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Pondering the Tree of Life ~

of Caskets and the Cross

 
The tree of life flourished in the midst of the holy city of Jerusalem, and its leaves had power to save all the nations. *
 
The Paschal diptych of dying and upraising, of death and resurrection runs like a crimson cord throughout the Bible from the majestic opening verse of Genesis to the blessing that concludes Revelation with sheer grace and timeless assurance. The matchless nature of the great Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ is deep-seated and vibrant. This ostensibly arcane notion of Christianity is the touchstone of human history. It conceives and gives birth to the whole child of Christianity. Moreover, it engenders genuine, individual children of God re-fashioned with such love and tenderness in the very image and likeness of God. This omnipresent and overarching theme has the power to evoke lesser diptychs or hinged-icons. These appear all the way through the biblical books. A conscientious, prayerful reader of the Scriptures has more than likely encountered the one which draws the interest of the present writer.
 
Eden in its primordial day was the verdant home of two remarkable trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. The central position of this tree of immortality has earth-shattering and soul-searing significance. It is the pure and luminous centerpiece of the garden. Once the tree of moral choice had been desecrated by the original prevarication, Yahweh, in an untold gesture of loving mercy banished humanity from the garden. If we had remained in the garden in that original state of shameful sin and somehow touched the tree of eternal life, humanity as a species would have been eternally lost in that dread “outer darkness” of spiritual exile. Yes, we would live forever but it would be a life of utter separation from the face of God. The kind and courteous heart of God imagined a way out for humanity, a way that remains pivotal and vital for us to this very day.


 
It is both tradition and folklore which cherish the belief that this untouched tree of Eden foreshadows another tree that will be planted one day in another garden. This tree was an instrument of terrible torture, and, yet, it stands tall and true as the standard-bearer of new Life. It rises on skull-mount, beyond the golden walls of Jerusalem and it is drenched with the life-blood of the Savior. At the beginning of his walk toward death, Jesus shoulders the rough-hewn wood of the crossbeam. Once Jesus is crucified, the woodholds him in its embrace. Christ is at one and the same time wood-bearing and wood-borne. This is no accident, no impulsive act. The sacrificial death of Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion is a divinely and humanly profound lesson in life.
 
Wood has a raw, natural magnificence that attracts the senses, whether it is the subtle or striking coloration, the quality of the grain or the warmth it seems to impart. As seen and illustrated in the preceding paragraphs, the sacred timber of the cross ~ that forever living Arbor Vitæ ~ is an image to be inscribed on the tablets of the human heart. Contemporary Christians can participate in this hallowed wood in a unique and profound way. They can do so with a new-found understanding of the natural beauty and gospel simplicity of wooden caskets. Bereavement, while inevitable, is not commonly a pleasant prospect for most people. It is often something shunned and intentionally avoided until the need arises. However, it can become a source of spiritual refinement and a measured moment of reflection. In a move beyond the two extremes of the austere and the sumptuous, the realoption of a simple, yet tasteful wooden casket can restore a desperately needed sense of proportion and nobility to anyone’s final earthly setting.


http://trappistcaskets.com/

Caskets crafted of wood, whether of the lighter tones of pine and oak, or the darker palette of walnut or mahogany, they are more than mere vessels for human remains. They serve as tangible and touching reminders of both life and the afterlife. Such simple caskets are in some ways reminiscent of the ancient Ark of the Covenant. That precious Ark of wood overlaid with gold held the sacrosanct relics of the great Mosaic covenant of Sinai. Whereas the Christian casket holds the mortal remnants of a disciple, made so in the baptismal covenant of water and the Spirit. The casket is the chosen abode, the wooden womb, as it were, of the consecrated, human body as it lies in wait for the clarion call of the Resurrection. The very material of the wood for this vessel of the casket speaks powerfully about the hopes and expectations of the deceased. Carefully considered and chosen, a wooden casket can be a valid testament in and of itself of one’s core values and strong beliefs.
 
Not unlike the wood of the Crucified, the wood of the disciple’s casket represents a paradox and a pattern of an offered life. Nobility, trust and an earnest poverty of spirit blend seamlessly with a rich earthiness, a return to nature, a respect for the elements and dignity for that pinnacle of creation, the divinely animated human body. The wood of the cross was twice-blessed ~ blessed in its primeval creation from the hand of the Creator and blessed again by the riven hands of Christ our God when he was pinioned to it in the midst of his bittersweet Passion.
 
The ever-abiding, ever new Paschal Mystery finds authentic expression in the aligned images of the wood of the cross and the wood of casket. Another gradation of this diptych reveals the truly embodied sacramentality of the wood we venerate as well as the wood in which we lovingly inter the mortal remains of our loved ones. They share a rare bond, one that integrates both matter and spirit. It is nothing less than the incarnational crimson cord that entwines the Bible from beginning to end. The mystery of salvation is infinite. It dwells in the child-like domain of faith, content to remain there in Sabbath repose, the same repose promised eons in the garden of Eden where the two trees grew in harmony until that fateful day of the Fall. With the Fall came the first hint of the assurance of cosmic redemption, of which the Church sings with full voice and joy in the course of the Great Paschal Vigil. “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” ** Here, the sacred wood of the cross is clothed with splendor and limned by myriads upon myriads of candles. The same is true on a somewhat slighter scale of the wooden casket at the funeral rites of the disciples of the Risen One.
 

Written by a Mercedarian friar
 
 
* See the antiphon for the Psalm 2 of Vespers I for the Triumph of the Cross.
** The Easter Exultet from The Roman Missal.

OLIVELEAF WEBSITE || UMILTA WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE || JULIAN OF NORWICH, TEXT AND CONTEXTS, WEBSITE || BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN, REVELATIONES, WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN WEBSITE  ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY
OLIVELEAF PORTAL