All the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 55.12-13)
As I write this, PBS is showing Jerusalem: Center of the World, a detailed history of the city. Much attention is being paid to the sacred sites—for Jews, for Christians, and for Muslims. It’s fascinating to hear about the need to memorialize key events in each religion’s story. No one can say for certain if this or that place is actually where a famous event occurred. The words “legend has it” carry tremendous weight in the absence of scientific proof. So it is that claiming Jesus died here, was buried there, ascended over here, and so on—without any reliable evidence—inspires faith and worship. Does accuracy of the claim really matter? Not really, as long as its identification with specific moments in Jesus’s life encourages belief.
This concept of memorializing our faith interests me. We do a great job of memorializing our lives. We take many pictures, we return to spots where events transpired, we etch our names into trees and scroll them into wet cement. But do we recall where we were when belief in Jesus started to make sense? Do we remember our baptism or confirmation or first communion—or any other rite that solidified our identity as part of God’s family? Where were we when we decided a cursory relationship with Jesus wasn’t good enough? What brought us to the place of need for God—and what was that place?
Every time something significant happens, the ancients memorialize for it. Sometimes it's nothing more than a pile of rocks. Sometimes it's an elaborate altar. But the point is very clear: this moment is not to be forgot. Of course, we’re moving toward the ultimate of all memorials: Mount Calvary and the site of the empty tomb. But we all arrive there from many different places. We bring an infinite range of personal experiences. And in our individual pasts, each of us has moments in time that belong to only us, yet exemplify something universal and powerful and incontrovertible in their evidence that God loves us.
In Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s intervention, thorns give way to cypresses and briers are swallowed up by sweet myrtle. The trees of the fields surge in applause for God’s love and grace. This miraculous turn of events, of course, presages Calvary’s tree and its restorative power to reunite humanity with God. The prophet says, “It shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55.13)
Holy Week isn’t only about what happens at Calvary. It’s about what happens in us. Our hearts are sacred sites. Our lives are sacred stories. As we stop by the signature sites of Holy Week, let us pause to revisit our own memorials. We have, all of us, come a very long way, led to faith and called to love by God’s sweet Spirit. There are moments and people and places that we associate with grace’s miracle in our lives. We can close our eyes and recall when thorns vanished and mighty cypress trees rose up, when briers disappeared and lovely myrtles took root in us. These are our holy places, our memorials.
As we press closer to the cross, may we cherish the holy moments and places that brought us here. Thank God for grace, for forgiveness, and for faith’s determination.