Have you ever spent time looking at a really big tree? When I was younger, we had a huge red maple tree in the front yard. I mean huge. Our whole house fit in the shadow it cast in the summer time. It was better than air conditioning! One of my favourite pastimes was climb that tree. It was big enough that the branches near the very top could support my weight. I remember spending more than a few summer afternoons in that tree. Enjoying the shade, the challenge of climbing and the feeling of the tree moving underneath me. It may seem strange to think about trees moving, unless you are a Tolkien fan and are reminded of the Ents in Lord of the Rings.
But when you climb a tree and simply sit in its branches, you realize just how much they move. It can be quite disconcerting the first couple of times you do it. This thing that weighs more than some houses, that has been in the same spot for 50+ years, that you perceive to be solid and immovable, actually moves a lot. Even when there doesn’t seem to be any wind, the tree moves. Climb it in a big wind and it’s better than those cheapo roller coasters at mobile carnivals!
So I spend a lot of time looking at trees. Thinking about how difficult they would be to climb, thinking about straight or crooked they are, how healthy they look. But also about the sheer size, the years it took for them to grow and the strength in the root system that it takes to keep them upright. And I think about their shadows.
There are plenty of spiritual metaphors I could pull out of those musings about trees. But we stand, my friends, four sleeps away from the most important tree in human history. It is not a maple or an oak. Not a spruce or a pine. In fact, it is not a living tree at all. It was a tree of human construction, with only two branches. It didn’t stand 100’s of feet tall or even stand in the same place for long. One afternoon, 6 hours to be precise. That is how long the cross stood in place. And yet it is as if it stood in that place from eternity past to eternity future. Such is the shadow it casts.
We, my friends, are in it’s shadow. Our mainline church friends call this week Holy Week. It is the week leading up to the reality of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter Sunday. It is in this week that the shadow gets a little stronger, that the world remembers one more time that God took on human flesh knowing that flesh would be ripped from his bones by a Roman whip. The world is reminded that God took on human emotion, knowing full well that he would plumb the depths of shame, loneliness and brokenness. The world is reminded that God took on veins filled with blood, knowing that blood would be spilled; knowing that blood would flow out of his body and cover absolutely all of the ugliness of this life and its sin. It is a huge shadow my friends.
And so my hobby of looking at trees takes on a bit more meaning this week. I’ve seen some impressive tress in my life my friends. Full maples in southern Ontario, absolutely massive red pines near Thunder Bay, the unimaginable tree of the B.C. coastline. Trees of all shapes and sizes, all colours and shapes. But none of them compare to the cross. I’ll never get bored of looking at it. Not because of the cross itself, but because in it the full love and mercy of God are revealed.
I hope you take time to look. I hope you make room to sit in the shadow and look up.