Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

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The lectionary readings for today (Feb. 1) carry the common theme of identifying Jesus Christ as the Son of God on earth, which is itself a theme found throughout Epiphany. From Deuteronomy we read, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people.” And in First Corinthians we find, “and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” And in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is identified as “the Holy One of God” by his miracle of healing the man with the unclean spirit.

The Offertory anthem text this morning contains beautiful images of identifying Jesus. This text refers to Song of Solomon 2:3 (“As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons”), where allegorically the speaker may be identified as God expressing love for Israel, or for New Testament Christians as Christ expressing love for the Church. The Song of Solomon verse continues, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste,” the image of which is also found near the end of this anthem text. Sources differ upon the origins of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” also known as “The Apple Tree Carol.” Some sources cite London’s Spiritual Magazine (1761) as its first publication, while others claim the first appearance in Divine Hymns and Spiritual Songs, published in New Hampshire in 1784.

Hear a 2009 recording from King’s College Cambridge of the Elizabeth Poston composition:

(Painting, above: Gustav Klimt, Goldener Apfelbaum 1903)

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