It was all very confusing. At first all that went through my mind over and over was a sense of horror. Through the pain, though I began to wonder where I was. Not being able to speak I was surprised when I got an answer.
“You’re in Heaven.”
“That’s unlikely at best, but impossible might be a better word,” I thought.
“Yes, unlikely is a good description, but nothing is impossible. Tell me, what do you think happens when someone arrives in Heaven?”
“Well,” I began trying to buy a little time to think before I answered. “People say that your life is reviewed and you are judged. Some say that the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.”
“Then let’s review your life,” the voice in my head replied.
Before I continue my story, perhaps I should explain that I’m not your ordinary soul making the journey into the afterlife. I am, or should I say I was, a tree. For many years I stood on a hillside. I remember my early years as a sapling barely taller than the weeds that surrounded me. Each winter they died but I slept and grew taller with each year. As I did, birds began to sit on my branches. Later they built their nests among my higher boughs and I saw many generations of eggs hatch. I saw the naked babies be fed by their parents, grow feathers, learn to fly and leave. Some returned to build their own nests in later years. They did not remember that I was the tree in which they were hatched, but I did. Like the rings in my trunk my memory grew with each passing year.
Being on that hillside was wonderful, drawing moisture and nutrition from the soil, my roots buried deeply into the earth. Each spring I would feel my sap begin to flow and new leaves being sprouted. The sun shining down on me all summer interrupted by wonderful rain and the beautiful sight of lightening flashing through the night sky. Many a night when the sky was clear I tried to count the stars, but even given so many years to do so I never got very far. It was a wonderful life, but I knew I was destined for something more.
Eventually the day came when the woodsmen chopped me down. It was a strange feeling, but somehow I knew the time was right and I was merely moving on to the next phase of my existence. My branches went in one direction and I went in another. That was a strange feeling, but the “Me” remained with my trunk.
I remember being in a place with other trees that had been cut down. Workmen came through choosing wood for various purposes. We trees provide the material for many of the things that man needs.
I remember one older man with his son as they came through. The man was obviously a skilled carpenter and explained the various types of wood and their attributes to his son. He definitely appreciated our wood and respected us. His words seemed like the normal conversation they had every trip to the wood yard. It almost seemed like the man was introducing his son to each tree pointing out how it should be used, its grain, its strength and what that particular tree had to offer. As the two of them reached me, though, it was the son that spoke.
“This is good wood, very strong. It could hold up heavy things, important things. It is the type of wood that would be used in building a temple,” the son said. As he laid his hand on me I could feel the life of this man, and there was an intensity I had never imagined. I wanted so badly for him to make something special from me; something beautiful. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. He moved on along with his father and I heard him say that they were looking for wood with which to make a simple table. All I know is when he removed his hand, I felt a loss.
“So how did you spend your life?” I was asked.
“I’d rather not say,” I replied and tried to hide from the voice.
“Then let me tell you,” he responded.
“When the woodsmen cut you down, your branches were taken to the temple and used to burn holocausts. The Levites brought them to the altar and the priests made their offerings in accordance with the law. That was a good thing. You made a worthy offering of yourself and the sacrificial lamb on the altar.
“What you regret, though, is that the Romans took your trunk and roughly hewed it. Your wood could have been a polished pillar, but instead they used you as an instrument of torture.” I wished I could run and hide. I wanted to scream that it wasn’t my fault, but of course I couldn’t. The voice started again.
“The carpenter whose touch you felt was my son. You felt him again, although you didn’t notice that it was him. The second time he had been beaten, betrayed, abandoned and mocked, and he weighed down by every sin and care of the world. It’s no wonder that you didn’t recognize him – he barely recognized himself. They nailed his hands and feet to you, and it was there that he died.”
In my mind I mumbled something to the effect that I was sorry. Then I felt a familiar touch.
“We do not choose the role the Father has for us,” I heard. It was the voice of the young carpenter. “Instead we accept His will. Yes, you were the tool used to bring about my death, but I rose from the dead. I defeated death. I defeated evil. You played your part in that victory. Without my death many things – many good things would not have been possible. It’s hard to understand. Believe me, I know that better than anyone.”
I heard him speak, but I confess I was distracted by the thrill of feeling his touch again. I heard the first voice, which I now knew was the Father.
“I said it was unlikely for you to be in Heaven. Trees are not brought here, but I granted you this short visit as a blessing to you. I wanted to thank you for carrying out the difficult duty placed on you and to heal you. Now, your place is to return to earth where you will be sought as a remembrance of my Son’s sacrifice.”
“But it was the deed not the tool that is what’s important,” I protested.
His response surprised me, since I never thought of God as laughing.
“You are wise,” He told me. “For it truly was the deed, yet you contributed in your own way.”
“Now it is time for you to return to be as you were – a simple piece of wood.”
I returned to earth, and while I never was used to build a temple or an altar, pieces of me were carried to the very ends of the earth and placed in many magnificent churches. But as impressive as these churches are, as marvelous as their architecture is it is the voices of the faithful that thrill me as I hear as them. It is not me that they acknowledge but the act of love by which that young carpenter saved everyone.