The resilient tree of life

“Finding a way” along the Mississippi River (side) in Carleton Place, photo by Martin Malina April 2022
audio for ‘The Resilient Tree of Life’ by Martin Malina

Easter is about life. It is about new life. The resurrection of Jesus is celebrating the gift of life, again.

This Easter, we find ourselves still in the shadow of the pandemic and dealing with the many unresolved and ongoing losses of our lives. Therefore, I will add to the list of words describing Easter: Not only is Easter about life, and new life, and the gift of life. Life in the risen Christ is about being resilient. Resilience.

Resilience is being flexible, having the capacity to bend against incredible forces, and not break. The testimony of your presence with us in person today to celebrate Easter bears witness to your resilience to hanging in there. The last time we had people in the church building on Easter Sunday was three years ago. You’ve waited a long time. 

And to those of you who are watching online, you show the resilience of finding new ways, being flexible, in order to remain connected and be part of the community of faith. You’ve all shown resilience.

In New York City, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, only one tree was left standing near the site. After near devastation, it is now flourishing and is called the Survivor Tree.

In Washington DC’s National Arboretum, there is a mushroom-shaped tree, 390 years old, that was donated by Japan to the arboretum in 1976. The surprise of resilience is that this ancient bonsai tree survived the atomic bomb-blast in Hiroshima during World War Two. It stands as a symbol of resilience.

In Fukishima, Japan, after the tsunami of March 10, 2011, a lone tree remains on the beach. Because it withstood the force of the waters, the people consider it a symbol of resilience. These trees that survived against all odds, against monumental forces, have become symbols of resilience for people.[1] The trees that survive give us hope.

The cross, in Christian song and literature over the centuries, has often been referred to as the tree: “The tree of the cross”. I like this connection because it evokes for me a natural image or symbol for the meaning behind Jesus’ death and resurrrection. Even though Jesus died on the tree, it wasn’t the end of the story. The living tree would still hold Jesus in his tortured pain and dying through to something new, something resilient.

And when the heavy stone of Jesus’ tomb rolled to the side three days later, the opened tomb made room and space for sunlight, air and rain to enter in, to re-animate, re-invigorate the earth inside, and renew the elements of life just waiting to burst forth. 

Notice the incredible energy of the disciples after they discover the empty tomb.[2] They “outrun” each other to the tomb when they hear the news from Mary, who first “ran” to them after discovering the empty tomb. And after Jesus reveals himself to Mary in the garden, you can feel her conviction in declaring: “I have seen the Lord!”. The energy of life is palpable. Like nothing can stop this now. 

The empty tomb of Easter morning is a profound statement for resilient life, a life that will not give up against the greatest odds, a life that will find a way and surprise even those of us weighed down by heavy burdens.

The message of new life at Easter this year calls us to continue being resilient. And believe and trust that our lives in Christ have more growth in store. Yes! Our lives in Christ have more living to do, no matter our age.

Joe Biden, in his first term as president of the United States will be eighty years old this year. Author Pauline Boss just published this year, at age eighty-seven, a relevant, meaningful and challenging perspective on Ambiguous Loss in the Pandemic. Warren Buffet, considered the oldest head of a U.S.-listed company, currently CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is one of the most successful investors in the world; he will be ninety-two this year. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church will be eighty-six this year. And the list goes on. There are countless other examples. Perhaps you know of more.

People will underestimate how long they will live. This is a fact I learned when attending an online retirement planning session earlier this year. We all had to answer a question about how long we think we will live. The results surprised me. 

The facilitators of the workshop said this happens everytime they ask this question at retirement workshops. Statistically, what we anticipate our age of death is often much lower than the actual age of our death. We tend to bank more on death than on life. We are biased toward not living longer than we actually will!

Will we undervalue the vitality of our living? Will we underestimate what we can contribute positively to the world, even into our senior years?

So, why not plan to live, to be alive, beyond age eighty … or longer! Easter is meant to generate that hope, to rewire our brains for life, renewal, fresh beginnings and hope. Life extends far beyond what we can imagine. Christ leads the way forward into realms of light, love and life. Not even death can stop this momentum. Not even death can thwart the innate gift of budding life in all that is. There’s no stopping it! Thanks be to God!

Imagine something new for your future. Those trees that bore the heaviness of devastation and all that the cross represents, those trees that showed resilience in continuing to live are powerful symbols. These symbols can motivate us and give us hope, not for recovering what was lost, but for recovering ourselves in the loss, for recovering our lives in this time.[3] May the gift of Easter this year bring you resilience in living.

[1] Pauline Boss, The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2022), p.39-40.

[2] John 20:1-18

[3] Ibid., p.86.

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