Saint James on the Lawn: from death to a new life
In spite of serious effort and investment by the Buildings & Grounds Committee and Vestry, in recent years we've lost several 150 year old oaks due to what the experts simply called "old age." But when the tree on the front lawn died so quickly, it seemed that it might not be rotten through and through -- and so we were able to have the part which was not ruined be turned into Saint James.
We gave Marty Long, an ice and tree sculptor who has produced prize winning art, the challenge of making the tree stump look like a man with long robes, holding the symbols of Saint James portrayed in church iconography over the centuries. In one hand is a sword, a reminder that he was the first martyred apostle, beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2). In his other hand James holds a scallop shell, a symbol of pilgrims to Compostella, Spain, where tradition has it the remains of his body washed ashore after his martyrdom. It is said that Christians doing a holy pilgrimage to that site wore a scallop shell so bandits would leave them alone, seeing the reason for their travels.
What a joy it was to watch the tree sculpture come to life on our lawn! Each day, Marty would come in cheerfully, ready to plug in his chain saw and get to work. Gradually, what started as a 12 foot high, unshaped tree stump, took the form of this beautiful sculpture.
After a while, I would look at the statue and think it was finished. It looked good enough to my eyes, and I couldn't figure out what more was to be done -- but Marty knew. And each day he worked on it, it truly did get even better.
Each day, God shapes and re-shapes us. Some days perhaps we cannot see what needs to be done --but God knows. God is working a purpose out in each of us, making us into a new creation. In Lent we are more attentive to particular areas in which God is shaping and re-forming us. Like the tree, we can experience God taking something which was dead and lifeless or in some in-between stage and making it into a thing of beauty in and through us.
There is one Big difference between the tree and us -- we are still alive -- so God does not finish with us, but continues to form and reform us. Imagine if we allowed God to make us as spectacular as that tree ---people stopping to see us and admiring the wonder of who we are as faithfully made into God's image, outstanding signs of Jesus' Christ for all the world to admire!
And finally, our Christian hope is portrayed by the story of the tree. What once lived abundantly in one form, was dead in the eyes of this world. But beyond its death it now has a new life, a life which is wondrous and a joy to behold!