A mystical fruit tree stands at the final hours of the Church Year.
Today is the last day of the year for many a Christian Church. Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent, which is also the beginning of the new Liturgical Year.
A fruit tree, the Tree of Life, is on the final page of the Bible, Revelation 22, and it appears in today’s Readings; these are the year’s final readings.
In this final image of the Bible we have a wonderful merging of metaphor: There is a crisp, clear river of the water of life, a street in Paradise, and this miraculous Tree of Life, which seems to appear on both sides of the river/street, and which gives fruit one time each month, 12 times per year. Here is a part of the reading from Revelation 22:
“An angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [power is evidently shared equally in heaven] down the middle of the street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit 12 times per year, according to the month one each yielding its fruit. And the leaves of the trees serve as healing medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found anymore . . . . Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall enlighten them, and they shall reign . . . . And the angel said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true, and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits, sent (apesteile) his angel to show his servants what must happen with speed. Behold, I am coming speedily. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this scroll’.”
The words in italics discuss the Tree of Life and its fruit. Both the exact form of the tree, and the exact distribution of its fruit (in 12 kinds?) are not easy to describe precisely, as the original text (Greek) seems to be deliberately imprecise. The one tree may have 12 parts, but then, to make the picture (and the tree) more multi-faceted, the 12 parts of the tree go under the street and the river and have exact counterparts on the other side. This being the case, the one tree has 24 main parts. The tree might look like this, viewed from an aerial vantage point (imagine the river and the street running between the left and right sides of the tree):
Of course, this is the same shape as the Mystical Psalm Ladder. So the final image of the Book of Revelation, and of the entire Bible, is the Mystical Psalms Ladder. This is important. Additionally, the brief discussion of the Tree of Life in the text is full of connections to Psalm 1, the beginning of the Book of Psalms. Psalm 1 speaks of a tree, its fruit, its leaves, and the yielding of its fruit at its proper time, just as this Revelation text does.
In fact, if there is an orderly progression of the fruit from 1 to 12, then we see a blooming of fruit imitating the steps of a person climbing of the Ladder, in measured intervals of time (12 months, once per month), from bottom to top. Like a pulsating rainbow of ribbons and bands of brightly colored fruit.
This text has connections to many more passages in the Bible. The word “Blessed,” makarios, is both the first word of Jesus’ first public teaching, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, and it is the first word of Psalm 1 (ashre in the Hebrew).
Also, after an unusual conversation with Nathaniel at the end of John 1, Jesus says, “Behold, you will see greater things than this. You will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (future of humanity, child of humanity).” (John 1:51) This is one of the clearest allusions in the New Testament to the Mystical Psalms Ladder.
Thus, we see that this final word of the Bible has powerful connections to at least three (3) beginnings in the Bible: 1) Jesus’ first preaching in the Bible, at the Beatitudes, and 2) the beginning of John’s Gospel, and 3) the first Psalm of the Book of Psalms. Indeed, this ending image of the Bible joyfully celebrates beginnings. Perhaps we shall always be growing into new beginnings. (A 4th and obvious connection would be to the trees in the Garden of Eden, in the first chapters of Genesis.)
Today’s Responsorial Psalm is from Psalm 95. It urges us to joyfully sing, with each other, songs to God, which is exactly what the Psalms do. Psalm 95 ends on a mysterious note, with the Promised Land being cut off from the weary traveling Hebrews of the Exodus. But this could be a form of ancient Semitic humor, such as we find in the final verse of Psalm 147 at the end of the Psalter (Book of Psalms). It’s just a matter of time before all the saints come marching in. (It’s probably the case that God wants everybody to be at the final party, and won’t take “no” for an answer (although some might require some difficult purgation and cleansing).) And it will be fairly impossible not to be happy once one has arrived. In fact, yesterday’s Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 84, perhaps the most central Psalm of the Psalter, and a Ladder Psalm. It celebrates pilgrimage and arriving at the destination: the New Jerusalem. And Psalm 84 has more appearances of the Beatitude term “Blessed/Happy,” ashre, which is in Psalm 84 three (3) times, more than any other Psalm.
Tomorrow, the First Sunday of Advent, has some wonderful readings, the first of which is from the Prophet Isaiah. This first text of the New Church Year speaks of Jerusalem, and of our climbing/ascending to a transformed, revitalized Jerusalem. This famous text from the second chapter of Isaiah also mentions that swords and spears shall be transformed into plowshares and pruning hooks. “One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2:4)
This is speaking of an evolved humanity, a humanity that has learned how to love. A Humanity that has learned to see the Other, that has learned how to say “I and Thou.” This is our true pilgrimage, our true goal, our true Jerusalem.
These are intimations of paradise on earth. And we as humans, in God, can begin to achieve this. God clearly is leading us to such a “place.”
The reading from Isaiah concludes, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”