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.

Crossing the Easter threshold

On Easter morning, we cross a threshold. We move from the shadowed regions of the Lenten fast into the brightness of dawn’s new light. Easter morning is the threshold between death and life. Jesus Christ crossed this mysterious threshold from the cross to the empty tomb, thus showing us “the way to eternal life”: Where God takes the worst thing in the world – the killing of an innocent human being, and God! – and changes it into the best thing – the redemption of the world![1]

The bible details this larger theme of moving, crossing over, into this new territory. In truth you could say this movement from death to life is the central theme of the bible if not the Christian faith: Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, the Israelites passed out of Egypt and on through the parting of the Red Sea to the Promised Land, and the final invitation in Revelation is for all to enter a new Jerusalem where death and mourning shall be no more. Death and Resurrection recur, epitomized in the Gospels by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Resurrection happens, eventually, and everywhere!

This threshold upon which we stand, and move through, today is a movement that is not easy. The original ending of the Gospel of Mark suggests that the threshold from death to new life is fraught with fear. The last words in that resurrection story, indeed that Gospel, are: “So they [the disciples] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[2]. Crossing the Easter threshold is painful. 

Images associated with Easter – such as the narrow gate, a birth canal, or a butterfly formed in the tight space of a chrysalis – convey the truth that moving through the thresholds of our lives brings disruption, discomfort and the pain of growth to new life. The road is indeed hard that leads to life, as Jesus said.[3] This is a road that he needed to travel to show us “the way to eternal life.”

Theologian Joyce Rupp describes what happens in us when, like the disciples, we stand on the threshold between death and new life, when we ponder the incredible impact of the resurrection on our lives. She writes:

“A threshold contains the power of transformation. In this place of uncertainty and decision making, we are forced to slow down and take stock of what’s happening. This is where we yield to the necessary gestation that grows us into greater freedom.” [4] During this time we let go of old ways we used to rely on to give us our sense of security. Here, all our energy must be given to the process that readies us for this next tentative step. 

It is no wonder that the cross still remains a central image for Christians even today. Christ is risen, and remains risen, even after two thousand years, even after two thousand years of recalling every year his suffering and death. Christ is alive. Yet the cross reminds us that integral to this coming-to-life is painful growth. We, too, need to travel down that road, each of us, in our own way.

How do we do that? Those who cross the threshold do so from a life that focuses on ‘cleaning up’ to one that embraces ‘waking up’.[5] Cleaning up has all sorts of spiritual meanings, mostly associated with seeing the sin of our lives in this broken, COVID-ridden world. It can be a helpful focus for Lent.

On the other hand, ‘waking up’ is definitely an Easter theme. Waking up to seeing the sunrise, the butterfly and the baby born – a new life. Waking up to the trust and the hope that the stars do shine, even above the clouds and in the deep nights of our grief, pain and suffering. Waking up to the God who gives us, shows us, the “way to eternal life” in Christ Jesus.

The ‘cleaning up’ function continues even in the ‘waking’ moments of our lives. It’s a matter of attention now to that which gives us hope, which points us towards the North Star and grounds us in love and life. The most difficult questions can thus be navigated in this hope and trust that carries us over the threshold and into “the way of eternal life”.

In the following short video clip[6], you can get a little taste of how our confirmation class has operated over the past year, and will continue to do so in coming months. We recently asked our confirmands and youth the question – “Who is Jesus?”, which is not an easy question to answer, today. The way they answered the question and the presentation style of the video is a ‘light’ treatment because in the Easter season we can dance and laugh in the face of death, for Christ conquered the power of death. So we all can wake up and rejoice in the love and life of Christ.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!


[1] Richard Rohr, “A Pattern We Can Trust” in Daily Meditations (www.cac.org, Sunday, April 4, 2021).

[2] Mark 16:8

[3] Matthew 7:14

[4] Joyce Rupp, “The Power of the Threshold – Week 4,  Day 1” in The Open Door (Illinois: Sorin Books, 2009)

[5] Richard Rohr, “Love is Life-Giving” in Daily Meditations (www.cac.org, Tuesday, March 16, 2021)

[6] Visit www.faithottawa.ca and click on “Online Services” for April 4, 2021