Flowering the Cross

We had risen early, while it was still dark. The morning was wet, a light rain having washed our world here in Northern California, but as the the night became day, the sun burned through in fleeting patches. Gray cumulus clouds waited nearby, as though offstage.  I had cut flowers and put them in a glass of water, and this morning I gathered them into a bunch, wrapped the stems in wet paper toweling and inserted this moist bundle into a plastic bag, slipped a rubber band around it to hold it securely, and set the colorful bouquet of red and pink and blue and yellow and green into a wicker basket.

We headed for church, to be early, to be ready.

As always on these high holy days I was expectant. No two Easters are ever alike. I wondered what this morning would bring, what drama would unfold. Who would come to worship, who would fill the pews, what miraculous words would our preacher preach from the central aisle, his eyes on fire with God? I wondered expectantly about the simple and extraordinary communion of bread and wine, each time unique but the same. Would this Easter be different from other times that I had knelt in the pew watching the angels dance about the altar? And then, when I was filled with God, would I know joy or peace or both? And last, I wondered, as we drove into the parking lot, which children would be there to help me place the flowers into the deep holes in the white Easter cross? Which children would have other family obligations in another church, another community and not make it to ours?

And so, as the morning passed, and the children bounced into the Sunday School with their Easter dresses and jackets and ties, I marveled, watching from some sweet place in my heart the drama unfold. There were visiting children, children from the past who we had not seen recently, and then we had our regulars as well. The children formed their own bouquet of color as they joined the teachers to place their flowers in baskets to carry up the aisle.

I waited with the children in the narthex for the right moment, our baskets clutched in our fingers. After the people proclaimed the Creed, we opened wide the doors into the nave. The acolytes had brought the barren cross to the head of the red-carpeted aisle where the steps to the altar began, and as the organ played the first notes of Hymn 94, Come ye faithful raise the strain of triumphant gladness… and the congregation began the first verse, the children, the teachers, and a few moms with babies processed to the cross. The deep holes were slowly filled, the young ones lifted up, the older ones choosing carefully where and how, absorbed in the task. Soon splotches of red, pink, yellow, and green covered the white wood, Our Lord’s wood. He had said, let them come to me, and we did. We let them come.

Later, after Scripture, Song, and Sacrament, we gathered in the courtyard. The cross, many-colored like an Impressionist painting or a stained glass window or even Joseph’s coat, was carried outside to the porch, and the sun suddenly appeared, burning in a blaze of glory. Our king was among us indeed, weaving among his people as they greeted one another, “Christ is risen,” and “He is risen indeed!”

I recalled all of these wondrous happenings this afternoon from my kitchen sink as I cut up fruit for the fruit salad, set out the ham, and prepared the salmon steaks for baking in their bed of pearl onions. We had spruced up the house a bit – new doormats, new doorbell (hadn’t been ringing in years), fresh pots of flowers in the back yard. I had set the table on Saturday with its white damask cloth, silver, and goblets. White roses in a small vase were placed in the center. My santon of Mary Magdalene stood next to a lamb and two sheep amid some greenery. Four white tapers waited to be lit by the youngest grandchild coming that day, eleven going on sixteen.

Mary Magdalene was in the back of my mind today as I wondered expectantly through the minutes and hours, for she was the one who came to the tomb while it was still dark that first Easter, that Sunday two thousand years ago. She was the one who first saw the risen Lord in the garden. She was the one who was open, expectant. “They have taken my Lord and I do not know what they have done with him.” Those words wring my heart year after year. And then, his response, “Mary,” opens it.

She was on my mind as well because my novel, The Magdalene Mystery, fortuitously is on its way to publication this Eastertide. So I had much to be thankful for during this Easter Eucharist, the chief thanksgiving sacrament of the Church. On Maundy Thursday we had celebrated this thanksgiving sacrament, recalling Christ’s last supper with the apostles, the future bishops of his Church, His Body. This, we remembered, was the night in which he was betrayed, and this was the night he took bread and wine, saying, this is my body and this is my blood. This was the night he did not drink of the fourth ritual Seder cup, for he himself would be that cup on Good Friday. He would complete the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. He would become our exodus from this world to eternal life, the paradise promised us.

So this afternoon when the doorbell didn’t ring, but instead I heard happy greetings outside, I rushed to see. My husband had gone out to meet our guests, and was already ushering them in through the open front door. The younger grandchildren stepped inside, so serious, so mature now at eleven and fourteen, followed by an older granddaughter with a serious suitor, then our son and daughter-in-law and her parents. They carried pies and promising gifts of chocolate.

We gathered these flowers of our family and arranged them around the white damask table now bright with burning candles. I watched and listened to the giddy chatter and the sober discussions weaving among us. I toasted family, friends, resurrection.

The sky had grown dark, and night was falling upon us. A silent, gentle rain was watering the earth. I recalled the bright flowered cross standing on the church porch in the blazing sun, the clouds parting. I was thankful that my cross, where my heart lived, was a flowery one, full of new life.

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