Last night, after watching the televised celebration of the Easter Vigil from the Shine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, I found myself meditating (much later) on flowers. It began with a whimsical, ironic observation that the two huge globular floral arrangements in the worship space in that cavernous sanctuary oddly resembled the images of the new coronavirus glimpsed through electron microscopes. Only these spheres were studded with lilies. In the midst of death, we are in life.
For Americans, unless they are now well past a century mark, no one can remember a pandemic like the present health emergency. Not in this country. Smallpox, the Spanish ‘flu, tuberculosis, polio, even yearly recurrences of influenza seem almost insignificant by comparison. They were not, of course. This contagion is simply much, much more threatening to our generation. And frightening. Death truly stalks the land.
But Easter comes at an opportune moment in the national, indeed global emergency. Death is not the final chapter, not the ultimate conqueror. That is
the good news. The message we heard last night and today is simple and profound and, one might be tempted to think, too good to be true.
The reign of sin and death has been broken, the world has been redeemed, faith has triumphed over fear, doubt, and despair. Death is all too real, but not final. That is why Easter remains a feast of faith. Faith is not just belief; it is also trust — probably more trust than belief. Faith often goes untroubled until tragedy or suffering strikes someone directly and personally. Then faith as trust is revealed, a deeply personal commitment, an act of the will to rely on another, ultimately on the power of God to bring light from darkness, life out of death.
It is not always easy to trust in God, but it is most important to do so when it is hardest to do. Jesus trusted God to the end of his life, even in the darkest moments of betrayal and abandonment. He showed us the way. That way lies Resurrection and Life.
And that’s where the flowers entered. Each one is a little miracle. All together they are a stunning triumph of life, a sacrament of hope, and a repudiation of death. They developed on earth only when insects and other animals appeared that could see – and see in color. They are meant to be seen and smelled and loved. Floral gardens, but wild flowers too, perhaps especially, are the closest we can get to understanding the Court of Heaven. That may be why the Bible begins and ends in a garden. Jesus rose to new life in a garden. And “we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” [Rom. 6:9].
I was reminded in my musing of a passage in Nikos Kazantzakis’ great book, Report to Greco, where the narrator and his friend Angelos come across a flowering almond tree in the midst of a wintery landscape. Challenged, Angelos summons his gift of poetry and gives us this wonderful haiku:
I said to the almond tree,
“Sister, speak to me of God.”
And the almond tree blossomed.
So, as the angel and Jesus himself said to the faithful women on that first Easter morning, do not be afraid. And for at least a few minutes, forget about the Easter bunny, forget about chocolate eggs and brunch, and all the other peripheral decorations of the season and remember this when you see a flower in bloom: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. The world has been reborn in hope.