I met a friend for coffee last week, and our time together reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to share. I always leave her presence better off than when I entered it. She is honest and real and faithful. She is humble and compassionate and joyful. Which always amazes me, because she lost her husband of 19 years to cancer just over a year ago. And her last name is Stumph.
Which brings me to… The Stump.
There’s a large stump whose roots are planted just across the creek in our backyard. I see it every day, and it serves as a reminder of life and its various stages. At one point, this was a giant life-giving tree, offering shade and shelter to those who needed it. A refuge. But now it’s just an old, dead stump. Some might consider it an eyesore.
“Consider what is a stump. It’s part of a dead tree. It’s been cut down. It doesn’t grow. Stumps rot. Stumps can have growth though. They grow scores of bugs. They grow fungus, especially mushrooms. They may even grow some moss or other small plants if they rot enough and have enough cracks. By and large stumps are undesirable and signal the end for a particular tree, it is a remnant of what was once great and majestic which will not grow again…”
~ Rev. Christopher Amen
Yet, for me, this stump retains beauty in a simple but poignant way.
It reminds me of another stump.
For our Christmas cards this year, I centered around the Stump of Jesse. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that from the decaying line of Jesse would come forth a fruit-bearing branch, and for Christians, this Branch is our Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Even though Jesse’s line was fruitful and strong at the time of this prophecy, Isaiah foretells a cutting down, a destruction of the nation. But he points ahead to a shoot, just a little sprout that will rise up. A sprout that ironically would be despised, but would bring new Life…not only to the nation of Israel, but to the world.
It really was fascinating for me to look back over the genealogy of Jesus, from Matthew’s account, and see Jesse’s family tree branched out before me. Names that previously I would just skip over, but this time I found myself pausing one by one to reflect on them. Especially that final name, that Name above all names, given to the shoot that was spoken of some 700 years before His birth.
This shoot has given me Life. A fruitful life that could never come from my own goodness, but only from His. For He is the vine; I am merely a branch.
“Fruit only produces from the roots of the branches. Only watered properly and nourished abundantly. It’s the roots that bring forth and do the work of producing fruit. It’s this shoot that comes forth and brings new life. From the dead wood of the cross comes forth shoot of Jesse’s stump. The magnitude of it all is that the shoot restores life in the tree, the shoot is also the roots which brings forth good fruit.” ~ Rev. Christopher Amen
Today is the Monday of Holy Week. The day following Palm Sunday, the occasion of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The shoot of Jesse, humbly riding on a donkey, beginning the march to His death. Crowds waved their branches, giving laud to THE Branch. Yet He wasn’t who they were expecting, and by the end of the week they would mock and crucify Him.
Yesterday before the children processed into worship, I stood in the hallway watching them. Full of life and joy, they tickled one another with palms, giggling as they waved their branches. Then I glanced down and noticed the remaining palms, so quiet and still.
Then it caught my eye:
the fertile green of the branches…
the blood red of the carpet…
The juxtaposition was too great for me, and tears filled my eyes.
I went back to the stump today. And in the midst of a decayed old tree, cut off from the living, there is life all around it: yellow daffodils of springtime, gurgling waters of the creek, and bright moss growing in the midst of mud.
Listening to the creek waters and closing my eyes with the sun on my cheeks, I thought of my friend Sherry and her loss. But I also thought of her joy. Her joy in the midst of suffering. Her joy that in its own precious way is fruit bursting forth from a stump. Then I thought of the giver of fruit, Himself. He Who began Holy Week with the Hosannas of the crowd, yet ended it with a crown of thorns on His brow, bleeding on a cross, forgiving those who pierced Him as He drew His last breath.
The shoot from the stump of Jesse.
A Branch bearing fruit.
Born to give us Life.
Yet born to die… so that real Life could happen.
And borrowing from the words of our Palm Sunday hymn…