I cut dogwood limbs from the tree in the front yard. Knobby grey buds are still tight, not yet ready to open. Taking my distressed blue stool that my husband found discarded along the side of the road, I tuck it into a corner of the dining room. Pulling my earthenware pitcher down from the shelf, I place it on the stool. The dogwood limbs go into the jug, along with some water.
The branches are now ready to decorate. We’re getting ready for Easter.
I’d already downloaded Ann Voskamp’s An Easter Devotional: Trail to the Tree from her blog. I’d cut out all the reproductions of great master’s paintings and mounted them on some card stock. Then I’d punched holes and strung ribbon. Ornaments depicting the various scenes of the Passion were ready and waiting to be hung on the dogwood branches.
In the evening we read Scripture that pertains to the Passion and hang the corresponding “ornament” on the tree. My three-year-old boys look forward to examining the pictures and taking turns hanging the cards on the tree.
It’s our first time celebrating Lent.
I’d heard about Lent growing up but really didn’t know what it was. People abstained from eating sweets and such, I gathered. In college I noticed some people with ashes smeared on their foreheads. Oh yeah, I’d remember. Ash Wednesday.
Traditionally, the purpose of Lent is to prepare one’s heart for the celebration of the Resurrection through prayer, repentance, fasting, and other forms of self-denial. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter morning. It is usually forty days long, representing the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.
Although I did not grow up practicing Lent, in my family we had many wonderful Easter traditions. My mom made it memorable, fun, and purposeful. I never was under the impression that candy and bunny rabbits were the reason for Easter. We attended a Maunday Wednesday meal and service at church, a Good Friday service, as well as an Easter morning service. We were also often involved in cantatas or plays that corresponded to the season. However, as childhood and its trappings slipped away, I too often found myself surprised that Palm Sunday was upon me. That Easter morning had arrived and I’d not thought much about it. And I always regretted it.
I wasn’t looking to add a new “tradition” into my life or add to my to-do list by trying to abstain from chocolate for forty days. Nothing is wrong with that goal, but what I was looking for — really looking for — was tangible and thoughtful ways to remember. To make real the sacrifice that I celebrate on Easter morning: Christ’s bearing my sin, His death on the cross, and His resurrection.
Do This in Remembrance
That’s how I ended up cutting dogwood branches from our tree in the front yard. I’d discovered online that some other people were searching for the same thing as me. That despite the fact our individual churches might not “do Lent” I could do it on my own. I found resources that would help me concentrate on Jesus’ work on the cross for a specific season leading up to Easter.
But aren’t we supposed to do this everyday anyway? Isn’t that what being a Christian is all about? That Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again?
Yes it is. But we forget. At least I forget. I get caught up in what I should do instead of what Christ has done. I can study other very good things like prayer or how to be a good Christian parent. I can forget the essential. Christ’s work can become impersonal.
Like Communion, Lent functions as a tool of remembrance. It instigates reflection. It deepens my love for God. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said in 1 Corinthians 11:24. Just like pausing in a service to drink the cup and eat the bread I’m pausing in the midst of my year to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. I don’t have to do it the same way every year. One year, it may simply be a personal devotional, like the one Noel Piper wrote called Lenten Lights. Or it may mean hanging ornaments with the children on the bare branches of dogwood in the corner of my dining room.
Alive in Christ
Easter neared. We dyed eggs and found the Easter baskets and the fake grass. I bought Easter goodies and chocolate bunnies. And a beautiful thing happened. The weekend of Easter the dogwood branches came to life. The buds that had been tightly closed when I’d cut them now opened, wide and alive.
I hadn’t been purposeful in cutting dogwood tree limbs when I’d thought about creating an Easter Passion Tree. They’d just been low enough for me to cut. But what more perfect tree could I have picked, but a tree so full of Easter symbolism? I gazed at the creamy blush-white petals with brownish edges.
The four petals formed a cross. A living reminder of the fact that not only did Jesus die, but that He now is alive. And so am I. As Paul said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:8-11, ESV).
Lent was over. It was time to celebrate.
Resources for Remembering:
Lenten Lights a free devotional by Noel Piper.
Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper. This book has a chapter with ideas for celebrating Lent and Easter as a family.
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper. Fifty short readings on why Jesus came to die.
An Easter Devotional: Trail to the Tree by Ann Voskamp. Free to download online with resources to create your own “Easter Passion Tree.”
Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, edited by Nancy Guthrie. A collection of readings by various classic and contemporary authors centered on Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Article photo copyright © 2011 Danielle Jones. Used with permission.
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