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The Tree, The Tree 2000 Years A.D.

I am enchanted by the redwoods of California. I often walk in the Henry Crowell Grove North of Santa Cruz and understand why some cry, "Save the Redwoods!"

The oldest living thing in the world is a California Sequoia Redwood. Saplings at the time of Moses, these mature plants were 300 feet tall at the time Bethlehem was current news. They were bored with life by the time of William the Conqueror and totally indifferent to the mere temporal historical scandal of William Jefferson Clinton and Monica whoever.

One cannot behold these trees without getting the feeling that they are disinterested in national deficits, having presided over all the civilizations that we might imagine. Kilmer, by his poor poetic testimony, admitted that he had never seen a poem as lovely as a tree (and none of his poems were). But here we are turning the millennial corner. It's been 2000 years (give or take a calendar redaction or two) since Mary laid her little One in the manger; there and then time divided into A.D. and B.C. Christians would wait a few centuries before they began to reckon things this way, but while the centuries waited, the trees of California grew. But consider the cross. One can only wonder if in 29 A.D. those trees didn't bow their heads before a single stubby set of timbers a long way from California.

I would never have thought of the connection except for two things. First, there is the old fable that tells when the woodsman went into the forest, the grand trees that he would fell cried aloud to his axe, "The handle is one of us!" Second, I stood not long ago before the cross section of a log - a huge section where the various events were labeled by date on the outward, circular rings of this behemoth, woody slice. One of the dates labeled on this huge redwood log was marked "the crucifixion of Jesus."

I wondered if this tree, already standing when Jesus died on the cross, did not bow its head and cry that all nature had been blasphemed by the terrible timbers of Golgotha. Paul said all nature groans because of sin. What if the sage old primeval forests bowed their heads toward Calvary and cried, "The Cross is one of us." If so:

Maybe we puny earthlings might follow the counsel of the
forests and admit that God honored every
tree in a single act of human redemption.
I think that there shall never be, a forest of antiquity
That holds such grand solemnity
that all of human history salutes.
The place where trees remembered they redeemed
while humans wept in joy.

He who died met death there at God's tree,
Defeated it for all eternity,
And birthed our craving not for what is but what will be,
Which with our dimmer eyes we squint to see
The far pavilions of eternity.

Is this the year that Jesus comes?
Is this the year all clocks will stop?
The year He shreds the calendars
For all their triviality?
It well could be. It well could be!

Yet if He tarries trees might be,
A woody jubilation - a fibered ecstasy!
Mere wood where shame gave birth to dignity.
Behold the soak of woody hope -
God's crimson cordiality.
The Tree, the Tree!
The Timeless saving Tree.


Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

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February 2000 Edition
Volume 8, Issue 5
February 2000