Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jesse Tree

Jesse was the father of the great King David of the Old Testament. He is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus. In Church art a design developed showing the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical personages. This design showed a branched tree growing from a reclining figure of Jesse. The various branches had pictures of other Old and New Testament figures who were ancestors of Jesus. This design was used mostly in stained glass windows in some of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The Cathedral of Chartres (which was dedicated in 1260) has a particularly beautiful Jesse Tree window. Another development in religious art during the Middle Ages was that of Mystery Plays - drama that depicted various Bible stories or lives of Saints and Martyrs. These plays were performed in churches as part of the liturgical celebrations. One such play was based on the Bible account of the fall of Adam and Eve. The "Tree of Life" used during the play was decorated with apples. (Quite possibly this is also the forerunner of our own Christmas tree.)

Chartres Cathedral Jesse Tree

Combining the two ideas of the stained glass Jesse Tree window and the Tree of Life from the Mystery Play, the idea developed to create a Jesse Tree  project. This custom has been used for years to help Christians, especially children to prepare for Christmas. A tree is set up, even on a board made of felt, or painted. Then every day throughout the month of December, an object is added that relates to the people that preceded Jesus. Here are some suggestions that can be added to the tree, with the respective biblical reference:
Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth
Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman
Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite
Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow
Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain
Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush
Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder
Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic
Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes
Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple
Jesse: 1 Sam. 16:1-13 Symbols: crimson robe, shepherd's staff
David: 1 Sam. 17:12-51 Symbols: slingshot, 6-pointed star
Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28 Symbols: scales of justice, temple, two babies and sword
Joseph: Matt. 1:18-25 Symbols: hammer, saw, chisel, angle
Mary: Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38 Symbols: lily, crown of stars, pierced heart
John the Baptist: Mark 1:1-8 Symbols: shell with water, river

From my former parish in Pleasant Valley, NY
The symbols for the Jesse Tree from December 17 to 23 are based on the "O" Antiphons that are used during Mass.
Jesus is Wisdom: Sirach 24:2; Wisdom 8:1 Symbols: oil lamp, open book
Jesus is Lord: Ex. 3:2; 20:1 Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets
Jesus is Flower of Jesse: Isaiah 11:1-3 Symbols: flower, plant with flower
Jesus is Key of David: Isaiah 22:22 Symbols: key, broken chains
Jesus is the Radiant Dawn: Psalm 19:6-7 Symbols: sun rising or high in sky
Jesus is King of the Gentiles: Psalm 2:7-8; Ephesians 2:14-20 Symbols: crown, scepter
Jesus is Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14; 33:22 Symbols: tablets of stone, chalice and host
Jesus is Light of the World: John 1:1-14 Symbols: candle, flame, sun

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