My neighbor’s apple tree branches over into my yard each spring allowing the people at my house to enjoy the blossoms.
Later in the year, the deer make nightly excursions to devour apples that hang on its low branches. The tree was planted by the family who first built the house next door— my dear friends, Margaret, Mell, and their daughter Melanie. In fact, Margaret used to call it Melanie’s apple tree as her daughter planted it when she was just a little girl. Mell died at the turn of the century, Margaret died one Good Friday a few years ago, and Melanie has long moved from the house and is now retired, but her apple tree still produces fruit.
The 16th century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, loved trees. According to this source, “The fresh Spring green of the trees was for him a symbol for the resurrection of the dead. It is said that in the trees he beheld divine grace in earthly life.” The legends about his love for trees are profuse, and around 1944 at a time when so many were looking for hope in the midst of the devastation of the Second World War, someone may have slipped in another one. There are several variations of a quote supposedly spoken by Luther, but one is, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today."
Only God knows if Luther actually said this. Whether he did or not, the image it conjures of kneeling in the dirt, and planting a tree during the horrors of war is the very essence of hope.
Holy Week is a time when we think of endings and beginnings. The crucifixion on Friday is a certainty. Jesus knew this. Yet, he planted hope. Because he knew that beyond Friday’s cross was Sunday’s empty tomb.
Already in a spiral of declining health, yesterday, my dad suffered a setback. So, I’m planting hope today. Digging a hole, and putting in a sapling of expectant faith, which I pray, will in time yield a harvest. I’m taking inspiration from the Apostle Paul, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18).
No matter our circumstances, God has called us to hope. I, like Martin Luther, see God’s hand in the blossoms of spring and find mercy for my dad’s situation as well as so many others.
Though she didn’t know it at the time, the little girl Melanie planted hope for a future neighbor. On this Monday of Holy Week, let us all be inspired to do the same.
It is beyond our ability to imagine the harvest that may come from the hope we plant today.