The Message of the Trees: The Cross: A man-made tree

This is the second of three sermons spinning off the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window as seen below.  The website is https://sacredspaces.cor.org/leawood/

images

Scripture connections:

 Old Testament: Isaiah 53:7-12 (NLT)

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.[a]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.[b]
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

 

Gospel: Luke 23:44-49 (NLT) [also found in Matthew 27:45-56, Mark 15:44-49 & John 19:18-27]

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[a] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer[b] overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.[c]” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[d] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

New Testament (from Paul’s letters)

I Corinthians 1:18-21 (NLT)

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Galatians 3:1-3 (NLT)

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Reflection:

As I started working on the images of the three trees in the COR’s stained glass window, I struggled to understand how the cross could be identified as a tree. Trees are living, breathing organisms, and a nature-loving mother raised me to respect them. The cross was not a living organism so the only correlation I could make was that it was made from a tree.

Last week we talked about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The image in the window is surrounded by the visual representations of the Old Testament stories. The Tree of the Cross is surrounded by the images that tell the story of Jesus Christ, from his birth in a manger through his crucifixion on the wooden cross.

The cross is a man-made shape used to hang a man. Man destroyed a living tree to destroy Jesus Christ. This tree represents all the evil that God tries to teach us to avoid—and it was man-made rather than God created.

Why, then is the Tree of the Cross the central figure of the three trees? Turning to scripture, references to the cross are buried even in the prophecy of Isaiah:

But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 

Even though the verses do not use the word ‘cross,’ the typical method of sentencing a criminal, especially if considered a rebel, was crucifixion—a horrible, cruel death meant to serve as a deterrent to others who might encourage rebellion against authorities.

And all four gospels describe Jesus’ death in almost the very same words. The description of the actual crucifixion is minimal, but the method is not as important as the purpose Paul outlines in I Corinthians 1:18-21:

 

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

 

The message, as we prepare to come to the table today, is that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be saved—granted eternal life.

Paul continues to explain the meaning of the cross to the Galatians:

For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

 

The cross is our symbol of God’s effort to keep humanity from self-destructing. The cross is a constant reminder that God loves all so much that he joined us—all humanity—by stepping into human form as Jesus to teach us how to love one another.

The cross triggers us to remember the stories of Jesus’ teachings and his efforts to model how to love one another. The cross, man-made from a tree, carried the weight of Jesus as the body of God died.

Do not leave worship today without keeping image of the Cross with you. Look around in our community and in our homes to see where the Cross is visible. Reflect upon the cruelty that God endured as he completed his work in the body of Christ.

Yes, the Cross was man-made from a tree. In fact a tree had to be destroyed in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. The Old Testament tells the stories of how the ancient Israelites failed to remain faithful to God or failed to follow the Law of Moses beginning with the story of Adam and Eve failing to follow God’s rule. The stained glass artist demonstrated the destruction of the Garden of Eden as God created by the choice of yellowing, withering leaves from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of the Cross symbolizes humanity’s failure to remain faithful. Even legends have developed about the choice of wood used for the cross. The choice the ancient Romans used cannot be proven because the ancient crosses deteriorated and there is no archeological evidence of the wood used. Possibly it was olive wood, cypress, or cedar, but as a native Missourian, I am familiar with the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.

Googling the legend, I found the story:

In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew 
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.”

 

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://www.gotquestions.org/legend-dogwood.html]

 

This legend helps me remember the message of the Cross, especially when the dogwoods bloom in the Spring. But, I was curious:  Did dogwood trees grow in Jerusalem? No. I learned that the dogwood is native only in the United States.

The Legend of the Dogwood was created to help remember the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Other cultures have different legends, and one of them includes a connection to Seth, a son of Adam and Eve. The story is complex, but it challenges our sense of chronology that our human minds comprehend.

In a doctoral thesis by Nicole Fallon from University of Toronto, Canada, legends share that the wood on the cross came from the trees in the Garden of Eden:

The notion that wood was taken from paradise goes back to Jewish tradition . . . [when] Eve and Seth bring herbs back from Eden; another tale recounts how Adam and Eve took wood with them at the time of the expulsion, which was later used as a rod by Moses and was eventually incorporated into the Tabernacle. A third account tells how Moses went to paradise personally and cut his staff there from the tree of life.

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/19188/1/Fallon_Nicole_A_200911_PhD_thesis.pdf%5D

The Cross represents the story of God as the man Jesus Christ. As we continue to study the Bible and work at hearing God talk to us, it is important to remember that the Bible, like the stained glass window, is filled with stories to guide us in living the very principles God taught us and continues to teach us. In the window, the New Testament images revolve around the Cross, a man-made tree.

We must be disciplined to read The Word as John Wesley instructed the earliest Methodists. Sometimes the scriptures do not make sense based on our personal experiences, but if we study the scripture together in small groups we can help each other find God’s message.

The Tree of the Cross reminds us of God’s promises. This week as we think about the message in the visual images of crosses that surround us in our churches, in our homes, and even around us in our community, we remember God’s promise that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be granted eternal life symbolized by the Tree of Life, the third tree of COR’s stained glass window.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

We look at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

And know we must be disciplined to read scripture

So we can choose good over evil in our lives.

Yet today we know there is much we do not understand.

 

Today, we consider the Tree of the Cross

And remember Jesus Christ is your son

Who died to pay for our sins.

Yet today, we know there is much we do not understand.

 

As we come to the table for the bread and the cup.

We recommit ourselves to be disciples

Who strive to live the life you give us

So that others, too, may understand your love. –Amen

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