As Easter approaches I’ve been thinking a great deal about the traditions surrounding my faith. Growing up my sister and I always awoke on Easter morning to a large Easter basket filled with goodies. We would spend time going thru the items the Easter Bunny left and then we would move on to the Easter Egg Hunt. We would spend hours searching for brightly colored plastic eggs filled with candy and money. My father would hide, and then re-hide, the eggs dozens of times. Sometimes he would hide the eggs high in the blooms of the dogwood trees (well “high” to our 6 year old minds) in our backyard. This was his version of a wild goose chase. After all everyone knows the next round of the hunt can’t begin until ALL the eggs from previous round has been found, right?
Later in the day my family would gather for Easter dinner. There were no Easter Church services for us…just food and money. (Believe me the symbolism of my childhood Easters is not lost on me – food and money, hmm.)
As an adult sitting in my North Carolina office I’m struck by the realization that, while I have incredibly fond memories of Easter treats and fellowship, I have few Easter memories that relate to Christ.
As this thought races thru my mind as fast as Peter Cottontail himself, my eyes are drawn out my office window to the beautiful white-tipped tree in my front yard. It’s a dogwood, North Carolina’s state flower.
Having grown up in the tar-heel state I am very familiar with the story of the dogwood tree; after all, it grows abundantly in NC. While versions of the story vary, any self-respecting North Carolinian will tell you the dogwood tree was used to make the cross on which Jesus was nailed.
God no longer allows the dogwood tree to grow tall. It’s branches now grow low to the grown. The beautiful white flowers that cover the dogwood tree are stained brown for the blood spilled by Jesus and in the center of each flower a delicate crown of thorns can be found.In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew To a stately size and a lovely hue. ‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven. For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen. Seeing the distress at this use of their wood Christ made a promise which still holds good: “Never again shall the dogwood grow Large enough to be used so. Slender and twisted, it shall be With blossoms like the cross for all to see. As blood stains the petals marked in brown, The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown. All who see it will remember Me Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree. Cherished and protected, this tree shall be A reminder to all of My agony.” -Author Unknown
On July 27, 1940 Bugs Bunny made his on-screen debut. On November 5, 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected a third time and on December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a military air strike on U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor. Around this time the fight to make the dogwood the state flower of North Carolina was in full swing.
Ok, ok….. I know the dogwood tree is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. I’ve also read the dogwood tree does not naturally grow in Israel and I realize how foolish the time line sounds. The world is in flames and North Carolinian’s elected officials are struggling to elect a state flower? (Well, maybe struggling is a strong word.) My first instinct is to shake my head in disgust. Didn’t they have anything better to do? Shouldn’t they have been Rosie-Rivetting something?
But I know God is in the small, quiet things. The world was at war and yet on March 15, 1941, unnoticed by most, this delicate little flower that symbolizes so much, becomes the reigning queen of North Carolina flora (beating our the every popular daisy as well as the flame azalea.)
Now, as I see it, this all probably went down in one of two ways.
#1: Being in the slap-dab-middle of the Bible belt maybe those rooting for the dogwood to win knew of its mythical message of remembrance and hoped the dogwood would serve as a small blessing to those in sorrow and need.
#2: There were so many beautiful dogwood trees in North Carolina that it won because of its sheer abundance.
I guess we’ll never know how it came to pass (my bet is on door #1.) Wars have come and gone since then. What remains is that there are still those in the world who seek to do us harm. What remains is that our lives are still busy (busier than ever) and we continue to rush by the beautiful white blossoms, barely giving them a moment’s notice. What remains is that now, and always, God is in the details that often go unnoticed.
In truth most people in the United States have probably never heard of a dogwood tree. They don’t know of its legend. And while I don’t have any specific religious memories of my childhood Easters the blooming April dogwoods served as a reminder to me then, and now, of the love and sacrifice that surrounds Easter. At the root of all Easter dinners…all Easter baskets and bonnets is a story of redemption and salvation.