The Legend of the Dogwood

Reading Time: 3 mins

Today I would like to share The Legend of the Dogwood, inspired by the words of Stoney Cooper.

My first full time job out of college was working at Arrowhead Lutheran Camp, in Crest Park California where I served as the program director and outdoor education coordinator. Most of the campers and students who visited the camp were from the city so one of my goals was for everyone to spend some time in nature which included going on a hike. Our staff would serve as the guide on the hike and along the way we would stop and tell stories; some of them were whimsical, some educational, and some theological. One of our theological stops on the hike was at a Dogwood tree near the campfire circle. In the years I worked at camp, very few left camp without hearing The Legend of the Dogwood. In the springtime, close to Easter, when the flowers were in bloom the story really came to life. I must have told that story hundreds of times. I began with a poem that went like this:

“There is a lovely story,
the legend though it be
It told how blessed Jesus
was pitied by a tree

’Twas in the days when Jesus
this earth did walk upon
The dogwood tree was larger;
its wood was firm and strong

How beautiful the story,
the legend of a tree
That sobbed for dear Jesus
on cruel Calvary”

The story would go on to personify the Dogwood tree and give a reason for its shape, how its wood was used for the Cross of Jesus, and how its flowers pointed to the events that took place on Good Friday. 

For years I believed that these words were written by some unknown camp counselor but in doing some research I found that the stanzas above are based on an old bluegrass song called The Legend of the Dogwood Tree and, from what I could tell, was written by Stoney Cooper and recorded by Wilma Lee Cooper. The song is from the mid 20th century and the words that were shared at Arrowhead Lutheran Camp were actually the opening lyrics of that song. The song goes on to tell the narrative of the legend and we mirrored that same story at camp (with some slight theological modifications).

A few years ago, I took some time to flesh out the rest of the story to match the meter of the original stanzas. Today I would like to share The Legend of the Dogwood, inspired by the words of Stoney Cooper. May this be a blessing to you as we ponder the events that took place on Calvary that changed the world.

“There is a lovely story,
a legend though it be
It tells how blessed Jesus
was hung upon a tree

’Twas in the days when Jesus
this earth did walk upon
The dogwood tree was larger;
its wood was firm and strong

How beautiful the story,
the legend of this tree
That witnessed the events
upon Mount Calvary

It tells us of our Savior,
who took our sins away
To bring us into heaven
a debt we could not pay

In Jesus' time, the dogwood
Grew to a larger size
In yards and in the garden
there was no greater prize

'Twas strong and firm and solid
its branches reached the sky
And all the people marveled
of how it grew so high

Its wood found certain purpose
for those around the land
As house and barn and manger
‘twas n’er a wood so grand

Alas another purpose
was found for this strong tree
The cross of Christ was fashioned,
a place of misery

This tree that was so stately,
now saddened and distraught
How could somebody do this?
It makes no sense he thought

God’s plan was only starting,
although it may not seem
To make much sense on that day,
to suffer and to bleed

Upon that cross so stately,
our Savior bled and died
For us to win salvation,
his arms were open wide

And as he took his last breath,
our sins to wash away
‘Twas only for a few days,
in death he would not stay

The Dogwood was so grateful
at what took place that morn
Because of what occurred there,
creation was reborn

He now would be a witness,
of Christ’s redeeming Love
And share with all who saw him,
a story from above

“I won’t be used to bring death
or grow so tall you see.
And cause the Lord to suffer,
the one who died for me.”

“So I will tell the message,
of what took place that day.
When Jesus took my sorrow,
my debt he did repay.”

“My trunk now small and twisted
not reaching to the sky.
With flowers so large and special
a marvel to the eye.”

“The petals tell the story,
of our salvation won.
The shape, the cross of Jesus,
our Savior God’s own Son.”

“The color white reminds us,
of love and purity.
His blood our sins forgiven,
and heaven a certainty.”

“And on each tip a message,
the color, crimson red.
To show how precious Jesus,
his blood for us he shed.”

“And in the center marking
our Lords deep agony.
A crown of thorns is showing
His love for you and me.”

"Now all who stop and wonder,
at this true sign of love.
Will see the love of Jesus
sent down from heaven above."

This legend tells of something
That is most certainly true
How Jesus came to save us
Christ’s love come down for you

If you live in an area of the country with dogwood trees, take a moment this spring, when the trees are in bloom and look at the flowers and be reminded of our Savior who came for you, and know that in him, you are forgiven and free.