Kruiz edited
Life From Death
Holy Wednesday
28 March 2018
The ancient church thought that the tree of the cross and the tree of life in the garden of Eden were related to each other. Some of the ancient fathers speculated that the tree in the garden became the wood of the staff of Moses and thereupon sprouting once again became a living tree, which was cut down by the Romans and used on Golgotha as the instrument of death upon which Christ was nailed for the sins of the world; death and life interwoven inextricably from beginning to end. The old proper preface for Lent used by the church in the sacrament of the altar referred to this when speaking of Christ: "who on the tree of the cross gave salvation to mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome through Jesus Christ our Lord..." The worshiper certainly had to keep his head in the game to make sense of this: "whence...thence...he who...he who..." Modern liturgies put this to rights: "who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome." However, I wonder if this isn't altogether too clear. There was a sparse elegance to the old preface; hinting at the deeper mystery in the relationship between the two trees that both brought death and were used unto life. Just as a politician never names his opponent, so our enemy remained unnamed in the old preface. Take that! Only our ignorance of him and his wiles require his being named now.

Here we see clearly the reversal of all human expectations about the work of God. Adam and Eve expected a great blessing from the tree that was in the midst of the garden (Gn 3:3). This beautiful, fruitful tree, however, brought only death and destruction, not only to Adam and Eve, but to all humans, and indeed to the entire universe (Rm 8:22-23). Until our dying day we shall continue to groan under this burden foisted upon us by our first parents through the fall. Decay and death are our lot. We only know the value of the tree in the middle of the garden because God our Lord through his Word has told us that those who eat of it would surely die. It wasn't as though the fruit itself was inherently poisonous or that the tree was Hemlock. God's Word made it what it was. It is no wonder then that Adam and Eve looked upon it and sought it as beautiful and good to eat.

Now God takes the death-dealing wood of the cross and turns it into the tree of life upon which the Lord of life himself was extended making it fruitful. His blood and the water that flowed from His pierced side fertilized it so that from it abundant fruit would sprout. The very church and her children sprout from the lignum vitae, "the wood of life." Dead wood, death-dealing cross, and the sign of execution becomes florescent fecundity, the very source of life, and the sign of life restored. God so trounces death at the cross that the very instrument of death itself becomes the instrument granting life. It not only grants life but it is itself living and fruitful in us. The cross gets planted in us when we must suffer for the sake of the Crucified Savior. Its suffering is the flowering of the cross and its fruitfulness in our lives. This suffering is hardly convenient, no one rushes toward it to have his shoulders rubbed raw by it like Simon of Cyrene. Yet, this Simon, who bears the cross, also bears children who are the fruit of his suffering: Alexander and Rufus are the offspring of his faith and therefore are known to St. Mark's original readers (Mk 15:21). This springs from the fruitful tree of life; death from life and life from death.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  Martin Luther
"The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with the dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: From the living wood came sin and death; from the dead wood, righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.

"You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy the fruit of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full that you can never eat it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow because one tree is living, the other is dead. There is in man's heart the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life.

"Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. It must not be self-imposed (as the Anabaptists and all the work righteous teach). It is something that is imposed upon a person." 

Martin Luther, Good Friday Sermon that a Christian Should Bear His Cross with Patience (1530)
Mark 15:20-32

And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (ESV)
Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For the people of God, that they might be led into repentance in these holy days and partake of the life which comes from the tree of the cross for all sinners

For LouAnn Webber, that she would be assured of the gracious care of her good Shepherd

for all church musicians, who are preparing for the services of the Triduum, that they would be strengthened in their labors as they rejoice in the gifts which God gives in word and song these days
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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