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"Say It With Flowers"

By Jonathan Riedel,
Newaygo United Church of Christ

“Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to (Jesus’) tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared.” Luke 24:1 CEB

 For me, Easter is flowers.  Daises in a bowl.   Grape hyacinths arranged in a circle.  Tulips, red, yellow, and purple, exploding from their pots.   Mostly, my nose fills with the memory of lilies-white and dripping with mustard-colored pollen and half-sickly and half-inviting perfume.  I have been in sanctuaries where the flowers almost burst from the confines of the chancel.  Their vases line the wood of the altars, spill under the altar rails, and settle around the wood of the pulpit and the lectern.  Many Easter Sundays, I have been surrounded by flowers as I preach.   I suspect at times, they have more to announce about the Resurrection than I do.  The people who have purchased them, usually in memory or honor of someone they love, have indeed said it with flowers.  But what exactly are they saying?

I think people have always met death with flowers and fragrant spices.  Both stave off the smell of decay.  Both have been used to preserve bodies, particularly in the hands of the ancient Egyptians.  Both hold enough beauty to stem the tide of grief and to offer some tribute to the one we love.  Finally, both are something easy to carry to the cemetery.  We need to take something there, something to fill the space left in the absence of the one we love.

So the women went to Jesus’ tomb with flowers and pungent spices.  They went after the Sabbath’s rest to do what should have been done before the Sabbath arrived.  To prepare his body for the grave.  To ready it for whatever journeys lay ahead.  To clean up, with their perfume, what the bloody ways of the Crucifixion had made so unclean, so brutally dirty.   These women did this because they loved Jesus.  They knew they were left to this ugly, yet purifying work because their culture left the dirty work to women.  It was a necessary custom, the last gift a close society could offer one is its own who had died, yet it was something most people shied away from.  Best to leave it to someone who was used to messy things.  So they went at daylight to honor their friends, who had been so dishonored by the powers that be in their world.  It was not a pretty world that Sunday, torn by Roman conquest, intertribal bickering among their fellow Jews, and abandonment by all the other disciples who claimed to love this man.   But maybe these three could say something redeeming with the flowers and the spices clutched in their hands. Something redeeming did happen (Christ was not there-he had gone to be back among the living) and their flowers laid scattered in surprise on the ground.

Flowers and spices may indeed have something redeeming to say simply by being what they are.  Flowers are the birthplace of seeds and many spices are ground up seeds.  Seeds are, of course, potential new plants.  All of these are signs of new life.  New green.  New leaves.  New flowers.  New seeds.  And new life begins all over again.

Unknowingly, those women started a tradition.  As they carried their spices to Jesus’ tomb, we carry our perfumed flowers to where we find Jesus.  We will all discover the same thing though: an empty tomb where we expected a body.  Resurrection where we expected death.  New hope, new possibilities, new spirit where we expected stale habits, faded dreams, nothing new under the sun.  Maybe our flowers are a sign of our faith in Jesus’ rising from the dead.  Now the challenge for us is to let the whole of our lives declare what we believe as well as the flowers we carry do.  Indeed let us say all of this with flowers but let us also say it with so much more.







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