When I think of power, strength, sheer physical force, I think of an avalanche.
Tons of thundering snow come falling down the side of a steep mountain with the speed and irresistable force of a locomotive or freight train. In an instant an avalanche can sweep away everything in its path.
But there’s something even more powerful than an avalanche, and that’s a glacier. A glacier doesn’t move as fast as an avalanche. It can be slow, inching forward a few yards in the course of an entire year. But glaciers are enormous.
They can be a mile wide and hundreds of feet thick, a creeping river of ice that can move boulders like matchsticks and grind smaller rocks to powder fine as flour.
Avalanches and glaciers are powerful forces of nature. Very strong. Giants of the natural world. But there is something even stronger in nature. And that would be a flower.
I’m thinking of the Avalanche Lily and the Glacier Lily. Each spring as the snow begins to melt in the high mountains, these tiny flowers push their slender green stalks upward through the softening ice, through the wintry crust and into the warming sun. The Avalanche Lily has white flowers with a yellow center, and the Glacier Lily is all yellow. Neither is very big.
Compared to a glacier, they’re tiny. The flowers are just an inch or two in size. But the bud is inside a growing green stem that pierces right through the cold overlay of February and March and brightens into the promise of April and a brand new season.
Flowers themselves are newcomers on the Earth. For in the beginning, millions of years ago, there were no flowers. There were ferns. There were fungi. There were dull, mossy-colored plants that spread and reproduced by means of spores. But there were no orchids or azaleas, no blossoms of apple or peach or pear, no fields of grass or daisies or brightly colored wildflowers.
It was a monotonous world, not only dull in color but also dull in sense and feeling. For this was the age of dinosaurs, great hulking lizards who ruled the earth through brute force. They were giants of the animal kingdom, big and powerful, but dumb, like an avalanche or a glacier. They were no match for flowers, you understand.
For toward the end of the age of dinosaurs, about a hundred million years ago, something strange and very wonderful happened. Plants learned how to do a new thing. They learned how to reproduce through seeds.
Unlike the spores that preceded them, seeds were actually tiny organisms, embryonic but ready to grow, packaged like meals-to-go with a built-in store of nutrition. And that gave the world an entirely new source of edible and abundant energy—energy that could be converted into heat—that boosted the temperature of the four-legged and flying creatures up a notch, from cold-blooded to warm. Birds and mammals appeared, the limbic system that governs the emotions was laid over the old reptilian brain, and the inner landscape changed. Mothers began to feel a deepened bond with their children, and children clung with affection to the parents. Love appeared, and loyalty, and grief, tears and laughter, curiosity and play, all made possible by the blooming plants that had turned the earth into a botanical buffet of rare fragrances and sweet perfumes.
So with the invention of seeds came all of the birds that feed on seeds, the cardinals and the grosbeaks and finches. And the grass made grasslands and all the creatures that thrive on the grassland, horses and zebras and prairie dogs and antelope and deer. And plants learned how to produce fruit, and the fruit also provided meals for monkeys and chimpanzees and finally for you and me.
And it all started with the rise of the angiosperms, which is the name scientists give to flowers or plants that produce seeds and flowers and fruits. The Earth took on a whole new look. The ferns were crowded out by all the amazing diversity of life we see today, and the slow-moving dinosaurs gave way, replaced by creatures who were not only quick but also quick-witted, warm-blooded and warm-hearted, sensitive and tender, as bright and agile mentally as the flowers were brilliant in all their purples and yellows and blues and crimsons.
No wonder flowers are the symbol of springtime and hope. And no wonder lilies are symbols of Easter. For there have always been empires that established their rule through sheer raw power, kingdoms of this world based on military domination of their neighbors. The Roman empire was like that, its legions like glaciers that slowly crushed everyone who stood in their way. Their rulers were tyrant kings, like Tyrannosaurus. But they were no match for the power of one small man. No match for the purity and simplicity of his vision. Jesus spoke of the lilies of the field because he himself was like a flower. Almost effortlessly, the beauty of his words and deeds captured the hearts of people who listened and became his disciples. He said his kingdom was like a seed that could spread and grow, and that if we nurtured that seed of compassion inside ourselves it could become the greatest force on earth.
It was the simple truth. For there have always been regimes like the Romans. The Nazis were similar, their storm troopers icy cold and unyielding, their panzer divisions like lumbering giants clattering with fearsome armor into combat. They were ruled over by a despot, predatory and bloodthirsty as any Caesar or thunder lizard. But again, they were no match for flowers or the man who shared them.
Norbert Capek was a Unitarian minister who lived in the last century in the city of Prague. His home and his church were overrun by German soldiers in the years of World War II. He gave his life defying their cruel occupation. But before he died, he influenced thousands of people with the beauty of his words and ideals, including the Flower Ceremony that he originated, symbolizing the light and color and fragrance of many creeds, many cultures, and many races joining together in a bright, living bouquet.
The Nazis are now gone, but the Flower Ceremony continues to be celebrated in this congregation and hundreds of others around the world, a testament to the power of love to withstand hate and to the vision of a tolerant faith which sweeps the world, not by persecution or threats of violence, but by drawing people to its principles with the sweet scent of peace and freedom.
So the flowers we share this morning bring us the assurance that warmth and kindness can pierce through frost of cruelty and indifference, that mercy and decency will blossom, that goodness has deep roots and will prevail. What seems most fragile and perishable is most persistent and enduring. Sisterhood and brotherhood, justice and charity, will ultimately prevail.
This is the lesson of the lilies. And this is message of Easter.
I now ask our ushers now to bring forward the flowers and to place the vases on the chancel table, as we together read aloud the prayer that Reverend Capek shared at the very first Flower Celebration, No. 723
Take a moment now to contemplate your flower.
Notice it has a center, a focal point from which everything radiates.
Ask yourself, where your own center lies.
Flowers stretch up toward the life giving sun.
Ask yourself, toward what lofty aim does your own soul aspire?
Flowers have roots, hugging the earth.
Ask yourself, where do you draw your own strength and nourishment?
As we go forth this day,
May we grow in beauty,
In cheer and joy,
And share our gifts as freely as these pleasant flowers bloom