EASTER MEMORIES, TRADITIONS & LEGENDS

 

          Easter.  One of the most beautiful and majestic seasons of the year. One that proclaims the resurrection of Jesus and the pageantry surrounding the empty tomb in the garden.

          Long before the crosses appeared in church yards cloaked in purple, black and white cloth along with the crosses being adorned with flowers and palm branches by the congregations as they would enter and leave the church services, back in my early years services were much simpler to herald Christ’s awakening from the dead.  The Easter Sunday’s I remember as a child was one of the most anticipated events since Christmas.  We got to show off our new Easter clothes as we went to our Sunday school classes and later joined our parents as they vied for one of the best seats in the sanctuary to hear the music and sermons prepared for that Sunday. It went without saying that attendance at church on Easter Sunday beat most any other church service with the exception of the services held at Christmas.

          The alters at the various churches were banked with beautiful Easter Lilies and greenery; the choirs had been working for weeks preparing for the music to proclaim the importance of the pivotal point for the minister’s sermon, which he had been preparing for weeks. When the service had concluded it was time to visit with friends prior to enjoying a delicious Easter meal, whether at home or a local restaurant.

          One early significant memory stands ever clear in my mind.  After my sister and I had dressed in our new Easter attire, it was a tradition to go to our grandparent’s home on Edwards Street to have pictures made in the garden area of the house.  Within seconds after the photos had been taken, a bird flying overhead dropped a “gift” on my sister’s dress, which dampened the happiness of the occasion.  She was rushed inside to remove the unsightly blemish on her new dress and dry the tears which came readily over the spoiling of her pretty Easter garment.

          Looking back on those pictures made over fifty-plus years now, it brings to mind how simple the joys of Easter were back then in the days leading up to the Sunday church services.  We kids were not that interested in the reasons “Why” of Easter, we were more excited over the various Easter egg hunts and the visit of the Easter Bunny leaving us trays and platters full of stuffed bunnies & chickens along with chocolate covered candy eggs nestled on a bed of fake grass.  As we grew older, the Easter Bunny left us for a new generation of children to share his wealth with as we moved into learning and appreciating what the Easter season was really about.

          Two traditional stories long associated with the Easter season are the Easter lily and the Dogwood tree.  In our Sunday school classes we learned the cross upon which Jesus was crucified was hewn and constructed from the Dogwood tree.  In my young mind I could not understand how such a tall, heavy structure could have been made from a tree so bent, crooked and gnarled along with producing such a beautiful flower.

          Curiosity always leads to research and thanks to old issues of treasured Ideals Magazines, from the 1990 Easter issue comes the legend of the Dogwood Tree.

          “At the time of the crucifixion of Christ, the dogwood was tall and straight, the size of oaks and elms.  So strong was the wood it was selected to build the cross for Jesus.  The tree was appalled to be put to such use.  Jesus, sensing its distress, promised that nevermore should the dogwood grow large enough to be used for a cross.  He also promised to create for the dogwood a reminder of his death in the form of a flower: four blossoms shaped in the form of a white cross, with the stain at the outer edge of each petal, and in the center a tiny crown of thorns.

          Today, the little dogwood faithfully blooms at Eastertime, relaying to us an ancient reminder of the cycle of winter and spring, death and rebirth.

          That the dogwood’s wood is dense and hard is no legend.  It has historically been used in the building of golf clubs and for shuttles in knitting machines.  It has also been a favored wood for splitting logs and skewering meat for roasting on an open fire as the wood does not burn quickly.  The name dogwood is thought by some to be a corruption of “dagwood”, a Scandinavian word meaning meat skewer.”

          As with the legend of the Dogwood tree, I was curious to know the myths & origins of the Easter lily.  Again, Easter Ideals Magazine, circa 1955, proved helpful in giving the genesis of this beautiful, majestic flower, akin to a trumpet, extoling the glad news of Easter morning and the glory of the empty tomb.

          Grace Matthews Walker gives us the legend of what she called “The Easter Flower”: “Until the first Easter, the flower known today as the “Easter Lily” was naught but a small white flower, hanging so close to the ground that it scarcely could be seen.

          Folks wondered at the strange delicate perfume that often filled the air.  Little did they know it came from the tiny unseen flower.

          Because of a yearning to serve humanity and to share with the world its delicate perfume, it prayed to God to be allowed to become the most beautiful of white flowers.  But first it had a real service to perform to prove its worthiness.

          As it grew in great abundance in the Garden of Gethsemane, its fragrance blessed the Saviour as He knelt in prayer.

          In tender solicitude it nestled close to the cross at Calvary as the Saviour hung there.  Because of its sympathetic, understanding love the plant grew to its full height, and the tender white blossom looked up into the Saviour’s face.

          The purity of its face, the sweetness of its character, the meekness of its life were shared in mute understanding by the Man of Galilee.

          The strange celestial beauty of the tiny flower comforted the women at the cross.  To them it seemed to breathe the message of immortality.

          A tiny white bud smothering beneath the green leaves grew near the Saviour’s tomb.  For three days it struggled to lift its blossom up to the great stone that closed the opening to the sepulcher.  Weighted down with grief, its struggles seemed in vain.  Then at Easter dawn its prayer was answered!

          In the glory of the Resurrection, where’er the footsteps of  the Saviour pressed the tiny bud to earth, the Easter Lily sprang to birth!

          Today it is the symbol of purity; and as it breathes its sweet fragrance on the air, it breathes the story of the Resurrection to all mankind…..a story of immortality to all the world.

          It is as delightful to the eye as cool water to thirsty lips; as refreshing as the first warm day of spring; as radiant as the light from heaven; as pure and innocent as the Babe from Bethlehem.     

          In its presence, creeds like robes, are laid aside; and with the tragedy of the cross behind, we face the Easter dawn and the assurance of everlasting life.”

          While there are other concepts and theories as to how these two plants came to be associated with the Easter season, I like to think there is a lot more truth in these stories than other more scholarly ideas. After all, the Easter season IS about belief and hope of everlasting life.