By Jon Wren
Olive trees might be the hardiest plants in the world. On average they can live up to 500 years, but many live more than 1,000 years. They can survive being cut down, chopped up, and even burned in a fire. So long as even a tiny part of their root system remains, they will always come back. And when they do, they rise from the ground or a stump in the form of a small, tender, green shoot. The ancient Israelites had a word for these new sprigs of life, netzer.
Sometime in the first century, as Jewish refugees returned from exile, they settled in an area near the Sea of Galilee and named their new town Nazareth after the tender, new shoots of the Olive tree. Jesus grew up and lived most of his life in Nazareth. In fact, the Gospels say that throughout his life, many people called him “Jesus of Nazareth.” From almost the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was associated with the idea of new life and new beginnings.
When we take Communion, in many ways we celebrate the same idea—that because of his death and resurrection, we have a new life in Christ. His work at the cross removes the curse of sin and death and provides a promise of something new. The Old Testament prophet anticipated Jesus when he wrote, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. . . . For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:2, 12).
Communion is more than a reminder of what Christ has done for us, it is also a reminder that he is still at work in us, giving us a new life. Our sin and shame are no longer what define us. We have a story of new hope and possibilities because of him!
Jon Wren works with the Office of Civil Rights, addressing the impact of gentrification on school desegregation. He loves history, college football, and once got a ticket for driving too slowly.