Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jesus Christ the apple tree...

We are singing a sweet old carol on Sunday (if the predicted blizzard doesn't shut things down): "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree." I must admit that while I haven't thought much about the stated symbolism of this song, I love both the words and the melody. So I am taken aback when more literal minded folk ask, "What does this mean that Jesus is an apple tree?" It happened again earlier this week at choir practice, so let me make an effort to clarify:
+ First, the melody probably comes from an English wassailing song of the 1700's - as does the text's poetry - and first appears in US hymn books in 1784. Is this a reworking of an older and less Christian wassail song with roots to fertility rites in the apple orchards? Could be...

+ Second, there are three biblical references to trees that deserve note. One is the apple tree mentioned in the Song of Solomon (2:3) It is a metaphorical love poem about the ecstasy of God's love (as well as an erotic poem of human love, too) that celebrates the beauty and wisdom of the Beloved.  Another is the tree mentioned in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - a fruit which Western Christians believe begins the fallen state of human sin. It was eaten, after all, after the Lord forbade it, setting in motion the consequences of disobedience.. And then there is the Tree of Life - mentioned by Jesus in Luke 13 and also Revelation 22 - wherein the close of the Christian Bible brings the story full circle to the garden of God's grace.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

+ And third, apples have been life-savers throughout New England (the hymn first appeared in the US in New Hampshire.) Apples share healing with the ill and nutrition for the healthy. They give up their life so that we might prosper. 

I know that much of New England Protestantism gave up metaphorical thinking over the years. Our way of being in worship became so didactic that Congregational worship was once described as a song followed by a poem and then a book report. There is even reason to raise questions about the ambiguity of symbolism. But at its heart, this song is about spiritual weariness - and being refreshed. And that rings true in the 21st century as in the 18th.

For happiness I long have sought, and pleasure dearly I have bought
I miss’d of all, but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the appletree.

1 comment:

Phil Ewing said...

oh this is beautiful !!

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