Our God is a God of second chances… and third, fourth, fifth… innumerable chances.
One of my favorite parables of Jesus (also a favorite of many, I imagine) is the parable of the fig tree, which is this Sunday’s (Feb. 28) Gospel lesson. We all know the story well: the vineyard owner wants the barren fig tree chopped down, but the gardener asks to give it one more year, predicting that a little TLC will cause it to bear fruit again.
This wonderful story calls to mind a beautiful Dutch carol text that was sung this past Christmas Eve by the Holy Communion Parish Choir, “King Jesus Hath a Garden.” Jesus is the gardener, and we are the various individual flowers, with The Star of Bethlem rising above the rest:
King Jesus hath a garden, full of diverse flowers…
The bonny Damask-Rose is known as Patience…
The blithe and thrfty Marygold, Obedience…
The Crown Imperial bloometh too, the flower of Grace…
The Star of Bethlem – Jesus – blessed be his Name…
Thankfully, Jesus is a gardener of second chances like the gardener in the parable of the fig tree.
Though specifically written for Good Friday, Pécselyi Király Imre’s (c.1585-c.1641) text “The Tree of Life” calls to mind images of gardens and trees. The first verse references the Tree of Wisdom in the Garden of Eden, while subsequent verses reference the tree upon which Jesus was crucified, with its branches that “reach to us in welcome.”
Imre was a Slovakian school teacher who later studied theology in Heidelberg and became a pastor in the Reformed Church. English Congregationalist minister, composer, and musicologist Erik Routley (1917-1982) translated this hymn for Cantate Domino (1974), an ecumenical hymnal published by the World Council of Churches. Emily R. Brink, editor of the quarterly journal Reformed Worship, speaks of the breadth of Imre’s text: “The scriptural sweep of the text is breathtaking, moving from Genesis to Revelation in the opening two lines.”
The musical setting of this text, which is our 10:30 anthem for Sunday, Feb. 28, is by Alabama native composer K. Lee Scott (b. 1950). Scott was commissioned by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama to write a piece for their 1995 Year of Evangelism. He named the tune Shades Mountain for one of the mountains overlooking downtown Birmingham.
There in God’s garden stands the Tree of Wisdom, whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations: Tree of all knowledge, Tree of all compassion, Tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that says, “Our Savior!” There on its branches see the scars of suffering; see where the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its life blood.
Thorns not his own are tangled in its foliage; our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it. Yet, look! it lives! its grief has not destroyed it nor fire consumed it.
See how its branches reach to us in welcome; hear what the Voice says, “Come to me, ye weary! Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing!”
This is my ending, this my resurrection; into your hands, Lord I commit my spirit. This have I searched for; now I can possess it. This ground is holy.
All heaven is singing, “Thanks to Christ whose Passion offers in mercy healing, strength, and pardon. Peoples and nations, take it, take it freely!” Amen!
Pécselyi Király Imre (c.1585-c.1641)