? Or what trees you may have in your garden? From the manse windows I have cherished these last few weeks a flowering red-currant bush and a magnolia tree, both bursting out defiantly from above the neighbours' fences. There is a cherry tree in the garden from which blossoms have sprouted directly out of the trunk. There is a quince tree in a pot which put forth shy, silvery, hairy buds. I get glimpses of this blossoming during the day which, in common with others working from home, is now overwhelmingly spent at my computer or on my 'phone. The Methodist president, Ruth Gee, had as her presidential year's theme 'glimpses of glory', which is what these blossoming bushes and trees speak to me of. They have felt especially important this Lent, because of being confined to home. I wonder if, like me, you have felt keenly the contrasts of restriction, of the news and awareness of great suffering and dying, together with these glimpses of glory of the most wonderful, unfolding Spring out of our windows, be those at home or at hospital?
Isn't this stark contrast what the experience of Christ's resurrection was like for the first women disciples of Jesus? Having gone through the trauma of accompanying the dying Jesus, they were presented with this inexplicably wonderful news, which was completely miraculous: "he has been raised as he said he would be". (Matthew 28:7, paraphrase.) Another of the positive sides of the lockdown has been the free generosity of artists with their gifts and skills honed over many years. I was sent on facebook a wonderful concert in a living room of a pianist and a cellist. The artist, David Hockney has donated paintings of Spring in Normandy, France, where he now lives. Do look them up if you are online. They have the most wonderful light greens and the simplicity as of the children's pictures of rainbows which adorn the neighbours' windows. Some of our preachers have continued to give generously of their time, experience, and knowledge through new online 'portals'. Our Arts enabler, Leonie, is asking for submissions of artwork on the theme of "kindness" for an online exhibition.
In faith we believe that the creation on which we are completely dependent, for cherries, plums, and quinces for example, is a gift of God to us. If God's creation is so full of miracles and beauty, full of cycles of death and rebirth, then why not our very lives too? Christ's experience of resurrection suggests that there may well be things yet to come after our earthly deaths. We are instructed to continue following in the footsteps of Christ, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (Matthew 28:10) In other words, the angelic presence said to the women: "Resume your ordinary lives, go on doing the things that you did with Jesus during his earthly lifetime, and the Kingdom of God will be opened up to you because Christ will be with you at all times through the Holy Spirit."
We lift up to you,
O God the strange contradictions of this time,
and the glimpses of your glory
in the Spring of your creation
and in efforts to respond to others
and ourselves with kindness
rather than frustration and anger.
We're reminded of the first earthquake-like glimpses
of your resurrection
in hugely fraught circumstances.
Help us in all our efforts at kindness
especially among keyworkers at this demanding time.
And help us to keep in view
the bigger picture of your
desires for kinship in your Kingdom.
In Christ, the Tree of Life, we pray, Amen
Hymn Singing the Faith 188 There's a light upon the mountains, and the day is at the spring
Every bud that opens
Every bird that sings
Every seed that ripens
Reflects Christ's resurrection.
Every act of kindness
Every step in faith
Every time justice is restored
There's a mirror of Christ's resurrection.
Let us be thankful
To our loving and giving God.
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