[A 3 minute read for Good Friday]
Two years ago, when snow hit the ground, I found myself attempting to climb a rather tall and thick evergreen tree in my garden to rescue a stray cat I was trying to care for. It turned out to be impossible, with its tightly growing branches there was no way up, and as I tried to squeeze past the sharp branches and pointed twigs which scratched my face and arms, I watched the cat climb higher. I gave up for the time being and gave the cat chance to find a solution to his own predicament. A few hours later, after leaving the cat to his own devices, he sprightly appeared at my door for his afternoon feed. A few months later, he moved in.
Trees feature strongly in the story of our salvation. The first is that tree rooted in Eden’s Paradise, the tree which lured Adam and Eve to the fruits of its branches, an easy tree to climb. ‘The serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5). And so, in reaching high, Adam and Eve experience a great fall. They fail to live according to God’s plan, reach for a perfection beyond them, try to make themselves equal to God, their lives now fruitless.
Whilst other trees make an appearance in Scripture, it is the tree of the Cross which stands tall and changes things, that tree so difficult and painful to climb, and yet Jesus ‘accepts death, death on a cross.’ On Good Friday, in more usual times, people draw close to ‘The wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.’ They make a gesture of veneration, lean forward to touch or kiss the cross, the deep expression of God’s love for us. One traditional Good Friday hymn for the Veneration is ‘Faithful Cross the saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare.’ One of the verses goes: Lofty timber, smooth your roughness, Flex your boughs for blossoming; Let your fibres lose their toughness, Gently let your tendril cling. Lay aside your native gruffness, Clasp the body of your king. Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, Sweet the burden that they bear.”
And so Jesus is raised high on the scaffold of the cross. The branches bear his body, its boughs are soaked in blood. And yet the cross for us is the tree which blossoms with love and flowers with forgiveness making it possible for us to live with God for ever. Through his death, Christ has uprooted the power of death, he has driven a wedge between us and our sins. He has restored us to God so that we may reach for the perfection once beyond us, our lives fruitful with his love.