Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this sermon.
As Dan Harper tells the story, Flower Communion was brought to the US by Mája Oktavec when she came to the United States from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic).
Before that time, she had fallen in love with Norbert Čapek, and they married in 1917. Norbert was a Baptist minister in Newark, but over time he began to doubt his Baptist beliefs. Mája encouraged his doubts. After they married, he resigned from the Baptist ministry.
One day, their children wanted to go to Sunday school. Each week, the children were encouraged to choose a different church to try. Afterwards, Mája and Norbert would ask them what they had learned. It always sounded like the same religion as the one they had left behind, so they’d ask the children to try a different church the next week. One Sunday they tried the Unitarian church, in Orange, NJ. They told their parents that they had been encouraged to wonder and to ask questions. So, of course, they returned to the Unitarian church. And Norbert and Mája decided that they’d attend the Unitarian services, and then they became Unitarians.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, the Čapeks’ homeland became an independent country. The American Unitarians helped Norbert and Mája to go back to Czechoslovakia to start a Unitarian church in the city of Prague. They didn’t want to be reminded of the religions they had left behind. So, in 1923, Norbert and Mája created a new Unitarian ritual that wouldn’t be like anything in any other religion.
They called it the Flower Celebration: Everybody gets to exchange flowers. Exchanging flowers symbolizes how all we are all connected to one another.
Before long, the Unitarian church in Prague had three thousand members. It was largest Unitarian church anywhere. But next to Czechoslovakia, in Germany, the Nazis had taken over the government. In 1939, the Nazis began invading nearby countries.
Mája came back to the United States to raise money to help refugees who were escaping from the Nazis. While she was here, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Norbert was arrested because he spoke out for freedom. The Nazis put Norbert into a concentration camp, where he died in 1942. After the Nazis were finally defeated, Mája stayed in the United States. Norbert’s death made her sad, but she wanted to keep working to make the world a better place.
Mája decided to bring the joyous Flower Celebration to Unitarians here in the United States. What better way to remember Norbert, and all the Czech Unitarians who fought for freedom?
The Čapeks wanted to bring a ritual to their country that would draw people together, that anyone and everyone could relate to; a ritual about seeing the beauty, dignity, and worth in EVERY person.
They wanted a ritual that anyone could understand and relate to that would lift the human spirit.
Flower communion has become our faith’s spring ritual. It is a ritual acknowledging the forces that move us once again to see beauty and to be seen as beautiful. Giving and receiving flowers is about lifting up the energy that keeps us going.
It does what rituals do: takes on the murkiness, confusion and chaos of everyday life, and recasts the confusing metaphors of poetry.
Like moving from the barrenness of winter to the budding spring, the metaphor of exchanging flowers means we have made it through darkness into light. We are no longer where we were last Sunday, yesterday. We are here.
One comes with a flower and leaves with a different one, reminded that every flower is different, just like each one of us is different.
Each of us is unique, distinct from the next, yet connected by beauty.
And we are all—each and every one of us, in our own way—beautiful.
I once pastored a congregation that was uncomfortable whenever they were reminded by their past painful experiences.
It came to me that we needed to find a term that would not be related to words that reminded them of division and harm. I taught them a new word that might better signify what they wanted to hear and to say to each other; that might capture how they felt about each other, without highlighting times in the past when they had felt left out.
We learned to say “Namaste,” which means “The light in me acknowledges the light in you,” or “The beauty in me acknowledges the beauty in you.”
Let’s try it.