Pastor David Eisenhuth
Our regular communion service is divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The sharing of the peace separates the two. As the second part of the service begins, we bring our offerings of money and bread and wine to the table. Our financial gifts provide for ministry here at Trinity and in the broader church. The bread and wine, of course, is set apart as Jesus’s body and blood and returned to us so that we may be nourished and strengthened for service in God’s kingdom.
An offertory prayer follows the physical gathering of the money and the presentation of the earthly elements for the Eucharist. Then follows the familiar dialogue, “The Lord be with you.” To which the people respond in word or chant, “And also with you.” Two other call and response phrases ask us to lift our hearts to the Lord and to give thanks to the Lord.
The next part is called the Proper Preface. Its words set the stage for the Eucharistic prayer appropriate for the day. The Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy . . .”) follows the preface. There are many prayers that can be used at the table, so likewise there are many prefaces. Most are very straightforward. However, the one we use during Holy Week is more riddle – like. I would like to use this space to explain its deep significance. Here it is:
It is indeed right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places offer thanks and praise to you, O Lord, holy Father, through Christ our Lord; who on the tree of the cross gave salvation to all, that, where death began, there life might be restored, and that he, who by a tree once overcame, might by a tree be overcome. And so, with the Church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.
The first part is understandable. Christ offers himself on the cross on Good Friday to give salvation for all. The cross is God’s chosen instrument for the redemption of a fallen humanity. Why the cross? Why not some general announcement that the gap between God and God’s creation is forgiven and restored? We don’t know. This is part of the mystery of God’s actions.
What about the next part? Where did death begin? On something made of wood. It was the tree in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of which God forbade his archetypal people to not eat. But as the story goes, Adam and Even wanted exactly what the tree conveyed: knowledge of both good and evil. Not content with being only happy, and maybe a little bored, they chose unwisely to seek their own way. Their defiance of God and ultimate desire to be like God had terrible consequences. They would have to work to provide food and shelter for themselves and their progeny. There would be pain. There would be death. And so it was. A tree that was pleasant to the eye became a symbol of death. We don’t know what kind of tree it was. But wood from a tree was eventually shaped into a cross, an instrument of a heinous death by crucifixion.
Now comes the interesting part. On this same wood, Jesus’ death atones for the sin of Adam and Eve. The idea that the Messiah would suffer for the sake of God’s people was quite foreign to those of Jewish sensibilities. In fact, there are only three passages, all in Isaiah, that suggest the Messiah will do anything other than reign as the glorious Son of Man. Herein is one of the main reasons Jesus was rejected by the very people he came to save. They believed the Messiah would be a powerful king and restore the fortunes of the people under King David. He would also boot the detested Roman occupiers out of Palestine. What they got was a simple rabbi preaching peace and love. But that love extended to giving his life for us on the cross, and hence life itself is restored.
Who tempted Adam and Eve to eat that tasty fruit in the first place? They may not have needed much encouragement to disobey God, but a serpent appeared and suggested to Eve that God has lied when God said they would die. I think Eve believed God said they would die immediately, which of course was not true. They would eventually die at the end of their now mortal existence. In this, the serpent told the truth. So the “he” in the preface is the serpent, widely interpreted as Satan, at best a fallen angel who resists God, at worst, evil incarnate. So he, by a tree, seemingly overcame God’s plan for a perfect world.
But that’s not the end of the story, because by a tree, he, Satan, and the powers of darkness are now overcome. Life turned to death on both the tree in the garden and on Calvary. But death is vanquished and life restored also on a tree – the cross. It’s no coincidence that Revelation, the last book of the Bible, shows an image of the crucified but now risen Christ in the form of a lamb seated on the throne from which comes water abundant. The water becomes a river, and on both sides of the river grow trees that bear fruit year round. The Tree of Life is there and people can eat freely of it and live!
As with all prefaces, we are then invited to be part of the glorious company of the redeemed who sing forever before the throne of God. We, with the Church on earth and the hosts of heaven, praise the name of the Lord and join in an unending hymn of glory.
Pretty neat, isn’t it. And how suited is this preface for Palm Sunday through Holy Thursday, as the events by which God will redeem the world unfold for us. From Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his last meal with the disciples, the Eucharist joins us with Jesus and equips us to walk the way of the cross to see that tree that at once condemns and redeems.
Alleluia, the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!