SACRED GARDENS 5-7-17
May 7, 2017
As Spring is now in full bloom, many of us have turned to planting and tending gardens. I love trees and flowers, and being surrounded by them, both in my home garden and our prayer garden here at the church. And so I started to think about gardens in the Bible, and then the Holy Spirit took me deeper as my thoughts turned to a single tree, and its importance from the very beginning to the very end of time, and our entrance into eternity.
The tree of life… It was in the Garden of Eden - the first garden on earth, where the first two people enjoyed trees and flowers that were perfect in every way; where animals and people lived in harmony without fear, because there was no sin; where the fruit was beyond delicious, where their bodies knew no pain or aging or imperfections. The tree of life was there. But they never got to eat its fruit. Because as we heard in our second Scripture reading today (Genesis 3:1-6, 22-24), they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, despite God’s warning as to the inevitable consequences. Once they did, God banished them from the garden, and blocked the way to the tree of life. He did this out of love, because if they had eaten of it in their now sinful state, they would have forever been trapped in bodies that feel pain, become sick, and deteriorated with age. And because sin had been released in the earth, it also felt its affects. Plants and animals began to compete with each other for food and water. Animals split into predator and prey, and now feared humans. Weeds choked out the more delicate plants that had previously thrived. Everything and everyone was under the curse of sin.
And so we come to the second garden, the garden of Gethsemane, near the foot of the Mount of Olives. It is the place where Jesus went with his disciples to pray the night before he was crucified. The name in Hebrew means “oil press”. Oil is still pressed from the fruit of eight ancient and gnarled olive trees that grow there, which are possibly descendants of one that was in the garden at the time of Christ. This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree. In 1982 the University of California carried out radiocarbon-dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated at 2300 years old.
These olive trees are not the ‘tree of life’, but the tree of life that sprung from this garden is the ‘tree’ that Christ was crucified on. As you heard in our third Scripture reading (Galatians 3:10-13), the cross Jesus died on is referred to as a tree, and indeed was made from the wood of a tree. He bore our sins on that cross, and the curse that goes along with them. And so, it gave us back the hope of eternal life, which the tree of life in the Garden of Eden would have provided had we never sinned.
The next garden is the one which contained Christ’s tomb. This is the garden that inspired Charles Austin Miles to write the famous hymn, “In the Garden”. Let me read you what Charles had to say about his inspiration for the hymn, “One day in April, 1912, I was seated in the dark room where I kept my photographic equipment, and also my organ. I drew my Bible toward me and it opened at my favorite book and chapter, John chapter twenty. That story of Jesus and Mary in John 20 had lost none of its power and charm. It was though I was in a trance, as I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord and cried, “Rabboni”. I rested my hands on the open Bible, as I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came unto the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and ran away. John, in a flowing robe, appeared looking at the tomb. Then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing there, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched, and looking into His face cried, “Rabboni”. I awakened in sunlight, gripping my Bible with my muscles tense, and nerves vibrating, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed. That same evening, I wrote the tune. It is sung today as it was written in 1912.” (from Stories Behind The Hymns by: Warren Shiver)
While Christ’s death on the cross paid for our sins, thus making it possible for us to regain access to the tree of life, without His resurrection, it would have been for naught. For in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, we read, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men.” So the root of the tree of life continues on through the garden of the tomb as well.
But it is it in the final garden that we actually will eat of the fruit of the tree of life that we forfeited access to over 6000 years ago. In fact the heading in my Bible for Revelation chapter 22 is “Eden restored”. Here is where we read the description the apostle John wrote of his vision of the New Jerusalem. Verses 1 through 6 read as follows, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.” This is God’s promise for His children, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning death and resurrection. And in verse 14 we read the words of Jesus Himself, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
I pray you are among the blessed and that one day we will eat the fruit from the tree of life together. Amen.
The roots of the Tree of Life are made out of Love (and God IS Love).