John 20:1-9 (Easter Sunday, year B)
As part of a project for the students at our school, we placed a large, wooden cross in the Church’s sanctuary at the start of lent. During these past 40 days, the students gradually blanketed the cross with leaves they made from green paper. Finally, before the Easter Vigil, we covered the the cross with paper lilies students created from tracings of their hands. Eat your heart out Pinterest! This project caught the attention many parishioners, some of whom asked me what was going on. One woman summed up the questions of many when she asked “what’s up with the cross? It looks different!” I was glad she recognized that the cross looked different. The entire purpose of this endeavour was to help students and parishioners look at the Cross differently. Because of Easter, we want to look at both the Cross of Jesus and all the crosses we carry in our life differently. In fact, with this project we tried to demonstrate visually an ancient expression used by Christians as they struggled to look at the Cross differently:
Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life!
The first story told in the Bible is about the Tree of Life, Adam, Eve and a garden (Gen 2-3). We read that after God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. In the garden’s center were found the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam and Eve that though they could eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden, they were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die” (Gen 2:17). We know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In response, God exiled them from the garden and barred them from eating any longer from the Tree of Life. This story reveals fundamental truths about our human condition. Because of sin, our relationship with God was severed. This is represented by our exile from the garden, the place of close communion with God. As a result of sin, death entered the world. This is represented by our being barred access to the Tree of Life. This death was eternal. After our physical death, we would be permanently separated from God, the Author of Life. This was the hopeless situation we all found ourselves in before the coming of Jesus.
One of the last stories told in the Bible is about the new Tree of Life, the New Adam, the New Eve and a new garden (John 18-20). Jesus is the New Adam and Mary is the New Eve because they always remained faithful to God, whereas the original Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. In the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, a garden plays an important role. “At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried.” (John 19:41) After His death, Jesus is placed in the tomb just like a seed is planted in the dirt of a garden. After three days Christ rose from the dead, like a seedling breaking through the ground. The new life of the Resurrection came about because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Christ, the New Adam has undone the damage caused by Adam in the original garden. We once again have access to the Tree of Life. Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life! The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a certain hope that after we die we will rise like Him. Because of Jesus, the Cross is no longer a dead piece of wood. His death transformed the Cross into a source of life for all of us.
We must learn to look at the Cross of Jesus differently. This is the only first lesson the student’s project teaches us. The second lesson lesson is that we need to look at our own sufferings - our crosses - differently. The new life brought about by Jesus is something we experience here and now, not just after our death. In our lives, God brings new life from our sufferings just as He did from the Cross of Jesus. God is able to transform any painful or difficult experience into a tree of life. In this we truly experience the Resurrection.
This is something I have experienced personally. When I was in university I went to work at High Tech company in Japan for two semesters. My first few weeks were extremely difficult. The work was way above me, there was a large cultural barrier and I was hitting my head on the many low ceilings! On top of this, I began having health problems like I had never experienced before. Suddenly and without warning my heart would start racing and I would begin feeling terrible all over. To add to my stress, I had no idea what was happening to me. One night when I was walking towards a Metro station, I had my worst episode of all. At the time I thought I was having a heart attack. It got so bad that I could no longer stand up. In broken Japanese, I asked some people to call an ambulance. I thought to myself, “this is it, Nick, the end” and I laid down in the Metro square under the blinking neon signs and loud street noises. Eventually an ambulance came and the workers lifted me onto the stretcher and took me away. Now, when Japanese people lift something heavy, they tend to say “Yish! Yish!”. I can tell you that there were many “yishes” coming from the ambulance attendants that night! Eventually I found out that what I was experiencing were panic attacks. For two months they continued. They would come at work, on the bus or when I was out on the street. It was a very dark time for me. I felt helpless and lost hope that things would improve. Thankfully, after some time, the panic attacks became less and less frequent until it was something I could manage.
Though my struggle with panic attacks was a difficult cross, I see now that God transformed it into a tree of life for me. When I went to Japan, my faith was weak. I prayed little and was not really sure what I believed. At the time my plan in life was to become an engineer. My suffering made me rethink the purpose of my life. It started me on a journey to rediscover my faith. It made me question what my vocation was. God certainly brought life from my suffering. If I had not struggled with panic attacks in Japan I doubt I would be a priest today.
Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life! Easter forever changed the world. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus we have the certain hope that we will live with God forever. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus, God works to bring life from our suffering. Today, take a moment to think of one cross you carried that God transformed into a tree of life and give thanks. If you are currently carrying a cross that seems too heavy to bear, try to surrender it to God today, trusting that He will bring life from it. “What’s up with the cross? It looks different!” Because of Easter, we should never again look at any cross in our life in the same way.