| Print Page | Close
||Monday, June 17, 2013
The Tale of Two Trees:
An Explanation of the Proper Preface for Lent
The Proper Preface
Sandwiched between the Prayer of the Church and the beautiful canticle the Sanctus is a portion of the liturgy that we often miss: the Proper Preface. It is the liturgical introduction to the liturgy of the Lord's Supper, and it changes with the seasons of the church year.
In the Proper Preface for Lent we join in the prayers of the ancient church (it was established in the time of Gregory the Great [c540-604]). It is a beautiful, poetic and very complex prayer. It is a prayer that tells a story, what we will call The Tale of Two Trees, and as we unfold its meaning we will see that it encapsulates the whole history of our redemption, from the fall in the Garden of Eden through the cross and into eternal life.
Here is the Proper Preface for Lent:
It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God: Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence Life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and saying...[The Lutheran Hymnal, page 25]
What is all this talk of trees, and who is overcome by them?
The Tree of the Cross
The first tree is the tree of the cross. “The tree of the cross [which gives] salvation unto mankind.” St Paul calls the cross a tree in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.')”
It is on this tree, the tree of the cross that the fruit of our salvation hangs, even the body of Jesus. Thus this prayer directs our eyes to Jesus and His suffering and death for us.
Whence Death Arose
The prayer continues, “Whence death arose, thence Life also might rise again.” Another way to say this is: “Life comes from the same place as death.”
Death came to us in the Garden of Eden, ans specifically from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:16,17] Adam and Eve do eat of this tree, and so they and all creation are consumed by corruption and devoured by death.
This is the tree “whence death arose,” but, praise be to God, He has another tree, His Cross. “Thence Life might rise again.”
Overcame and Overcome by a Tree
The prayer then speaks of the one who overcame by the tree. This is the devil, the crafty murderer who destroyed God's perfection in the Garden and continues to kill and steal and destroy. The devil is the one “who by a tree once overcame” Adam and Eve. But he, like death, is “likewise by a tree.. overcome.” That is to say, Jesus, on the cross, destroys the devil. [See Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:!4; 1 John 3:8]
From the Garden into Paradise
The Proper Preface for Lent, then, traces our redemption from the fall in the Garden even to our eternal life, and it gives us the great comfort that the Lord Jesus has overcome the devil for our benefit.
We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God: Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], thence [the tree of the cross] Life also might rise again; and that he [the devil] who by a tree once overcame [Adam and Eve and all mankind] might likewise by a tree [the cross] be overcome, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
May we all, this Lenten season, continue to give thanks to God who, on the tree of the cross, won for us our life, salvation and the forgiveness of all of our sins. Amen.
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller