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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

The Thorn Bush: A Story

Once upon a time, there was a blazing briar bush. It burned, and it burned until one day, a man named Moses came by. Moses passed that way a thousand times before, walking to the pasture to take care of the sheep for his father-in-law, just like any shepherd. Usually, he was worried about the flock or his new family and didn't pay much attention to his surroundings. One day he wasn't thinking about the sheep or his kids. Maybe it was after a long weekend, or after a good night's sleep. It doesn't matter. This day, as he passed by, he noticed the thorny bush in flames. It was a shocking sight, to be sure. The thing burned with a strange fire. Brighter than a normal fire. No ashes but plenty of heat. The thorn bush seemed just to sit there, unharmed, like it was a seat for a power much stronger, and perhaps more merciful than the spiny bush itself. Moses and this burning power had a chat. You've heard it all before. The upshot is that Moses changed directions that day. He changed a lot of people's directions. Directions that led right smack into the Sea of Reeds. Right smack into the desert. Ultimately, right smack into the promised land, but that story is a little messy. Messy enough that Moses didn't get to live in the promised land. I like to think that after the visit with the burning bush, as he and his wife and kids were packing up to go back into Egypt, Moses became a bit sentimental. I like to think he brought a cutting from that blazing briar with him on his way to see Pharaoh because it reminded him of his visit with God. Or if he didn't do that, then I like to think that his wife wanted a bit of home to take with them as they went into Egypt. "Oh, Moses," she might have said. "Let's take a cutting from the burning bush you told us about. It's all we have of home." Moses, the pushover. Still, let's pretend for a while that they took some of this bush with them on their journey. Because then we can imagine that briar propagating itself all over as the Israelites traveled for 40 years. God hardly needed to say, "Be fruitful and multiply." It probably spread like wildfire. The briar probably planted its seedlings throughout the desert, making trouble for travelers, making itself an invasive species to those who lived in the area, and finally expanding with the Israelites into the land of milk and honey. Over the years, generations of Israelites flourished and struggled. Their prayers and objects of worship also grew, which caused a few problems. The formerly blazing briar bush remained unharmed through all these trials and tribulations, but it never forgot what it once knew. From time to time, it tried to return to that experience—that experience of God. It reached out one small thorn to Gideon. Gideon did not notice. Stoic, that one. It threw itself over the path of Ruth as she walked back to Israel. When she noticed her leg bleeding, Ruth hacked off the offending branch. The bush was a lot more careful next time it tried to reach out to God's people. David, now, was the thorn bush's favorite for a long time. While Samuel was having David fetched before anointing him king, the young David tenderly untangled a young lamb from a mass of thorns, finally retrieving it unharmed before returning home to see some fellow named Samuel. Since Moses, the bush always had a soft spot for shepherds. Some of these briars were used as kindling by Elijah to show the priests of Baal who God really was. The bush felt God's flames again, just like it did with Moses, only this time, it succumbed to the fire. Still, it was nice to be revisited by God like that, at least for a little while. Then things went to hell in a hand-basket. The Assyrians made off with ten tribes. A while later, most everyone was taken to Babylon. The thorny bush cheered the Jews return, but it was only a matter of time before things went south again. Prophets came and went, and it didn't seem to make a great deal of difference, so far as the bush could see. Eventually, the Romans came. Jerks, the whole lot of them. They just moved in and took over. They didn't even have the decency to go back home like other invaders. This went on for a while until one night, while the briar was hanging out with some shepherds... All of a sudden, the messengers of God arrived. They lit up the sky with the best news ever. God had come to earth. "Oh, happy day!" the bush thought. The shepherds, being rather down to earth, were flabbergasted. Still, they hustled over to the bundle of joy and told the new parents all about the angels. For a few years, the bush followed Jesus around, holding its bushy breath to see what was going to happen. The bush was there on the mount with all the "blessed art thous." It was there with the loaves and fishes. It was there when Lazarus was raised. Lazarus. That's when things started going badly again. There was a dark night at Gethsemane. The bush ached over the prayers of Jesus, but didn't dare reach out a branch for fear of sticking Jesus with its sharpness. And then there was Judas. And then, one right after another, there were beatings and yellings and more beating and more yelling, and finally, horribly, one of those nasty Romans cut up some of the bush and wounded it into a crown. Cut it and wound it and caused its thorns to dig into the flesh of Jesus. Into the face of God. The bush wished for eyes so it could close them. Seeing Jesus on that cross… It was the worst few hours the bush had ever seen. Eventually, the inevitable happened. The briar wanted to die too. For a while, nothing happened, but then there came movement. Someone took Jesus down. Someone wrapped Jesus up. Someone took Jesus to a grave. For some reason, maybe because no one wanted to see it anymore, the thorn-crown was thrown in the crypt before everything became as dark as night. Dark as dark can be for what felt like almost three days. The briar bush crown thought long and hard during those days and nights. It remembered the first time God used it to speak to Moses. It thought of all those hundreds of years following God's chosen people. It thought of that night that God took on human form here on earth, oh happiest of days. And it was all ending. Here. In the dark. Among the dead. But then…, wait. What was that noise? Was that a breath? The bit of bush didn't have time to wonder. In an instant, a cacophony filled the crypt, and sunlight poured into the shockingly empty tomb. Voices were outside. Could it be? One of them was Jesus! He was just saying he hadn't been to the Father yet. And then, - oh happiest of days for real this time! - there was Jesus. And Jesus picked up the bloodstained briar thorns in his warm hands and looked at it with tender eyes. And then Jesus spoke to it, almost in a whisper. " Come with me. We're going home."

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