At dinner with friends the other night I got to explain one of my very favorite Easter traditions: flowering the cross.
It’s a true Easter moment for me. Some people say Easter happens when they sing at a sunrise service or say Hallelujah. For me, it’s when a chicken wire cross fills with flowers. Probably because it’s so communal and sensory and all those other churchy words. And I just love that there is no way to pattern out what this display will look like. Everyone is told to bring their own flower, so you may have huge daffodils or store-bought roses or scrawny looking “daisies” that we all know are weeds. You can try to have some easy carnations there for people who forgot their own, but like the Church itself there will always be one obnoxious, mis-matched blossom shoved in there. That’s what makes it beautiful.
It was shoved onto the cross by a frustrated, heartsick woman.
It slowly became surrounded by wildflowers and lilies, the whole thing processed into the sanctuary during a choir anthem that sounded like the skies opened to heaven.
But it didn’t start out that way.
That tulip showed up on that flower cross because I showed up at church at 6:00 am that morning.
Our family had been in a season of struggle: everyday frustrations, tough moments of ministry. And infertility grief. But life doesn’t stop for liturgical seasons, and Easter did not go easy on us that year. It hurt.
My husband and I had welcomed a rainy Good Friday that seemed to match our spirits. But you can’t just sit still in Friday’s pain when you have egg hunts and Easter mornings to get to. So, we moved right on through a busy weekend. As I prepared deviled eggs and salads to take to an Easter lunch, I began to dread everything about the day. Easter lunch was at a dear friends’ home where their adorable grandchildren would delight us with their cuteness and their parents would complain about the thousand things parents of littles must do. And I would pretend to listen to them, while praying for just the chance to ever complain about those things.
And then, in the middle of my swirl of dread and sadness, my husband asked, “Do we have a flower for the cross tomorrow?” Nope. We sure didn’t. But now we had one more thing to worry about. One. More. Thing.
I walked outside to our yard that barely grew grass, because gardeners we are not. There by the front walkway, where I had planted and then forgotten about it two years earlier, was a single pink tulip. Not fully opened up, it stuck out of the ground like an awkward cowlick. I was a little amazed and impressed with its stubbornness. I decided to not decide until the next morning. If that dang tulip was opened up on Easter, I would pluck it and take it to the cross. If the tulip was not ready then the “daisy” in the yard would do just fine.
Easter morning started with the realization that we had forgotten something at our own church building, which meant stopping by there on the way to the community SUNRISE service down the road. Which meant we were in serious need of coffee and we had to do some NASCAR driving before dawn. We arrived at the sanctuary, Jake ran downstairs to get the thing, and I walked alone into a dark sanctuary at 6:00 am, awkward tulip in hand.
If you’ve never stood alone in a dark, empty sanctuary on Easter morning, you might not be prepared for all the feels. Every single one. And for the next five minutes, I had it out with God. I quietly wept and cursed and questioned. Things I didn’t even know were on my mind came out of my mouth. Then I decided that this moment was as good as any to stick this flower somewhere. I marched up to that cross, the chicken wire frame completely empty. I shoved that tulip in the middle of the cross.
I said Amen.
We went on with the rhythms of Easter morning, and later more flowers arrived with dear people. I honestly thought that someone would rearrange the blooms, maybe add a decorator’s touch. Maybe they did. But my one stubborn tulip remained in the center of that cross.
It is still one of my favorite liturgical symbols of all time.
Each year, I wonder about the flowers people bring. I know some folks choose the perfect bloom for their season of life. I know one friend quickly grabs the most unique lily she sees at the florist. One mom smiles when her kid brings a crusty, half-wilted daffodil to the car, knowing that thing will be smushed before they leave the driveway. I know one dear lady brought roses from the arrangement that her children gave her, on what would have been a fiftieth wedding anniversary.
This year, I’m going to ask people, tell me about your flower.
I want to know the story of what the blooms mean. I want to know if their flower came with tears or dread or loss. I want to know if it holds out some hope.
When I look at this collection of flowers that don’t match, I love how they still work as a beautiful bouquet. When I see cultivated roses next to wildflowers and yard weeds, I know there is gospel in that arrangement.
There’s no reason these flowers should be together, except that they were brought there by people who bring a lot of things with them on Easter. Quite a lot. There’s not much artistry to the arrangement, except that the shape that holds them all together is the cross. Isn’t that the point, anyway? The cross shaped collection of flowers tells the story of people who believe that things can bloom, after all. The shape that had meant death and sorrow gets made over into a gorgeous display of color and life and hope. Stubborn tulips and all.
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Deep waters, flames, and fears have come before. They will probably come again. But the narrative I want my child to have, and the narrative I hope to voice continually for myself and for my family is this: Fear doesn’t win. We are strong. And just in case we’re not brave enough, we will be brave for each other.