March 2010 - Vol. 38
God Has Reigned from a Tree
Meditations on the Cross of Jesus Christ

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
so that
we might die to sin and live for righteousness; 
by his wounds you have been healed. 
                                                                 - 1 Peter 2:24

God Has Reigned from a Tree

a hymn for Passiontide by Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-610) 

The standards of the King appear, 
the mystery of the cross shines out in glory, 
the cross on which life suffered death 
and by that death gave back life to us. 

His side, wounded by the spear's cruel point, 
poured out water and blood 
to wash away the stains of our sins. 

The words of David's true prophetic song were fulfilled, 
in which he announced to the nations: 
"God has reigned from a tree." 

Tree of dazzling beauty, 
adorned with the purple of the King's blood, 
and chosen from a stock 
worthy to bear limbs so sacred. 

How favoured the tree 
on whose branches hung the ransom of the world; 
it was made a balance on which his body was weighed, 
and bore away the prey that hell had claimed. 

Hail, cross, our only hope! 
In this season of passiontide 
give an increase of grace to the good 
and wipe out the sins of the guilty. 

Let every spirit praise you, 
fount of salvation, Holy Trinity. 
On those to whom you have generously given the 
victory of the cross, 
bestow the reward also. Amen.

[Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-610) was a monk, poet and hymn writer who became the bishop of Poitiers, France in the late 6th century.]

The Cross - the Tree of Life

by Hippolytus (c.170-236)

The tree is my everlasting salvation.  It is my food, a shared banquet.  Its roots and the spread of its branches are my own roots and extension… Its shade I take for my resting place; in my flight from oppressive heat it is the source of refreshing dew for me… Food for my hunger and wellspring for my thirst, it is also covering for my nakedness, with the spirit of life as its leaves… Fearful of God, I find in it a place of safety; when unsteady a source of stability.  In the face of a struggle, I look to it as a prize; in victory my trophy.

It is Jacob’s ladder, the passage of angels, at whose summit the Lord is affixed.  This tree, the plant of immortality, rears from earth to reach as high as heaven, fixing the Lord between heaven and earth.  It is the foundation and stabilizer of the universe, undergirding the world that we inhabit.  It is the binding force of the world… It is riveted into a unity by the invisible bonds of the Spirit, so that its connection with God can never be severed.  Brushing heaven with its uppermost branches, it remains fixed in the earth, and between the two points, its huge hands completely enfold the stirring of the air.  A single whole, it penetrates all things and all places.

[Hippolytus (170-236 AD) was a noted theologian and Greek-speaking priest who served in Rome during the late second and early third century.He wrote biblical commentaries and a comprehensive Refutation of Heresies. In 235, during Roman persecution, he was exiled to the island of Sardinia where he died in 236.]

What We Behold on the Cross
by Augustine of Hippo (c.354-430)

As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.  [GMI 248]

The Throne of Love
by Rupert, Abbot of Deutz (c.1075-1129)

We venerate the cross as a safeguard of faith, as the strengthening of hope and the throne of love. It is the sign of mercy, the proof of forgiveness, the vehicle of grace and the banner of peace. We venerate the cross, because it has broken down our pride, shattered our envy, redeemed our sin and atoned for our punishment. 

The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the  prize for our freedom. The cross was the hope of the patriarchs, the promise of the prophets, the triumph of kings and the ministry of priests. Tyrants are convicted by the cross and the mighty ones defeated, it lifts up the miserable and honors the poor. The cross is the end of darkness, the spreading of light, the flight of death, the ship of life and the kingdom of salvation. 

Whatever we accomplish for God, whatever we succeed and hope for, is the fruit of our veneration of  the cross. By the cross Christ draws everything to him. It is the kingdom of the Father, the scepter of the Son and the seal of the Holy Spirit, a witness to the total Trinity.

The answer of a Christian reflection on Genesis is that sin has to be taken away, removed from human life. Not only do human beings have to cease doing the things that cause evil and further ruin, the things that deserve penalization, but also the sinful state of the human race that causes those actions has to be changed. The disease that leads to death has to be healed. Sinfulness has to be eradicated; true health, true life, has to be given. Human beings need a Redeemer, someone who can rescue them from the misfortune into which they have fallen and restore them to true life.

[Rupert of Deutz, near Cologne, (c.1075-1129) was a 12th century Benedictine monk who was a Scripture scholar and theologian. In 1220 he was appointed Abbot of Deutz until his death in 1129.].

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