Many types of flowers are used in churches, but during Easter, there is one that is especially loved: the Easter Lily. It is a tall, stately flower topped by large, graceful, white trumpet-shaped blooms.
While commercial bulb production of Easter Lilies only began in the 19th century, Easter Lilies make many appearances in both the Old and New Testaments, emphasising the flower’s importance to Christianity. King Solomon spoke of them in the Song of Songs, which tradition tells us represents Jesus’ love for the Church:
Like a Lily among thorns is my Darling among the maidens. (Song of Solomon 2: 22)
Christ himself referenced them too:
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12: 27)
These strikingly beautiful flowers are highly perfumed, with the central stamens covered in bright yellow or orange pollen. Unfortunately, the pollen can be a hazard, as it can permanently stain cloth due to chemicals it contains! For this reason, good florists and especially church flower arrangers will remove all the stamens before bringing them anywhere near church fabrics, or near to where Priests wearing white might brush against them!
It’s thought that Easter Lilies came to symbolise Christ because they embody purity – the trumpet-shaped blooms recall the horns that heralded the resurrection of Christ. This is also why Lilies are identified with the Virgin Mary, and in artworks depicting the Annunciation to the Virgin they are often found in the angel Gabriel’s hand.
The second reason that Easter Lilies represent Christ is because of their life cycle. Each one grows from a bulb that for several years has lain quietly beneath the earth, before growing tall and stately, and blossoming into magnificent flowers. What a picture of Jesus’ life and resurrection!
Have a look around the church over Easter. Daffodils and Easter Lilies are often displayed, because they are the first flowers of Spring, when Nature is being reborn. Their life after the death of winter reminds us of the Resurrection, for we cannot imagine the death and the passion of Christ without having in mind the empty tomb, radiating hope. Christ’s death has no meaning without His Resurrection.
Revd Dr Jo White
The feature image of this post shows Easter Lilies at Cockshutt Church.