Monday, April 13, 2009


A few housemates and I were sitting around the dinner table on Good Friday.  It seemed to be “ask the medievalist” ( or “ask the Christian”?) time, so I found myself explaining the meaning of Holy Week.  I explained that we don’t actually know when the crucifixion and resurrection took place, but that this was the week in which the church has chosen to remember them.   There’s no reason to doubt that the time in which Easter is celebrated is connected to some kind of ancient pagan spring festival.  The pagan connection is one major reason that Quakers have historically chosen not to recognize conventional holy days.

And yet, the Easter-Spring connection really speaks to me.  I grew up in a tiny ethnic Presbyterian church, almost exclusively Japanese-American (plus a few Chinese-, Korean-, and Euro-Americans sprinkled in via marriage, and my own Creole/Choctaw mother, also there via marriage).  Our church building was humble, and my childhood experience of the space was shaped by dark wood and ancient forest-green carpeting.  In the back of the sanctuary hung a banner featuring the Japanese character for “grace,” executed decades ago by the best calligraphist our congregation could produce.  In the front, a pulpit, a brass cross, a little electric organ, and a few pieces of raku pottery for serving communion.  Simple, intimate, and maybe even a little rough-hewn.  But every year, come Easter, I remember a very distinct explosion.

In the yard outside the sanctuary, surrounded by quivering Chinese elms and a black metal fence keeping us children from traipsing into the street, the ladies would be putting the finishing touches on a huge wooden cross covered entirely with flowers.  Before the start of service, this cross would take center stage amid a veritable Tabernacle Choir of radiant potted lilies.  The sanctuary seemed to be overflowing, bursting at the seams with flowers.  Even the congregation would be flowery in pastels and floral prints.  My dad had a floral tie.

To me, Easter and flowers are very strongly connected.  I find this good.  It reminds me that Easter isn't only about a resurrection that took place two millenia ago.  Rather, it commemorates the resurrections that occur daily, every moment.  The world is constantly recycling and renewing itself;  in fact, resurrection is the very way God works.  Yes, Christ came back from the dead.  But so does everything else.

Every year, I go up to Northern California to visit the redwoods.  Standing thickly together, they give the impression of silent strength, timelessness, and eternity.  But sooner or later, these ancient behemoths fall.  When they do, however, they don't just lie on the earth dead, dry, and drained of sap.  In nature, God doesn't waste a single thing.  Soon, mosses and lichens spread out over the valleyed bark.  Tiny spores send out translucent green lobes that bloom into ferns.  Seeds arrive mysteriously, sprout, and branch upwards:  huckleberry, bay laurel, poison oak.  In the moist and verdant redwood forests, death seems nonexistent;  there is no time or place for the dead because new life immediately takes over.

It is the same with human death.  After the heart stops pumping human life through the body, the body begins its transformation into moist, nourishing soil.  This soil is soon penetrated by the tender roots of plants.  Who knows?  Perhaps a fallen, moss-covered redwood tree may once have been nourished by human soil.  When you take a step back from it all, these transformations really have nothing to do with death.  This is encouraging, because we humans sure have a knack for causing death.  The lesson of Easter is that nothing stops at death, because God resurrects.  Redwoods erupt in ferns.  Human mortality erupts in flowers.  Emotional wounds heal.  Blighted neighborhoods discover community.  Estranged friends are reconciled.  People begin to sow love and light and life.  

I recently passed by a wide expanse of concrete, and discovered in a crack at its edge two tiny purple flowers springing from two tiny tufts of green.  My friend knows of an abandoned, overgrown orchard in the mountains near her home that provides her with stone fruit in the summer.  Everyday resurrections.  To me, Christ's resurrection wasn't a miracle but a revelation.  It revealed what was really a very simple fact of the universe:  God works through resurrection.  And now the challenge of Easter is, can we work through resurrection too?

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