Across the Pastor’s Desk: Trees of life pointing to our God

Published 10:27 pm Thursday, July 26, 2018

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh

Todd Walsh


A conversation with residents at Thorne Crest one day turned to plants — plants in the Holy Land. The whole thing started with a question about olives. Olives are now and were in biblical times a key plant for the people of the Holy Land. It was fun to talk about the many uses of olives and what it is like to harvest them. The conversation also moved to other fruit trees in the Holy Land.

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Then came the question. Why can’t we get some of those trees?  We talked it through at the table and figured Minnesota is warm enough in the summer and Thorne Crest has an indoor pool and solariums that would work in the winter. The pots might have to get pretty big in time, but that would come later. Our administrator said, “Sounds good. Give me a budget.”  I did that, got the approval for trees and the first round of pots, and ordered the trees.

So Thorne Crest is now the proud owner of an olive tree, two fig trees, two date palm trees and a pomegranate bush. And they have become conversation starters and object lessons very quickly.

The date palms were the funny trees of the bunch. I warned everyone that the variety I wanted to order was the type that grows in the Holy Land and produced edible and tasty dates. And one more thing. Full grown, the trees will reach 75 to 100 feet. Our swimming pool ceiling is not that tall. But our palm trees would start out at only 1 foot tall.  They were that. Our wellness director said the box looked like it had been kicked from wherever it came from to Minnesota. We received a couple of 1-foot-long palm fronds half an inch wide from Louisiana. Oh, and attached to the palm fronds were the bare roots and the dates that served as the seed.

Palm trees in the Holy Land are remarkable. The groves are massive, as are the trees. Their shade is a life giver with their massive palm fronds.   The scrawny little plant is already a reminder of Palm Sunday. You can imagine the tree becoming the building material for the road that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem for that triumphal entry. And our tradition of bearing those palm branches even today is a reminder of that day. More than that, it is a reminder that today we still welcome our Lord into our hearts and lives. We still call him Lord and Savior. And we still celebrate his life among us.

A few days later came a box from Florida about 1 foot by 1 foot by 5 feet. Inside were the other trees.

The pomegranate surprised me. I knew it would be 3 feet tall and a shrub. It was so.

Pomegranates are found throughout the Old Testament. The spies Moses sent to scout the “promised land” during the Exodus returned with pomegranates.   The pillars on either side of the entrance to Solomon’s temple were decorated with golden pomegranate branches and fruit. The bottom of the pomegranate forms a crown that became a symbol of the kings of Israel. And it is said that a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, the same number of commandments found in the Torah.

The royal symbolism of the pomegranate points us to the identity of Jesus. We can recall that Jesus is descended from the royal line of David. As Israel believed that in Solomon’s temple God watched over them, we, too, are reminded that our Lord Jesus watches over us. We are reminded also that God’s word can guide and directs us each day.

Our two fig trees I will admit need help. They are pretty short and pretty scrawny. Genesis 3 tells us the man and the woman cover themselves with fig leaves. Our fig leaves are not yet up to the task. The fig tree became a symbol of prosperity in the Bible. Its life cycle became a topic for Jesus to explain his place in the life of God’s people. And when a fig tree did not produce, Jesus cursed it — a reminder that God’s people are blessed to be a blessing.

Then came the olive tree. I was real picky about this one. I looked very carefully for the variety that is common to the Holy Land. The little 1-foot tree hit the mark. It’s a beautiful plant. The olive tree is a staple of the Holy Land. It is tough tree that can support its meandering and twisting branches even in the rocky soil of the Judean hills around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Mount of Olives is just east of Jerusalem and the location of the Garden of Gethsemane and Bethany. The psalms speak of olive trees surrounding God’s temple in Jerusalem. Genesis tells us a dove returns to Noah and the ark with an olive branch that became a symbol of peace for ages to come. The fruit is used for food. It’s also turned into oil that is used for cooking, welcoming guests, soothing skin, healing wounds and anointing the dead. Its wood became the doors of the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s temple and the cherubs that guarded the Ark of the Covenant. The wood is used today to carve beautiful images of the life of our Lord.  The olive tree is a reminder of all the blessings God gives all through life. It is also a reminder of the life of our Lord as we see the face of our Lord in its wood.

Our little forest tells us the stories of the Bible come from a real place and real people. They also tell us the blessings of our Lord are here for us to enjoy. And they remind us also that we still live with those blessings here and now and see the face of our Lord each day.

Todd Walsh is a chaplain at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community.