The Tree of Life

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

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“On either side of the river is a Tree of Life bearing twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (Rev. 22:2)

In the Word, the Tree of Life is mentioned in two places the story of the Garden Eden in Genesis, and in the description of the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation.

As we read in our lessons, the Tree of Life stood in the center of the garden of Eden representing our perception or inmost feeling that life is from the Lord. This perception that all life is from the Lord and not, as it sometimes appears, from ourselves, is the most important of all the perceptions that the Lord gives to us to help guide our lives. For this reason the Tree of Life is described as being in the midst of the garden. Man and his wife were permitted to eat of the Tree of Life, and every other tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Tree of Life represents the perception that life is from the Lord, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the perception that life is from oneself. Therefore, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents our desire to feel and believe that life is our own, and not at all from the Lord.

The desire to feel life as one s own was the cause of the fall of mankind, and since the fall it is the heritage of all of us to be born full of the desires to do all manner of selfish and thoughtless things, and convinced of the falsity that life is our own. When people remain in this conviction and manner of life, they move the Tree of Life to the outskirts of the garden, and put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden in its place, which is to destroy the Lord s created order. In a sense, it could be said that the whole of the Word between the second chapter of Genesis and the final chapter of Revelation describes the Lord s attempt to lead fallen man back into the order of the garden of Eden, that is, to move the Tree of Life back to the center of the Garden.

In the book of Revelation, the Tree of Life stands as a central representative in the establishment of the New Church. Our text is from the final chapter, and describes what the Holy city New Jerusalem would be like after its descent from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband, after the establishment of the New Church in the world. The Word uses the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand our own creation into this world as living beings in the Creation story, and concludes by using the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand the purpose of the Lord s New Church, that all people should eat of the Tree of Life, that is, should be conjoined with the Lord in heaven.

Scripture often uses a tree to represent a man, or the quality of a man. For example, in the ninth chapter of Judges, Jotham s parable uses the olive tree, the fig tree, the grape vine, and the bramble to tell us of Abimelech s evils, and what kind of king he will be. (JDG. 97 ff.) The first Psalm compares a righteous man to a tree planted by rivers of water, and that brings forth good fruit in its season. (PSA. 13) In Matthew and Luke the Lord taught His disciples that as a good tree must produce good fruit, and a corrupt tree must produce useless fruit, so in this way you may judge men by their fruits. (Mat. 717, Luke 643)

The Tree of Life represents that most important perception that all life is a gift from the Lord. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that this is not something that every man immediately perceives. We are taught that the celestial man, or an angel of the highest heaven, “acknowledges, because he perceives that all things, both in general and in particular are the Lord s.” (AC 122)

The spiritual man, or angel of the middle heaven, is not so perceptive. The feeling of life from the Lord is somewhat removed from the activity of his own life. He does, however, read the Word, and believe what he learns there, so he too can acknowledge that life is from the Lord, although he does so only “with the mouth, because he has learned it from the Word.” (Ibid.)

The worldly, corporeal man, or angel of the lowest heaven, while he may live in obedience to the precepts of the Word, does not much care for such things. He “neither acknowledges nor admits” that life is from the Lord, and “whatever he has he calls his own, and imagines that were he to lose it, he would altogether perish.” (AC 123, Cf. AC 141)

A tree is truly a beautiful representative of our relationship to the Divine Creator. Our natural world is full of trees in seemingly infinite variety. Trees, and their products, have sheltered, protected, healed, and nourished people from the beginning of time. At the same time trees have caused people to wonder at their beauty as they change from day to day, season to season, year to year. The gardens of heaven are filled with beautiful trees, put there by the Lord as the angels minds turn towards the perceptions about the life they receive from the Lord.

In the Worship and Love of God, a little work of devotional literature written soon after his call, Swedenborg wondered if perhaps the first men were literally born from a “Tree of Life”, a tree caused by the Lord to produce special fruits which could be miraculously infilled with human life. We may smile at this poetic idea at first, but upon reflection, there is much that commends such a creation. The vegetable kingdom is the kingdom of uses, and what higher use could there be than to provide the first forms to receive human life? Is it any greater miracle for eternal human life to be implanted in a form created by the vegetable kingdom than for it to be implanted in a form produced by the animal kingdom?

Everything about a tree represents some aspect of our life the branches serve to carry the food produced in the leaves to be stored for use in the trunk, and in this function they represent how truths are introduced into the mind through our senses; when we think of a tree s leaves blowing and playing in the wind, we are reminded of the way that various ideas flow into our mind, turning this way and that as we decide what to do with them, and so represent rational truths, knowledges that we reason about, comparing one to another, and turning them over in our minds. And when all the trees systems work together they produce fruit. The fruits of the tree represent the things that we do in the world.

Even the changes that trees go through during the seasons of the year represent the changes of each of our states as we pass through life. Imagine a stark winter scene the black silhouette of a single, leafless tree in a field of wind-driven, drifting snow. Is this not a very powerful symbol of a our relationship to the Lord while in the depths of temptation? From the tree s point of view, the warmth and light from the life-giving sun are simply not present. Whatever life and warmth there had been before seems to be forever lost. This illustrates how a we feel in the depths of spiritual combat. In the same way that we draw comfort and hope from our remains, that is, from the affections of good and truth secretly stored up deep in our minds by the Lord while we are fighting our spiritual battles, so a seemingly lifeless tree draws life from the sap stored deep in its roots. As soon as the state is ready, as surely as a tree begins to produce new flowers, leaves, branches and fruit, when we ask for the Lord s help as we fight the combats of temptation, we will begin to feel that there may be hope; that the state of temptation may end; that there is, after all, reason to live.

Just as we know that the leafless tree in winter is not dead, even though it appears to be dead, so also we can be certain that the Lord never leaves us in our times of trial and doubt. As the tree s sap draws inward for the winter, so our perception of the Lord s life and presence is drawn deep into our minds where it is protected during the winter storms of our temptations. It resides there in safety, until, at the Lord s bidding, it begins to have its effect in more outward ways. We look across the valley, and see the branches tipped with a hint of red. We become aware that spring is returning, and begin to notice that green flowering things are appearing all over the land. So too the person who has fought side by side with the Lord in temptation begins to feel the warmth and light of the Lord s life within him; and the more he acknowledges that this feeling of life is from the Lord, the more the Lord give to him the feeling that it is his own, to do with as he likes.

We are taught that the general sphere of heaven is that of perpetual springtime; and what better represents the state of joy that comes to men and angels when they have brought themselves into a state of order and have vanquished some evil in their lives? Their minds are clear, their muscles strong, and they are ready to do the Lord s work in any way that might present itself. Imagine an apple or peach orchard in full bloom, making a fragrant promise of the delicious fruit to come; and compare that to image of the leafless tree in the wind-swept field. Does this not powerfully represent the difference between what we are in and of ourselves, and what we can be when we accept the Lord s leading?

Our text tells us that the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem was bearing “twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (text) The Heavenly Doctrines teach that this means that the “Lord produces goods with the man in accordance with every state of truth with him.” (AR 935) It is obvious that people change as they go through their lives. They acquire new knowledges, new experiences, new wisdom. If they are seeking to follow the Lord, they will be continually trying to apply these new truths to their lives. The important point brought out here is that although we know that all good is from the Lord, for He alone is the Tree of Life, the source of all things, yet He does good in us according to own state of truth, or faith. If we know that the Lord alone lives and acts, and also know that He freely gives us the feeling of life as our own, and the freedom to choose our own path, then we act as if from ourselves in accordance with heavenly order.

In the same way that the seasons pass through their yearly cycle in the world, so men pass through their own seasons of doubt, temptation, rejoicing, and usefulness. We are given the memory of spring and summer to sustain us through the fall and winter of our lives. Each time we pass through such a cycle, we are changed for better and can produce new and better uses. These uses or fruits are the twelve fruits of the Tree of Life. By the image of each month yielding its own fruit we are to understand our progression through life to eternity, continually learning, revising, perfecting, and doing, all at the Lord s bidding, with the Lord s help.

The inmost of the doctrine and life of the Church is the Divine Love of the Lord, represented by the Tree of Life. This Divine Love is the source of all the good that a person does apparently as from himself. (See AR 931, ref. to 222) When anyone approaches the Lord directly, that is, approaches the Lord in His Divine Human as revealed in the Word, and out of love for Him flees from evils as sins, then, because he has the two essentials of the New Church, he will be conjoined with the Lord; he will eat of the Tree of Life.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the Tree of Life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 2214) AMEN.

1st Lesson GEN. 24-9

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, {5} before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; {6} but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. {7} And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. {8} The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. {9} And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Amen.

2nd Lesson Rev 221-5

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. {2} In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. {3} And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. {4} They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. {5} There shall be no night there They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. {12} “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. {13} “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” {14} Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Amen.

3rd Lesson AR 933

From these things collected into one sense, it follows that by “in the midst of the street and of the river, on this side and on that, was the tree of life bearing twelve fruits,” is signified that in the inmosts of the truths of doctrine and of life in the New Church is the Lord in His Divine love, from Whom all the goods which a man does apparently as of himself flow forth.

[2] This takes place with those who go to the Lord immediately, and shun evils because they are sins; thus who will be in the Lord s New Church, which is the New Jerusalem. For they who do not go immediately to the Lord cannot be conjoined to Him, and thus neither to the Father, and hence cannot be in the love which is from the Divine; for the looking to Him conjoins, not a mere intellectual looking, but an intellectual looking from the affection of the will; and affection of the will is not given, unless man keeps His commandments; wherefore the Lord says

He that does My commandments, he it is that loves me; and I will come unto him, and make an abode with him (John 1421-24).

Opening Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, You are our Father, You are our God. You are the rock of our salvation. All life and love are from You, and whoever seeks to live his life according to belief in You shall live to eternity. Your kingdom is over all, and Your mercy endures forever. Amen.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, our heavenly Father Jesus Christ, everywhere we look today we will see the trees which You have created and given to us as symbols of Your eternal presence with us. Some are dormant, some are flowering, and some are forming seeds and fruits to prepare for another generation. O Lord, let these beautiful, useful trees remind us of Your presence with us during the different states of our lives, and wonderful variety of life You have created and given to us to hold and feel as our own. Amen.


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Page last modified September 27, 2009