Goods allegedly exchanged for a single bulb of the Viceroy Tulip, February 1637(in Dutch gilders): Two lasts of wheat-448; Four lasts of rye-558; Four fat oxen-480; Eight fat swine-240; Twelve fat sheep-120; Two hogsheads of wine-70; Four tuns of beer-32; Two tuns of butter-192; 1,000 lb. of cheese-120; A complete bed-100; A suit of clothes-80; A silver drinking cup-60 = Total 2500
I remember just a few things from my early childhood in the Netherlands: breaking my left arm, a clown on TV from whom I learned Dutch, that it was never sunny, and tulips. Sunshine came up from the ground in the form of thousands of tulips. This happy last memory came to mind when I received a small vase of tightly packed yellow tulips from colleagues after my dad died. That was a bright spot in some dark days. What is it about tulips?
In his second Wall Street appearance, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) uses a historical chart displaying the market value of tulips and compares it to the Financial Crisis of 2007-10. Charles Mackay’s book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), describes what some scholars consider to be the first economic bubble, when, in early 1637 people went nuts for flowers.
Tulips actually came to Amsterdam from Turkey in 1560. After soggy and cold Dutch winters, the beauty and vibrant colors of the tulips bewitched Amsterdam’s upper class and made the tulip a sensation. Bulbs could cost their weight in gold. Eventually, the bulb bubble burst; hence Gekko’s graph.
In a more recent work on Tulipmania, Anne Goldgar writes, “A whole network of values was thrown into doubt.” In the 17th century, it was unimaginable to most people that something as common as a flower could be worth so much more money than most people earned in a year. The idea that the prices of flowers that grow only in the summer could fluctuate so wildly in the winter, threw into chaos the very understanding of “value”.
In the recent gloomy days of spring leading up to Easter, I’ve cherished the little green arms of the tulips waving in the wind, promising warmer weather and beautiful displays of color. In the last days of fall, a tulip bulb is thrown into the ground. It does not look, feel, or smell alive. Six months later, the tulip displays a whole lot of faith. It comes to life in a grey world where its green leaves don’t seem to belong. It pokes its head through the barely warm earth, and decides that spring is coming. Like the cross of Good Friday, the tulip promises that there is new life ahead.
We need to hear the promise of new life for us and for the world. I’m not sure precisely what tulip bulbs meant to folks back then to drive the price up so high, but Tulipmania reminds me of how disordered many of the world’s values are. And how hidden and buried our deepest faith-based values of forgiveness and resurrection can be for us. Every day there are different challenges that threaten our truly living in the world — simple distractions, weighty issues, a world in need. We need to hear the Easter promise of new life to bring us back to a center — to re-root us in Jesus’ promises of forgiveness of sins, new life, and hope for the world to come. These promises give us the courage to be brave in our faith and live out Christ’s resurrection in our lives.
In Easter we discover that behind the universe is a God of love who is capable of bringing life, hope, and possibility to everyone—both in this life and in a dimension beyond. It changes everything. This is an immense claim, and for many of us it can take years to trust it. If Christ is risen, then no failure or loss, no landslide or war, can ever be the last word. God can bring life out of any tomb.
Plunge back into your lives, the messenger told those first disciples, and you’ll meet this Lord for yourself. And we can too—in a worship service or on the street, in a struggle at home or the office, in the care of a friend, or in a call to make a difference. We can find the strength and courage we need really to live. That’s the Easter difference. Christ is loose in the world. There are no dead ends because Christ the Lord is risen.