A Tree Planted (Psalm 1)
1. The psalmist illustrates the blessed life with the words: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water" (v3). This illustration is one that is definitely seen throughout Scripture as a truly blessed thing. It all begins back in the Garden of Eden: "The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided into four rivers" (Genesis 2:9-10). The idyllic setting of Eden was centered around these two trees and the four-forked river that flowed from it. This wonderful picturesque setting is also seen in the twenty-third Psalm. This image of Paradise comes through most vividly in our great poetic, liturgical worship framework. This is also the vision of Paradise we see at the end where St. John sees the golden streets of Heaven with the river of life flowing through the middle of it and the tree of life branching out over it on both sides, yielding fruit every month (Revelation 22:1-2). This is the vision of Paradise that we understand. This is the ultimate blessing that we can look forward to. But why do we have to look forward? Why, if our God is so good, do we not have it now?
2. Why? The scene just described comes from Genesis, chapter 2. The reason we don't have this scene anymore comes from Genesis, chapter 3. God had commanded Adam and Eve, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). What do Adam and Eve do? They eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They step into the snare offered by the serpent and turn everything upside down that day. Then God banishes Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, from the Garden of Eden, saying, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" (Genesis 3:22). We often think of the expulsion from Eden as a dire, drastic punishment. But God's own words show it to be a great and merciful act on His part. By expelling Adam and Eve from Eden, He made sure that they would not be trapped eternally in their sins. If Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life they wouldn't be able to be forgiven their sins even with Jesus dying on the Cross. They would be in the same spot as Satan and his angels! It's bad enough they suffered the same fate--separation from God. That's why we don't have that idyllic scene around us today. We've been separated from God because of our inherent sinfulness. But the "tree planted by streams of water" takes on a different meaning with God.
3. Since God has banished us from the presence of the tree of life, with its roots around the four-forked river, He made another tree of life planted by a stream of water. That tree began by dying itself. That tree had to be cut down, losing its own roots, and be shaved of its bark. It became a bare trunk of a tree, but God used that bare trunk of a tree to be a tree of life for you and me. On the day it was cut down, God placed it on a specific track to be the tree used to make Jesus' cross. Everything was set in motion from that moment on so that things would happen as they had been prophesied. When Jesus took the Cross from the soldiers and dragged it along the Via Dolorosa ("the sorrowful road"), that tree became a tree of life. On that tree, the Savior of the World would be crucified. He would give us His Spirit and die for your sins and mine. After His death, He would provide the streams of water that bring life to all who come in contact with it. When the soldiers were coming to break the legs of the thieves, they saw that Jesus looked dead. One of them grabbed a spear and stabbed Jesus between the ribs. Out of His side flowed blood and water. Jesus hung dead on a dead tree. In that moment, everything became alive. Truly alive forever. The water and blood flow from His side so that you might be washed free of your sins in Baptism. And your Baptism brings you back into the idyllic setting you so long for.
4. Your Baptism brings you into a state of being where you are once again allowed to eat from the Tree of Life. The banishment is over. You will be able to walk the golden street of Heaven and eat the fruit from the tree that has been so mercifully removed from our world for our own protection. It now awaits us in Heaven until we finish our course here. But the benefits are already there in your Baptism. You reap the benefits of being a tree planted by streams of water. The water flowing from your Savior's side runs through you in the waters of Baptism. You were planted into the ground with Him in His burial. His Holy Spirit causes you to grow as you study His Word. And that is what we continue to do during this non-festival half of the Church Year. Staying grounded in the Word of God so that we grow to be fruitful trees in the Garden of our God. Amen.