Those of us who regularly worship in a liturgical tradition do not frequently or easily cross the seasonal boundaries. In the Christian year, the standard themes are fairly well set: The expectancy and patient waiting of Advent, the exuberance and joy of Christmastide, the manifestation of God into the world in Epiphanytide, and so on.
However, occasionally liturgical imagery works in a number of settings. Light and darkness are found both in Advent and Epiphany. In Advent, the coming of the Christ Child brings light into the darkness. In Epiphany, Jesus’ teachings and miracles bring healing light and salvation to a suffering, darkened world.
The text of this Sunday’s 10:30 anthem is one of those that work well in multiple seasons and for multiple lectionary readings. Like the Christmas carol, “King Jesus hath a garden,” this anthem text, “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” uses beautiful botanical metaphors.
Sources differ upon the origins of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” also known as “The Apple Tree Carol.” Some sources cite London’s Spiritual Magazine (1761) as its first publication, while others claim the first appearance in Divine Hymns and Spiritual Songs, published in New Hampshire in 1784.
Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark tells a story of Jesus teaching in the temple in Capernaum and is one of the occasions where Jesus is identified as the Son of God: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
The Apple Tree Carol text works well for identifying or naming Jesus in our midst. Jesus Christ is the apple tree, the tree of life, full of fruit and green. The trees in nature are fruitless when compared with Jesus Christ, the apple tree.
The beauty of the apple tree excels. It also offers shade in which we may rest. The fruit of the tree helps us thrive, keeps our faith alive and beckons us to be one with Jesus Christ.
Our Choristers sang this beloved anthem with the Parish Choir for The Great O Antiphons service during Advent, and we are reprising it for Epiphany on Sunday. This beautiful text bears (pun intended) reprinting here in poetic form:
The Tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel;
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all but now can see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive,
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
(Anonymous, collection of Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784)