Greatly saddened was the Tree of LifeSt. Ephrem the Syrian (Hymn on Virginity XVI, 10)
when it beheld Adam stolen away from it;
it sank down into the virgin ground and was hidden
—to burst forth and reappear on Golgotha;
humanity, like birds that are chased,
took refuge in it
so that it might return them to their proper home.
The chaser was chased away, while the doves
that had been chased
now hop with joy in Paradise.
St. Ephrem (306-373) wrote some 400 hymns, many of them still used today. This ancient hymn by St. Ephrem is one of many on this theme, which is closely associated with the Nativity. One much-loved hymn sings of how the “Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave.” (I’ve shared that here on a previous Christmas.) Without claiming any direct connections, this theme certainly continues into other Christian traditions.
One example is “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” This old English Christmas carol was most likely written by Rev. Richard Hutchins, a Calvinist Baptist clergyman then in Long Buckby, Northhamptonshire. The first known publication, beginning “The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen,” was in London’s Spiritual Magazine in August, 1761. This credits “R.H.” as the submitter and presumed author. Another early printing, which cannot be dated and could be earlier, is an English broadsheet. This broadsheet uses the term “Methodists,” which certainly places it after about 1730. (Preceding details from Wikipedia.) Here are those lyrics.
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.
His 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 Appletree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought;
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the Appletree.
I’m weary with my former toil –
Here I will sit and rest awhile,
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the Appletree.
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 Appletree.
I’ll sit and eat this fruit divine,
It cheers my heart like spirit’al wine;
And now this fruit is sweet to me,
That grows on Christ the Appletree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Appletree.