Published in the Rains County Leader on March 27, 2018:
Like any other holiday, there are tell-tale signs that Easter is almost here. The earliest ones are commercial – the Cadbury Bunny begins his annual television campaign, and the stores have special shelves dedicated to all things egg related. The shop windows change their displays from boots and sweaters to sandals and flowered dresses with graceful lines, and spiral cut hams and asparagus are on sale in the weekly grocery ads.
There are literal signs, too, as churches post notices and run newspaper ads announcing Easter egg hunts, Good Friday Services, and Sunrise Services. The flowers inside the churches are changed from Winter’s subtle colors to the brilliant hues of Spring, and the sanctuary banners depict the crucifixion and the empty tomb.
My favorite signs, though, are the ones in nature. When the redbuds and the pear trees blossom and the other trees take on the faint green tinge of new leaves, I know the Easter season is not far away. But the bloom I look forward to the most is the dogwood tree. I had never paid any attention to these beautiful white flowers until we moved to Emory and I discovered that we had several dogwoods along the bank of the creek at the back of our property. I didn’t know what they were at first. They just looked like a scrawny vine twisted among the more attractive trees. When they bloomed, I took a picture with my phone and asked at the Senior Center what they were. My friends are used to my questions about one plant or another. It just confirms that I’m still a city girl at heart. Anyway, that’s when I learned what a dogwood tree looks like, and that’s when I first heard about the legend.
No one seems to know for sure, but the legend of the dogwood seems to have sprung up from an anonymous poem that claims the tree was once large, stately, and beautiful – until the cross on which Jesus died was made of dogwood. After that, Jesus promised that the tree would never again grow big enough to be used in that way and that blood stains would mark the petals as a reminder of His suffering. The legend is unlikely since dogwoods apparently don’t grow in Israel, and the tree is never mentioned in the Bible. Still, since it always seems to blossom just before Easter, the dogwood does serve as a reminder of the reason behind the holiday.
I found out about another prophetic tree when we lived in Florida. Until we left Texas for a while, I had never spent much time around pine trees, but we were surrounded by them in the Sunshine State. That was the first time I realized that the new Spring growth on the trees appears in the form of tiny crosses at the tip of each branch. These crosses seem to be another sign of Easter, showing up every year just in time for Resurrection Sunday.
It may be a stretch to say that dogwood and pine trees know when Easter is near and put out their flowers and new growth as signs to remind us. Then again, the Psalmist seems to believe such a thing might be possible.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Psalm 96:12
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