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Exotic lillies, politics and empty tombs

Most authorities agree that a missionary, Mr. Roberts, first introduced the lovely Bermuda Easter lily, which so many of us enjoy today.

Many of the Easter lilies which symbolize the Resurrection in churches everywhere are Bermuda lilies. Thousands and thousands of lily bulbs and stems are exported from Bermuda each year. They were first introduced to Bermuda about 1850 when Mr. Roberts, whose ministry coincides with that date, was returning home from Japan. The lily is a native of Japan–the Ryukyu Islands to be exact, a chain of islands stretching from the south of Japan to Formosa. Mr. Roberts’ lily did very well when he transplanted it in Bermuda–the climate was perfect for its culture.

As the years went on, the missionary’s lily attracted flower lovers. In 1883, a New York hotel exhibited a cask of lilies with no less than 145 blooms on one stem. Some of the lilies took prizes at the horticulture exhibition in London that same year. General Russell Hastings, a retired Civil War veteran, was the first to export the lilies to the United States, also, by Mrs. Thomas P. Sargent, who was described as an amateur gardener. In 1903, nearly 3 million bulbs were exported from Bermuda.

Now people everywhere enjoy the beauty of the missionary’s lily, admiring its loveliness, and appreciating its symbolism of the Risen Lord!

I consider myself much less than an amateur gardener. I think professionals would say of my gardening skill, “He is just playing in the dirt!”

After each Easter service we give the lilies away to someone that is homebound or in a nursing home. One year we somehow missed one, and it stayed in the church for several weeks. I got the bright idea I would take what was left of the plant, and plant it outside by my office door. The ground was bare for close to a year, but during the week of Easter somehow those lilies show up in the yard. For the next few years they came up and surprised us. Understand I did nothing to help it. I never watered it, pruned it our breathed near it. Truthfully, I forgot it was there. Those lilies were a sign to me, after a long cold winter, they were like hope of something beautiful coming out of something barren was always possible. That is an important part of what Easter means to me, especially this year with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a hard year for many, and a harder year for others with isolation, financial challenges, sickness, and death. Hopefully, there is a brighter day ahead with the vaccine being released. More importantly, I hope there is a new spirit with Easter with a new hope being released.

In his last will and testament, George Washington clearly specified that he wished to be buried on the grounds of his beloved estate, Mount Vernon. When he died in December of 1799, his family carried out his wishes and his body was laid to rest in the only family plot. Less than two weeks after his death, Congress passed the following resolution: “Resolved, by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that a marble monument be erected by the United States, in the Capitol at the City of Washington, and that the family of George Washington be requested to permit his body to be deposited under it; and that the monument be so designated as to commemorate the great events of his military and political life.”

This was a difficult decision for Martha Washington. On the one hand, she wanted to honor her husband’s last wishes and allow his body to remain at Mt. Vernon. But, she also recalled that throughout their marriage she had always shared him with the country. Now, even after his death, she was aware that she was indeed expected to continue to do so. So, she reluctantly gave consent. The way was now cleared for Congress to act on the resolution. However, as construction on the Capitol Building was still in progress and the tomb could not be placed under the rotunda until its completion there was no alternative but allow Washington’s body to remain at Mount Vernon.

The Capitol was not finished until 1827, and five more years were to pass before Congress attempted to carry out the resolution of 1799. As Martha Washington had died in 1802, the members amended the original resolution on February 14, 1832, to provide that her remains might rest beside those of her illustrious husband in the Capitol Tomb.

It now became necessary for the lawmakers to petition the descendants of George and Martha to permit removal of both bodies from the plot at Mount Vernon. George Washington Parke Custis, a grandson of Martha Washington, readily gave his consent. However, the other remaining descendant, John Agustine Washington, a grandnephew of George Washington, adamantly refused to give his consent, causing a stalemate and forcing Congress to drop the entire matter. To this day, fate and circumstances having willed it so, the Capitol Tomb is still unoccupied … and more than likely, will remain so.

This reminds us of another “empty tomb.” On the first Easter Sunday almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ arose from the dead and “showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was indeed “a tomb without a body.” And that Empty Tomb still remains in Jerusalem as the enduring monument to the fact of Jesus Christ’s victory over Satan, sin and death!

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, bugles sounded cease fire across the battle lines of the first World War. Jubilation greeted the end of hostilities because many people thought it marked the end of all strife in the world. In the United States, the day became a national holiday (Armistice Day but changed to Veterans Day years later), when Americans pause to pay tribute to the quick and the dead who fought for freedom. Appropriately, France, where much of the war was waged, placed its Grave of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At one time the largest such structure in the world (162 feet high and 147 feet wide), the arch itself is a monument to fighting men. It commemorates the military victories of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s troops. One of the most popular attractions in the French capital, the arch stands in the center of circular Place de’Etoile, from which 12 boulevards radiate like spokes of a wheel.

The Empty Tomb forever stands as the monument of Jesus Christ’s victory over Satan, Sin and Death. That no matter how dark our days that hope still lives on in our hearts. God Bless, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or whatever you celebrate!

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