Victory Blooms Over Death

By Lori Arnold — 25 March 2024

"Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolishness to us — a crucified God — must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world."

― Pastor and Author John Piper, "Don't Waste Your Life"

One of my fondest childhood memories of Easter was attending worship services at the Methodist Church in my Southern California neighborhood. Because it was spring and the sun was still sitting low in the morning sky, beams of light streamed through the stained glass windows casting a kaleidoscope of majestic colors throughout the sanctuary. The choir sang bold anthems as the pipe organ reverberated with a force that caused the pews to hum.

The sermon centered on a message of redemption, the core doctrine of the Christian faith. But the best part for me, came after the service ended when everyone congregated in the open courtyard where a large, barren cross stood sentry. Barren except for a strange accessory, empty chicken wire wrapped around the wood.

"When the activity ceased, the cross was abloom in new life — a living testimony of victory over death."

Within minutes the wood and wire were transformed as hundreds of hands slipped bright spring flowers into the loops of the wire: daffodils, iris, hydrangea, roses, daisies, carnations, lilies and more. When the activity ceased, the cross was abloom with new life — a living testimony of victory over death.

The tradition of flowering the cross has been around for centuries but is not routinely practiced in evangelical churches, which have often shed themselves of some of the more liturgical practices found in Catholic, Episcopal and other mainline Protestant churches such as Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian.

Dennis Bratcher, who holds a Ph.D. in biblical studies, writes this about the Easter tradition on The Free Dictionary website: "The flowering of the cross represents the transition from Good Friday to Easter, from meditation on Jesus' death to joyful celebration of his resurrection. The ceremony transforms a barren cross, a reminder of Jesus' death, into an Easter symbol. Covered with fresh, living flowers, the cross serves not only as an emblem of Jesus' resurrection but also of the continuing presence of Christ among today's Christians."

The Anglican website Full Homely Divinity notes that the flowering cross was found in Christian art as early as the sixth century and "is based on a legend that says that the cross itself burst into bloom at the moment that Jesus died."

With so many different denominations, it is not surprising that the cross — the most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith—would invite so many variations.

The most distinct differences are between the cross with Christ on it, which emphasizes the suffering for sin of the crucifixion, and the empty cross, celebrating the victory over death through the resurrection.

"As Americans gather to celebrate Easter, many through a diverse lens of tradition, may we never forget the essentials of the cross ..."

"Thanks to a national Easter Bag campaign — a joint effort between Cru Inner City staff members, partner ministries and volunteers — we will reach thousands of children and their parents with the message of the cross and Christ's suffering for our redemption.

This year, as Americans gather to celebrate Easter, many honoring diverse traditions, may we never forget the essentials of the cross, both the barren (the defeat of sin and death) and the flowering (the celebration of the resurrection and eternal life).

As we do so, let's not forget the insightful words of preacher/evangelist John R.W. Stott: "Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us."

Photo at top by Avondale Pattillo UMC, Decatur, Georgia / Flickr.

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Lori ArnoldLori Arnold serves as the senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.



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