Happy Easter from the Easter Beagle. This is the story from this week's Mobile Press Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.
When I was married and joined a new church that observed the old custom of flowering the cross, I was thrilled. On Palm Sunday, the pastor reminded us to bring a flower from home the next week and explained this was a tradition recorded in artwork as far back as the 6th century.
Sure enough, the following Sunday, we put on our Easter best and carried a flower to church, where everyone gathered outside the doors of the sanctuary to make something that was originally old and rugged into a thing of stunning beauty.
The flower cross was soon heavy with fragrant lilies, gladiolas, roses and even a few colorful weeds from tiny children’s hands, and was changed before our eyes into Holy art. I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite lines from a hymn that taunts, “where oh death is now thy sting?”
Watching as each person or family carefully approached the cross to find a spot to insert their flower, was close to observing a sacred ritual. With hope in their eyes, and often tears — maybe from joy, or perhaps from the pain of recent hurts, each flower brought yet another level of celebration. An older lady in the congregation was unsteady in her approach to the cross, but a teenager stepped forward and held her arm. A woman who was battling addictions placed her hand on the rough surface before inserting her flower, silently praying for the old darkness of her life to blossom into something new. A young father who had battled cancer but emerged victorious with good health and the surprise birth of a beautiful baby posed with his wife and tiny son in front of the cross for a photo that captured the look of hope and faith in their new future.
One by one, the people came and added flower after flower, until at last, there was room for no more. The air was perfumed, and the colors were vivid. Our symbol of ugly death being transformed into the beautiful resurrection was complete, and it was time for worship and celebration to begin.
An ancient legend says that tears from Jesus’ mother Mary rolled down her cheeks and fell at the foot of his cross, and from there, beautiful flowers grew. We don’t know if this is true, but it proves that for centuries, we have longed for a sign of freshness and new beginnings. Sadness to joy, sickness to health, war to peace, and death to life. Flowering the cross is a tangible reminder of how we can apply the lessons of Easter to our modern-day lives. We can embrace the amazing pity, grace unknown and love beyond degree.
Not all churches observe the tradition of flowering the cross, and there are many people who have fallen away from church attendance. But maybe finding our own way to turn something ugly into a source of beauty can be the way we personally commemorate Easter. Helping someone in need and bringing hope to their life could be our goal, or perhaps we need to reinvigorate a rough, old relationship with fresh forgiveness. Maybe it’s our hearts that need renewal. Full of anger, guilt or shame, the greatness of the resurrection can heal it all. Flowering the cross is an outward celebration of the Easter miracle but flowering our hearts may be the ultimate form of beautiful Easter worship.