I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God
And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, 21
Paradise therefore will be restored, that tree will be restored which is in truth the tree of life; there will be restored the grace of the image, and the dignity of rule. It does not seem to me that our hope is one for those things which are no subjected by God to man for the necessary uses of life, but one for another kingdom, of a description that belongs to unspeakable mysteries.
Traditionally, the Sunday of the Holy Cross is not a time for somber reflection on the necessity of the cross or to stress penitence over its horrible nature. Instead, it is a time to focus on the victory which the cross achieved on our behalf. We venerate the cross—not as an icon or an idol but as an event, an act of God—and take comfort in the peace which it affords us. As we cross the halfway point of Lent, many of us sorely need this kind of comfort.
It is interesting to note that the Tree of Life provides a great bookend for Scripture as a part of the greater matrix of creation and recreation. In the beginning God creates us with the potential and the purpose of eternal life, not in the sense of a perpetually beating heart or firing neurons but as participation in His infinite Life. When the world is made anew again, he promises us, as he promised the church at Ephesus in Revelation, a share again in that life which we separated ourselves from. Standing gloriously at the center of this great historical chiasmus of creation and redemption is the cross. The ancients saw a type for the cross in the great trees of promise. In Genesis it represents what we lost; in Revelation it represents what has been promised to us again by grace. The true tree of life, however, is the cross where access to this life was thrown open anew. It is there that Death is conquered, not by cheating mortality through wiles or power but by allowing Life to be subjugated to the humiliation of fatality and proving Life to be greater.
Let that be a comfort to us now. Our trials are transient, and we cannot let them dull our great love for Christ. With the Ephesians, we must repent and press on in the good work of God who has already achieved victory for us if we only will join Him in it.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
--1 Corinthians 15:54-55,57