Great speech by conservative, Southern Baptist mom of a trans kid
We Are the Church Alive

The Flowered Cross

Post number thirty in this series on the hymns I've sung during my life.

Joey placing flowers

At Royal Lane Baptist Church we didn't hold an Easter Sunrise Service.  Instead, we gathered at 8 a.m. on the front lawn of the church for a service of flowering the cross (except for that year it rained, we met inside for the service part).  Following the service we had breakfast and then Sunday school and worship.

During Lent this cross would be placed on the front lawn, visible to the thousands who drove along Royal Lane every day.  On Palm Sunday, we would process at the end of worship and cover it with our palms.  On Good Friday it was draped in black.  On Easter Sunday it was covered in flowers.  

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain;
Wheat that in dark earth for many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that rises green.

In my childhood Easter worship had not connected us to Easter or resurrection as on-going aspects of our lives.  The churches I served in as an adult, however, drew these connections, as did the hymns that we sang.  In the early-Aughts I would say "The conservatives  were so concerned with defending the historicity of the resurrection that they never taught me what it meant.  I learned what it meant from the liberals."

Important to the Royal Lane Flowering of the Cross service were the testimonies of church members who shared their own experiences of resurrection, of how they came back from an illness that almost killed them or found new life after a difficult time.

In the bulb there is a flower; 
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there's a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season
something God alone can see.

The third verse of this hymn begins with "In our end is our beginning," a lyric that connected with a book I read in 2004, Jurgen Moltmann's In the End--The Beginning, The Life of Faith.  In it he calls Christians the "eternal beginners" and writes that every moment there are an infinite number of possible futures. This book was quite helpful to me in my own depression that year following a break-up.  And that concept became central to my preaching and pastoral care.

A hymn that I enjoy but that I've rarely sung is "Lord of the Dance" set to the same Shaker tune as "Simple Gifts."  It approaches the death and resurrection with an almost comic spirit while using the vivid language common in folk traditions ("they whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high").  The fourth verse ends with the burial of Jesus and then this defiant statement "I am the Dance and I still go on."  Though it is not, it reminds me of James Weldon Johnson's poems "God's Trombones."  Here is the fifth verse:

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that'll never, never die;
I'll live in you if you'll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I'll lead you all wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

It was at Cathedral of Hope--Oklahoma City that my resurrection theology fully developed.  That is the subject of a future post in this series.


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