It was a warm spring day many years ago when I first heard the story of the Dogwood tree.
My Grandmother was standing at the woodline behind her home and she was so joyful that she had spotted a dogwood in the shadow of the tall long leaf pines. I remember walking over to where she stood to see what she was doing. We were there for Easter, having driven from Tampa, Fla., to spend Easter with the family.
Mammy, as we called her, was stroking the petals of the little tree and a tear was rolling down her face. I asked her why she was crying and she told me she was sharing the pain of the little tree. I didn’t understand and she saw the confusion on my face and smiled. She asked me if I had not been told the Legend of the Dogwood. I told her I didn’t think I had and she shook her head and told me to sit down.
Now, Mammy had been a teacher most of her life. She never missed an opportunity to teach us things she thought we should know. I took a seat on a big old tree that had been felled by a spring storm and she sat beside me. This is the Legend she recited to me.
At the time of Crucifixion the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used thus for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus nailed upon it, sensed this.
In His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering Jesus said to the tree:
“Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross — two long and two short petals. And in the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember.”
It did not take long for the forests of Dogwoods to begin withering and dying. They did not die completely, only becoming slender and bent and now the flowers came profusely, showing the story of the crucifixion in their petals.
I thought of this a few weeks ago as I noticed the dogwoods in bloom as we drove down Highway 151. The most beautiful of all were not the healthy ones that came from a nursery, well fed and tended. They looked taller and stronger than the real beauties, the ones that grew up wild in the woods of pine and oak, their limbs spindly and bent … the flowers are white, the nail marks marred by the rusty color of old blood and the crown of thorns at the center that speaks out to remind us, our Savior blessed you and and forgave you, just as he did the once majestic Dogwood tree.
Sometimes being brought low is not a punishment, but a reminder. Rejoice, because this is Maundy Thursday. Good Friday will be time enough to reflect on what was done to this gentle man, this son of God whom we call Jesus. Our tears may flow as we do the Stations of the Cross, but much joy will be shared on Easter Sunday.
He is Risen … and the Dogwood still blooms with the story.