The fernleaf peony has been blooming for nearly a week now on Stephen Hickman's grave just inside the Chariton Cemetery's main gate, another sign of premature spring.
I'm not sure how many passers-by have differentiated its natural color from the unnatural on permanent year-around display out there, tacked to tombstones, fading in pots and urns, scattered across the grass. Synthetic has for the most part replaced reality in our cemeteries. But this is a lovely thing and I was glad to see it.
The fernleaf is a once-rare variety that always blooms early --- but not quite this early in an ordinary year. I wonder who planted it. Stephen died in 1902 and the last Hickman buried near the substantial granite family stone died in 1937.
I see First Baptist Church will be holding its annual sunrise service again this year at the cemetery, a practice that began many years ago when Ron Stein was pastor (a practice he also established in Mason City after moving to First Baptist Church there).
It's a lovely thought, I guess, but a little early in the day. Besides, large groups of Baptists make me nervous, although, hopefully, most check their stones at the gate. A gay guy can never be too careful, however.
But I do find meaning in Holy Week, which is turning into a moveable feast this year. We were at Grace Church in Albia for Maundy Thursday, at St. Andrew's for Good Friday last night, will be at First Lutheran for the Great Vigil of Easter tonight and back at St. Andrew's on Sunday morning.
The Vigil, although long, is my favorite service of the year, loaded with liturgy and symbolism that work well for heretics and the orthodox alike --- and those in the middle, suspended between extremes.
Good Friday's is a service of shadows in a church stripped bare, focused not so much on abstract unintelligible atoning bloody sacrifice, but on the full involvement in creation, even unto suffering and death, of the Creator.
The early church, so far as can be determined, believed that Jesus, having died, descended into hell and freed those bound there since the fall --- by implication us all --- conquering death. That universality, for some, is entirely too much grace, however.
But as the sun sets on Holy Saturday, new fire is lighted and carried in to illuminate the darkness, one modest candle at a time --- the way, for most of us, resurrection works. And that's the best we can do for now.