Sidney Lanier’s “Ballad of the Trees and the Master” is among my favorite poems, telling the story of Holy Thursday from a rather different point of view.
Christ has come from an evening spent with his disciples–teaching them, rebuking them, kneeling to wash their filthy feet. He stops at the entrance to the garden, where he leaves eight of them. He moves into the ancient olive trees, with three disciples trailing behind him, stifling yawns.
“Sit here,” he says. “I’m going a little further to pray.”
They plop down beside an olive tree. He goes farther into the darkness, kneels, and whispers. “Father?”
Some time later, he returns. Despite the darkness, he has no trouble finding the three: he can find them by their snores. After several years with them, he knows those snores very well.
He steps on a twig. It cracks loudly, and Peter jolts up. He nudges the others, and they sit slowly, trying unsuccessfully to hide their yawns.
Christ only shakes his head. “You couldn’t watch for even an hour with me?”
They are embarrassed, but as soon as he is gone, Peter decides that God does not mind people who pray while lying down. Soon snores are again disturbing the quiet of Gethsemane.
Christ, burdened with the thought of what is coming–of the one disciple not in Gethsemane–stumbles to his knees. “Father–”
A light wind blows through the garden, and a leaf alights on Christ’s face. The trees, it seems, have not forgotten just who it is praying among them.
Lanier’s poem describes how the trees comfort Christ, while men kill him–ironically, on a tree.
Some years after that night in Gethsemane, the apostle Paul would write, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (ESV).”
It seems that the trees, at least, remember the first fire breathed into them by their Creator.
The rest of us, however, need to be reminded. Like Peter, we have a tendency to fall asleep, forgetting everything–that, long ago, we lost a part of ourselves; and that Christ is working even now to make us whole again.
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13, ESV)