Continuing with our series about funeral flowers, Celebrant Steve looks at the history and symbolism of the Easter Lily as Christians across the world prepare to embark upon a week-long observance of Holy Week and Easter.
Easter, also called Pascha, is a festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Many believe this to mean that Jesus was, in some sense, resuscitated and brought back from the dead. In contrast, the concept of resurrection has a much deeper meaning and significance than this. In short, resurrection is an instance of coming back into use or importance. It represents the nature of life – a never-ending cycle of beginnings and endings and new opportunities. Even Buddha stated that “no matter how hard the past is, you can always begin again,” and he uttered this in the belief that we can do so more substantially because of the lessons of the past.
The whole concept of resurrection can be seen in nature, too, in themetamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, a waterbug to a dragonfly, and even in the transformation of winter to spring.
Scripture suggests that Jesus’ earthly life came to an end in crisis and destruction, but his life nevertheless continued to be seen, heard and felt amongst his followers in new and transformative ways.
Easter lilies adorn many church buildings at this time of the year, symbolising the spiritual significance of the resurrection. They have long held an important place in history because of their aroma, grace and beauty.
From ancient Crete to the local florist, many regard the lily as “the pure flower.” In Greek mythology, the tale of lilies grew from the milk of Hera, wife of Zeus. In Roman mythology, the goddess Venus was so envious of its beauty that she placed a pistol sprout from its centre. Many cultures see lilies as symbols of virtue and innocence.
And so, it is perhaps unsurprising that the lily is the flower most commonly associated with funerals. They represent the person who has died returning to a place of peace, thereby living among us but in new and liberating ways. They symbolise rebirth, new beginnings and hope. They are such a beautiful, meaningful flower.
Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly
My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground,
Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily
Soft-scented in the air for yards around;
Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf!
Just like a fragile bell of silver rime,
It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief
In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;
And many thought it was a sacred sign,
And some called it the resurrection flower;
And I, a pagan, worshipped at its shrine,
Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.
– Claude McKay’s ‘The Easter Flower’
So, when you see the white Easter lily at a funeral, you will now have a perfect conversation starter.
A florist’s skill in cutting and conditioning lilies for flower arrangments is critical. They are not easy flowers to work with, making them even more special.
“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these”
– Luke 12:27
We will be looking a the work of some local florists and their contribution to the funeral tradition in the rest of the series.