Today, the last Friday of April, is recognized across America as Arbor Day. It’s a tradition that began way back in 1872 in the plains of Nebraska to honor the place that trees play in making the world a habitable home for all creatures great and small.
It is entirely fitting then, that this past Sunday during our Earth Day Sunday worship service, the congregation of Pittsboro Presbyterian Church did exactly what Arbor Day encourages all of us to do. We planted a tree. We planted it on a piece of church property designated as Nooe Park near another tree planted some years back in memory of one of our “tree hugging” members. As this new tree planted in honor of his wife grows and grows, its branches and leaves will eventually “hold hands” and embrace one another. As that happens, these two maple trees will become a symbol of love, love for one another and love of nature.
The worship service that led up to the tree planting ceremony focused our attention on trees as a natural symbol of the ‘Agape’ love that our Creator God showers upon the world and all that inhabits its biosphere in every season of life and from here to eternity. As our homily, we staged a reading of Shel Silverstein’s beloved classic, The Giving Tree, complete with actors and props. Following the scripture readings and as a prelude to the book reading, we shared the following introduction:
“If you were listening closely to the readings from Genesis, Psalms and Revelation (the beginning middle and end of the Bible), you may have noticed that the one thing they all have in common is that trees are mentioned in all of them. Fact is, next to God and people, trees are the most mentioned living thing in the Bible. For example, if you were to highlight every sentence containing a tree in the first three chapters of Genesis, you’d be highlighting nearly a third of the sentences.
In the beginning, when God forms Adam from the Earth (the Adamah) God plants him in the center of a garden beneath a tree, the tree of knowledge, and charges him to till and keep it. God charges the trees with keeping humans alive (Gen. 1:29), giving them a place to live (Gen. 2:8), and providing food to sustain them (verse 16).
And in the end, when John reveals the final act of God’s cosmic drama, it is a tree that again holds center stage: the tree of life… the tree of abundance… the tree of healing… the tree of reconciliation. These are John’s words from Revelation 22:2-3: “…through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, was the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed…”
It is right and proper that Scripture holds trees in such high regard. It’s a scientific fact that without trees we humans would not be here. And without trees in abundance, life as we know it will cease to exist. The evolution of forests around 70 million years ago during the Devonian period removed excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, causing temperatures to drop and the planet’s climate became very similar to present day conditions. Dense forests gave rise to insects, and eventually to amphibians, reptiles and finally mammals.
Because a tree is the symbol of abundant life both in scripture and in nature, and because it captures the essence of the unconditional, sacrificial love by which God created and sustains all life on Earth, we have chosen from our children’s Creation Justice library to read for the Earth Day Sunday homily Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree.”
A video of the worship service (sans tree planting) can be found HERE.
In recognition of Arbor Day and trees in particular, can you list 20 positive things that trees do for you and for the planet as a whole? If that question ‘leaves’ you ‘stumped’ or ‘out-on-a-limb’ allow me to direct your attention to the latest edition of Treehugger.com and Melissa Breyer’s article that offers up a cool 20 reasons to love trees. You can find it HERE.
And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.~ Revelaion 22:1-2