Yesterday, a friend shared a couple of stanzas of a Good Friday hymn written by Seventeenth Century Hungarian poet Király Imre von Pécselyi and translated into English by Twentieth Century Congregationalist minister, composer, and musicologist Erik Routley. The common title of the hymn is “There in God’s Garden” and it is also known as “The Tree of Wisdom.” Alabama composer K. Lee Scott wrote the tune “Shades Mountain” specifically for this text.
I was introduced to the hymn during my two-year residence in Mississippi as Interim Dean of Jackson’s St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It became one of my favorite hymns, with its message of hope for the healing of the nations. Organist/Choirmaster Jessica Nelson led the Cathedral Choir and Congregation in singing it in my last Sunday service there, which was also the occasion for my retirement from active ministry. This seems like a good time to share it.
I invite you to contemplate the words, read the article by Emily R. Brink, and immerse yourself in the music, here sung by the Choir and Congregation of First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
There in God’s garden stands the Tree of Wisdom,
whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations:
Tree of all knowledge, Tree of all compassion,
Tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that says, “Our Savior!”
There on its branches see the scars of suffering;
see where the tendrils of our human selfhood
feed on its lifeblood.
Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage;
our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it.
Yet, look! It lives! Its grief has not destroyed it
nor fire consumed it.
See how its branches reach to us in welcome;
hear what the Voice says, “Come to me, ye weary!
Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow;
I will give blessing.”
This is my ending, this my resurrection:
into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit.
This have I searched for; now I can possess it.
This ground is holy.
All heaven is singing, “Thanks to Christ whose Passion
offers in mercy healing, strength, and pardon.
Peoples and nations, take it, take it freely!”
Amen! Our Savior!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue