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  • Rev. Dr. Anthony Hutchinson

Dogwood Cross

Today is Wednesday of Holy Week, otherwise called “Silent Wednesday” (because none of the four gospels records any activity of Christ on this day), or “Spy Wednesday” (because this was the day that Judas betrayed Jesus by secretly making an agreement with the authorities to turn him over). It is the day before the Thursday of the Last Supper, Maundy Thursday, and the three day ritual of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. This week we think much of the cross—the sufferings and death of our Lord, the empty cross and empty tomb at his resurrection, and Jesus’ call to us to follow him by taking up the cross. We think a lot about prophecy and fulfillment, in particular how the prophets’ visions of a suffering servant are blended with those of the ideal king of the future, the Messiah. One lesser known image in all this is found in some preachers’ ahistorical claims that the cross was made of several woods: a combination of cedar, pine and cypress. This speculation was prompted by Isaiah’s prophecy that “The glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the cedar, fir, and cypress trees, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious” (Isa 60:13).

The trees in Ashland are, or are about to be, in full bloom. And this brought back to me a memory from when I lived in Washington DC. The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin and Jefferson and Lincoln memorials are not the only blossoming trees there this time of year: more common are the dogwoods. A colleague who grew up in West Virginia told me of the story of why people from Appalachia believe that the cross of Christ was made of the dogwood that so completely covers much of Virginia and Maryland.

They point to the four-petaled flower of the dogwood and see the cross of Jesus. They see in its center’s pistils the nails of the cross. They see in its berries the blood of Christ. They explain the dogwood’s delicate and small trunk and branches by saying that the tree was once great, the strongest of the forest, but that after Christ had been crucified on its wood, Jesus had cursed its strength and blessed it instead with delicate beauty.

Of whatever wood the cross was made, the material of the cross is not as important as the One whom it bore and why it bore him: “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

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