On Good Friday many folks in our congregation brought flowers to the church – flowers they had grown or purchased. Early this Easter morning, those flowers were used to transform wooden crosses into these:
It’s a pretty special part of Easter Sunday at Sylva FUMC to have crosses made of flowers.
But I hope I’m not bursting your bubble when I tell you that it’s not a tradition unique to Sylva FUMC. We didn’t come up with this idea, and we’re far from the only church to have an Easter Sunday flower cross. In fact, it’s so prevalent, I bet you already knew that.
Have you ever wondered why so many churches do this?
The answer is obvious, I think.
Because it’s pretty!
Well, that’s one obvious answer. There’s another one, a more important one. One that only makes sense in light of the first Easter.
On that first Easter morning, John tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first one to arrive. It was so early it was still dark out. She shows up at Jesus’ tomb, unsure how she’s going to roll the stone door aside but determined to care for his body.
But – plot twist! The body isn’t there.
When Mary sees the empty tomb she assumes the body has been stolen. And why wouldn’t she make that assumption? I mean, bodies don’t just up and leave their tombs.
Later, after Peter and John have come and gone, Mary is left alone in the graveyard, crying.
But – another plot twist! Jesus appears!
When Mary sees the risen Jesus, she doesn’t recognize him. Instead, she assumes that he’s the gardener, there to care for the graveyard. And why wouldn’t she make that assumption? I mean, dead men don’t just come back to life.
Can tombs be emptied? Can the dead live again?
Can death be turned into life?
Here we get to the heart of the matter, and the reason we would make a cross… out of flowers.
It’s not just because the flowers or so pretty. And it’s not because Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener.
Although… maybe that does have something to do with it.
Jesus, in his lifetime, talked a lot about plants. Remember? Remember the story about the seed scattered on different kinds of soil (Luke 8)? Or the one about the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13)? Or when Jesus described himself as the vine and us the branches (John 15)?
I’m sure Mary assumed the risen Jesus was the gardener because that’s who would be in a graveyard early in the morning – someone working there. But maybe when she saw Jesus, maybe she also unconsciously associated this man that she didn’t quite recognize with another man that she knew very well, a man who told a lot of stories about plants.
Stories like this one:
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24-25).
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…
That’s how Jesus explained that he had no more time for answering questions; that’s how he explained that his hour had come to do what he was sent to do. It was time for this grain of wheat to fall into the earth and die so that it could bear much fruit. Time for him to be buried in a tomb so that, like a flower pushing through the ground, he could rise up.
Like a flower…
Tombs can be emptied. The dead can live again. Death can be turned into life. That’s why so many churches cover crosses with flowers on Easter Sunday. The instrument of execution that once held dead bodies now holds springtime symbols of life!
That’s what makes this cross covered in flowers such a powerful symbol for Easter – one embraced by so many churches across the world. It reminds us of how Jesus has transformed death into life. We see it and we know that one day, when we are confronted with our own death, Jesus will lead the way to life after death.
But here’s a part too few of us Christians embrace: that death-transformation isn’t just for the end of our lives. It’s for right now.
Right now, Christ wants to make our lives like this flower cross. Right now, Christ is willing to let all our selfish, egotistical, self-destructive, sinful parts die. Right now, Christ is willing to take them on the cross and put them to death.
Will we let him? Will we allow Christ to crucify our old selves? Because only if a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies can it bear much fruit. Only if we lose our lives can we really save them. Only if we let our old selves die can Jesus resurrect them into a life as beautiful as a cross covered with flowers.
Today – this Easter Sunday – is the perfect day for a flower cross.
And it’s also the perfect day to die – so we can rise again.