[Image: a happy bird feeding on the Tree of Life, surrounded by runic script, quoting the poem] .
Once before I have mentioned the Ruthwell Cross, which, in stone, and with the clout of history, presents the fellowship of Jesus with wildlife in the wilderness.
It’s an even more fascinating pile of rock, in that, incised on one of the faces of a cross, presented very much as a tree of life, and a habitat for God’s creatures, is a quote (for Celtomaniacs, wow: it’s in runic script!!!!) from the moving Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The dream of the Rood(the Cross)’.
The poem has been part of my own journey to faith.
Before I came back to Christianity in my twenties, this poetry, completely unexpectedly, reached out to me.
It’s doing so again, after the retreat I co-led on Iona.
Studying Anglo-Saxon as a subsidiary in my German degree, ‘The Rood’ had leapt out at me with an unexpected power, not only in the contextualisation of Christ as a ‘Young warrior’,( though crucially, one who powerfully resisted all pressure to destroy his enemies) but also the predicament of the ‘Forest -Tree’ itself: viciously torn from its forest home and coerced into being an instrument of torture….
….Which is what humankind does daily with the ‘resources’ of Creation. We use good things badly. And neglect even to use bad things well.
In ‘The Dream’, The central words and image of the unity of Christ with the Cross itself (Crist waes on rode) ironically achieved by human evil, let alone the weeping of all Creation, (Wēop eal ġesceaft) – for human mourning cannot be sufficient…… these are staggering ideas.
That violence, both against Christ and against Creation, drives these closer together, to the extent that we cannot evade the concept of the ongoing Crucifixion of Creation.
Whatever/whoever suffers, is the concern of Christ crucified.
This adds powerfully to a theme of how, through the instrumentality of human action, and perhaps despite it, God’s will might nonetheless be seen to be done, in the one who was welcomed by branches and nailed to the tree.
In the nailing of Christ to the Tree, we find we have nailed the Tree to Christ. We cannot henceforth contemplate them in isolation. We cannot follow Christ and neglect the life of the Earth.
In the final lines of the poem, the solidarity of the ‘tree’ with Christ continues, searchingly, after the resurrection, in the question of who might be prepared to put their own life on the line in response to the harm that is done to the world.
Perhaps the ‘Sheep and Goats’ speech from the Risen Christ, of Matthew 25 takes us, with the logic of preaching, a little further. And science, apart from mediating the warning voice of the Earth in climate crisis, also confirms the extreme level of kinship of all life, including us, down to a celular level and beyond.
Thus, when you see the Creatures of God in distress, and respond, you respond to Christ. Whether you know it or not.
After Easter, keep it mainstream!