Easter Lilies are one of the fragrant delights of Easter, and I had the privilege of delivering a few to shut-ins as gifts from St. Paul’s UCC on Easter Sunday. Below is a photo of me getting ready to carry one from the car to a home in the time of COVID19.
I also brought one home that I purchased in memory of my parents, to adorn our sanctuary on Easter morning, and the fragrance brought back a memory of funeral homes, of all things. I was transported back to funeral parlors near Pittsburgh, PA. Back in those days, visiting hours were more like two to three days prior to the burial. In hindsight, that must have been incredibly difficult on grieving families.
That got me to wondering exactly how lilies got associated with Easter, which led me to Google.
After extensive, scholarly research, I learned that there are several theories about their Christian symbolism. Many works of art feature the angel Gabriel handing Mary, the mother of Jesus, white lilies to symbolize her purity. Easter lilies are sometimes referred to as “white robed apostles of hope,” since their color symbolizes the purity of Christ, who was free from sin. In this particular time in our world, we need both purity in the form of frequent handwashing as well as hope, not only forgiveness, but also about protection from viruses!
Lilies are mentioned in the Bible, (check out Song of Solomon in chapters 2, 5, and 7; 1 Kings 7:19-22, Hosea 14:5) perhaps most memorably in Jesus’ teaching about worry and anxiety, in Matthew 6:28 and Luke 12:27. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” That’s pretty good advice – especially now!
The trumpet shape of the Easter lily might represent a trumpet sounding the message that Jesus has risen. Although that isn’t mentioned in the Bible, there is nothing more moving than the sound of trumpets accompanying the hymns of Easter. I think we are all looking forward to the day when our social isolation is over, business and schools reopen, and we can hug our grandchildren! That will feel like resurrection!
If you’ve ever planted bulbs, you know that many of them are rather ugly. They lie buried in the ground for a period of time (as long as three years for Easter lilies) before they burst forth as beautiful, aromatic flowers. Some things require patience, a good lesson for these days. They are reminders not only of death but also resurrection, right in our gardens.
There is one tradition that white lilies sprouted in the Garden of Eden where Eve’s remorseful tears fell to the ground. Another tradition holds that Easter lilies grew where Jesus’ blood and tears fell from the cross, and that lilies were found in the Garden of Gethsemane after the crucifixion. I take comfort in imagining that the tears shed during this time, especially for those who have suffered, died, or lost loved ones can lead to healing.
Every time I catch the scent of the Easter lily in our dining room, I am going to breathe in these lessons about forgiveness, purity, hope, and healing. Maybe you can as well. ~ Anne