Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CAROL : Jesus Christ the apple tree

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

I love this carol. 
It's the words more than the tune perhaps, though I love the reverence and passion with which Lee Farrar Bailey sings above and I think Elizabeth Poston's arrangement is particularly lovely sung by choirboys as below -- so very British and well enunciated.   I am glad for both these singings of what is a very satisfying salvation poem:

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.

This beauty doth all things excel.
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I've missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the Apple Tree.
I'm wearied with my former toil.
Here I shall set and rest awhile.
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

With great delight I'll make my stay
There's none shall fright my soul away
Among the sons of men I see
There's none like Christ the Apple Tree.

I'll sit and eat this fruit divine
It cheers my heart like spiritual wine
And now this fruit is sweet to me
That grows on Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. 

Its fruits doth make my soul to thrive.
It keeps my dying faith alive.
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

I would so much like to know the folk-poet who made these lines as a meditation on the Song of Solomon's second chapter:

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, 
so is my beloved among the sons. 
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, 
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, 
and his banner over me was love.

Stay me with flagons, 
comfort me with apples: 
for I am sick of love.
I love the image of Jesus as the renewed and renewing Tree of Life whose branches make a shady resting place and whose fruit revives. I feel weary, too, with fruitless, former toil and want to make my way to that steady trunk beneath the leaves where I can throw myself down and be remade.

Christmas for me is all about the overturning of a curse, an upturning of everything that had been going down.  All our expectations are undercut -- the Great King is a little baby, born not in a marble hall onto silken sheets but onto golden straw and a stable redolent of the animals who made space for Him.  He was not met by the princes and statesmen, but simple shepherds and foreigners who have studied the stars and come from afar.  And so the apple that in Adam and Eve's hand meant sin, in the hand of Jesus now means salvation.  And He offers it to us.  It is because of this carol -- and all that lies behind it -- that I always have apple ornaments on my tree.

Even better than the Elizabeth Poston arrangement to my ears, though, is Jeremy Ingalls'  -- I'm partial to the shape-note / Sacred Harp style singing anyway, but in this case this backwoods style fits the message all the better:

I love the cidery twang of this arrangement. Notice, it's more properly "set and rest" not "sit" and note the rough rhyme between "my former toil" and "and rest awhile." 

This is not some pampered orchard scion, carefully espaliered and behind tall and heavy walls, where only the gentry may partake.  But a vigorous wildling, miraculously sweet, whose broad branches offer refuge accessible to any, bowed down with reviving fruits for the many upon many.

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