Flower of the field and Lily of the Valley
There are not many references to flowers in the words of Scripture, but the ones that are present have been a source of meditation, prayers, and hymns from ancient times until the present day. One scripture passage with reference to flowers is taken from the Old Testament book, the Song of Songs. King Solomon (ruled 961-922 B.C.) wrote this poem. Marriage is the theme of the Song of Songs and traditionally Christians have associated this as the union between Christ and His Church. As we read in Song of Songs Chapter 2:1-2 “I am a flower of Sharon, a lily of the valley. As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among women.” The flower of Sharon or in some biblical translations, the Rose of Sharon, refers to the finest, fullest flower. Jesus is the King of flowers, the red rose.
A lily of the valley, as we know the flower to be today, has a short tender stem from which burst forth white bell-shaped blossoms that are cast downward and are remarkably sweet scented. The physical appearance of the lily of the valley has been likened to the virtues of Christ. The whiteness of the blossoms corresponds to His sinless purity. Lily of the Valley blossoms cascade toward the ground and mirror the virtue of humility in which the Savior offered His life in crucifixion to redeem us from our sins. Downcast lily bells remind us of how Jesus bowed His head and died. The sweet fragrance emanating from the blossoms evokes the joy we have in knowing He opened up the Kingdom of Heaven affording us the sweetness of eternal life.
The passage…as a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among women… alludes to Christ and His love for the Church. The Church is a beautiful lily presented to God among all the religious disciplines the world has to offer.
The red of the rose and the white of the lily represent many important symbols of Christ and our Church. Most notably, they symbolize the body and blood of Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass. The blood (red) and water (white) that gushed forth from Christ when the Roman soldier plunged his spear into His crucified body symbolize the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist that ushered forth His Church. We have confirmation of this from the words Jesus told Saint Faustina about His Divine Mercy image. He said, “The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous (baptism). The red ray stands for the Blood (Eucharist) which is the life of souls.”
The bedridden Sister, Blessed Anne Emmerich (September 8, 1774- February 9, 1824) was gifted with the ability to watch the events of bible history shown as movies in her mind long before the technology of cinema was in existence. From the early age of six and until her death at the age of 49, she witnessed the major events of the Old Testament and the Gospel given in such detail that she was familiar with the scenery, the terrain and the plants in biblical times. A German poet, Clemens Brentano, heard of Anne’s gift and stayed at her bedside and wrote down all her descriptions and details of her biblical revelations available to us as The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations. Sister Emmerich saw the Patriarchs and prophets and descendants of Jesus show special significance for the colors red and white.
Blessed Anne witnessed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. She described seeing red and white roses in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is the Lily and the Rose, the body and blood of the Eucharist.
The Old Testament prophetic writer, Isaiah, used a flower to symbolically prophesy the incarnation and birth of Jesus into the world eight centuries before His birth. We read in Isaiah 11:1, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” Jesse was the father of David and as we know, Jesus (flower) was descended from the house and lineage of David.
The German mystic and nun, Blessed Anne Katherine Emmerich had a vision regarding the fulfillment of the Isaiah 11:1 prophecy. At the time when the young Mary was to be espoused to a descendant of King David, a distinguished elderly priest prayed to ask God what sign they should look for in choosing the spouse. The priest burned incense and prayed as the rolls of scripture were opened before him. Deep in prayer, his hand stopped on the passage from Isaiah 11:1 “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” The priest received the answer, a flowering branch! Soon a number of unmarried male descendants of David were summoned to the Temple to determine which of them may be the chosen spouse of Mary. Each man was given a branch that they held during prayer and the offering of the sacrifice. Afterward the branches were laid on the altar in the sanctuary of the Holy of Holies with the expectation that the person whose branch blossomed, would be Mary’s espoused. None of the branches blossomed!
The priests persevered in their search. They found one eligible suitor from a family of six sons of the house of David that had not been summoned. This man, Joseph, was found to live in a small house about six miles from Jerusalem and worked as a carpenter. Joseph presented himself dressed in his best clothing to the Temple. The priests eagerly gave him a barren branch and again said the prayers and made the sacrifice. As Joseph was about to set down the branch on the altar, the top bloomed with a white lily.
You may have noticed the presence of lilies in sacred paintings of the Annunciation. In many representations the Angel Gabriel is shown carrying a lily branch at the time he appears to Mary. Depictions of the Annunciation from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries typically include a lily branch to symbolize the innocence, purity, and virginity of Mary at the moment of the Incarnation of Christ the King or three lily blossoms on a spray also represents the Trinity.
After the birth of Christ when he was a small infant and his life was in danger because of the jealousy of King Herod, the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocent babies. A legend arose that at one point during their flight to Egypt, robbers held up Mary and Joseph. The thieves went through Mary’s purse for coins, but only found bright and full marigold flowers inside. In fact, that is one version of the story of how the marigold got its name. Mary’s currency was marigolds and somehow that isn’t surprising, but fitting that the Queen of the May trades with flowers and not coins.
During His public ministry Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:28, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these.” This is one statement in a series of arguments where Our Lord is urging us not to worry about our possessions and material welfare. He is asking us to trust in His goodness and mercy much like flowers are provided with the sunlight, rain and nutrients for sustenance and growth. Our Lord is extolling the beauty and refinement of flowers and in particular lilies when he compares them to the very finest clothing of Solomon. Jesus said that flowers are absolutely more beautiful and the irony is that all they have to do is stand still in the ground, grow and blossom giving glory to God instead of making vain attempts to glorify themselves before the gaze of others.
We know from writings and tradition that a flower miracle occurred with the Assumption of the body of the Virgin Mary into heaven. At the time of the death of the Virgin Mary, most of the Apostles were gathered to be with her in her final moments except for Thomas. She died and her body was anointed, wrapped in burial cloth and carried in solemn procession to the sepulcher. Heavenly graces were present at the procession of Mary’s body to her burial site. A most wonderful song arose from an unseen choir of angels and a heavenly fragrance pervaded the air that lingered for weeks even after her death. When Thomas at last arrived to pay his respects at her burial place, he asked to look upon the Virgin Mary one last time. When the sepulcher was opened, roses and lilies occupied the place where her body had been laid. She had been assumed body and soul into Heaven leaving behind roses and lilies.
The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of the impermanence of our earthly lives. We read in Isaiah 40: 6-8
A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?”
“All mankind is grass, and their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. [So then, the people is the grass.] Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever.”
The analogy of the fleeting span of a mortal life to a flower in the field was close to the heart of Saint Peter. In fact, in his First Letter to the Gentile Christian communities, Peter made special reference to the same Isaiah 40:6-8 passage. He was calling all to God in the gift of Baptism. He wrote in 1 Peter 1:23-25: “You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God, for: ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the field; the grass withers, and the flower wilts, but word of the Lord remains forever.’ This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.”