EDITOR'S NOTE: This story appeared in The Times and Democrat on March 25, 2016.
The showy white flowers and distinctive bark of the dogwood tree make it a popular ornamental tree, but the tree’s blossoms have also become symbols of Easter.
Jay Hiers, Orangeburg superintendent of parks, said the dogwoods, which have white, pink and red varieties, are blooming ahead of schedule this year because of the recent above-normal temperatures.
“I was shocked. Everything’s running about three weeks early. Because of it being up in the mid- to high-80s, everything is just going full force,” Hiers said. “I’ve already seen some dogwoods in bloom in town.”
Local pastors interviewed recently say that while the legend of the dogwood is not necessarily biblically factual nor one that can be found in the Bible, it can still be used as a teaching tool to spread the principles of a story that is at the heart of Christianity.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ three days after he was crucified on a cross. According to promiseofgod.com, the legend tells the story of how the dogwood became associated with Easter. At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. Its strength and firmness caused it to be chosen as timber for the cross upon which Christ was to be nailed.
According to the legend, this made the dogwood tree sad, and Jesus, sensing this sadness, promised the dogwood tree that it would never again grow large enough for a cross to be built from it and its branches would be narrow and crooked.
Dogwood blossoms are said to be shaped in the form of a cross. The rust-brown and red colors at the outer edge of each petal represents the nails that were driven through Christ’s hands, while the center of the flower is said to represent the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion.
“Obviously, this is more of a legend than necessarily biblical proof, but it makes a lot of sense,” said the Rev. Dr. Shane Stutzman, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Orangeburg.
“The cross was made from a dogwood tree and because it was made from a dogwood tree, God would not let it carry the weight of anything else. That’s why dogwood limbs break off real easy now, and (the tree) always buds during Easter, too,” Stutzman said.
He said he looks for anything through which to share the gospel with his congregation and the world — even trees.
“I’ll tell my people, ‘I don’t know if the thing about the cross being made from a dogwood tree is 100 percent true or not, but the principle is still there.’ I mean, what else would we want that tree to carry but our Lord? It’s a pretty powerful testimony,” Stutzman said.
It is interesting how God’s own creation can be used to teach his principles, the pastor said.
“Even the purpose statement of our church is to do whatever it takes to show Jesus. So I’m always looking for means and manners of doing that,” Stutzman said.
The Rev. J.P. Sibley of Orangeburg is pastor of New City Fellowship. He said the dogwoods are representative of God’s beautiful creation, with the white blossoms pointing toward Christ’s purity.
“The pollen of spring always destroys my allergies, but I’m also experiencing great beauty and new life. The creation itself tells us about God. Psalm 19:3 says, ‘There is no speech, there are no words, his voice is not heard.’ That’s talking about the creation and how it testified to God’s beauty and even to his redemption,” Sibley said. “I think the dogwood might be a way to talk about that.”
He added, “Winter often represents death and sadness, and spring is like a resurrection every year. It gives us hope for today and for tomorrow.”
The Rev. Monroe Danley Jr., pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in North, said the dogwood symbolizes life.
“They bloom so beautifully, especially with those white leaves. It’s a symbol of purity. That tree stands alone by itself whenever it’s blossoming. That lets me know that Christ stood alone, so every now and then we’re going to have to stand for what is righteous even if we got to stand alone. A real Christian should be the same way because every now and then, they’re going to have to stand for righteousness,” Danley said.
The Rev. Ellis White Jr., pastor of Edisto Fork United Methodist Church in Orangeburg, said while the dogwood’s association with Easter is “more of a legend than fact,” the legend is not mired in futility.
“It could still be used as a teaching tool. The only thing I guard against is making it factual,” he said, noting that the dogwood’s natural beauty and other characteristics can be used to teach lessons.
“When you look at the tree, the beauty of the tree’s blossom speaks to new life. It speaks to resurrection and that a beautiful ending can come out of what was once a cruel act,” White said.
“I think we can approach it that way because the cross is an emblem of suffering and shame. Now it is an emblem of being set free from the bonds of sin, death and the grave. What was lowly is now highly lifted up.”