Butterflies and Beginnings
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared...when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Luke 24)
The first celebrations of Easter weren’t inside the sanctuary but began, as some still do, outside the church after a long night of vigil. The gathered greeting the new day, the light of Christ at early dawn.
If you're ever up that early it can be a precious time, as that first sliver of light pierces the strange deep blue of morning still darkness. There can be that feeling of possibility that a new day brings.
But the early dawn doesn’t always call forth feelings of hope and promise. Especially when we don’t get a good night’s sleep. And I can’t imagine Mary and the other women did since they were the ones who were there for all that had happened before.
And I’m sure many of you, like me, know what it is to wake up in the early dawn – on a "day after." The day after something is ended, is over – or a person you love is gone. Your tired eyes open and at first, blankness. But then it hits you and you remember. The early light doesn’t bring hope or promise just awareness. And maybe, at the least, the light gives you the strength to get up and start moving.
Which is what Mary did because there was work to do. The women of the first century surely were familiar with the ceremonies of death. They had prepared their spices and their oil and they simply set out to do their work. Just like we do when someone we love has died. We know there is something necessary about the rites and rituals that will help us move through the feeling of finality that loss brings.
And yet. And yet when they arrive at that tomb another light breaks into their darkness, adding to their confusion in that empty space. A light radiating holiness, not proclaiming a statement, but posing a question, The angels don't say, "Do not be afraid" which is what we are used to, instead they ask, “What are you doing here? Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
“Don’t you remember what Jesus told you? Don’t you remember what he said he was going to do?”
They don't and we often don't either. Just like the first witnesses, we need to be reminded often and in a variety of ways of God's promise of resurrection and new life. God’s blessed assurance that we will always – now and forever – be brought to new life.
Two caterpillars were hanging out in a garden. And above them fluttered a beautiful monarch butterfly. And one caterpillar said to the other caterpillar – you’ll never get me up in one of those things!
Butterflies are one of the most ancient Christian symbols of resurrection. Its crazy how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly if you think about it. Instinctively at some point a caterpillar buries itself in a self-made tomb, a chrysalis that hardens all around it.
And something happens. Something weird and kind of gross that we don’t entirely understand. Simplistically put the caterpillar dissolves within that tomb it dies and reforms as something else entirely.
And one spring morning – the top cracks open and life emerges.
A new creation. No longer inching along the ground but soaring and gliding and fluttering on air seeing everything from an entirely new perspective. No more grazing on leaves but now sipping upon the nectar of a variety of flora.
In so many ways butterflies are a most apt symbol of how life is changed, not ended, as God promises. Maybe that’s why God made them – and everything else in creation. We walk by faith, not by sight and God knows we have a hard time trusting that which we cannot see.
We laugh at the joke of the caterpillars because we too have a hard time letting go of the identities, the realities, we know and see. But transformation at some point requires us to let go of what we know – and live into dreams and possibilities we have only begun to imagine. Trusting and relying on a power greater than ourselves to get us there.
Easter Sunday is a climatic day, a Superbowl Sunday (thanks Baltimore Sun!) in the life of a church. And we know what we’re going to get – a beautiful sanctuary arrayed in the gifts of creation – beautiful people arrayed in their Sunday best – beautiful music and hymnody to lift up and strengthen our spirits. These are the rites and rituals we’ve created in our time to affirm resurrection faith.
But church doesn’t make Easter happen. Easter is the pattern happening all the time that God revealed again through Christ. We need the rites and rituals – we need a lifetime of Sundays to remember what the prophets – and then Jesus told us what God will always do: restore – rebuild – reconcile – and resurrect!
Easter happens when people fall on their knees in silence, in weeping – in prayer and song on a city street – watching fire consume a building that has stood as a testament to resurrection for 800 years.
That too – has played out in sacred story before – and we might remember what God told King David – do you think there is a house that can hold me? (2 Sam 7:1-29)
We might remember what Jesus told another women at a well – the time will come when you will stop arguing about where to worship – and instead worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4)
We might remember what Jesus tells the disciples before he dies – inevitably the stones of all the buildings will come tumbling down. (Mark 13:2)
And then when we see Easter happening around us – we might remember that all the stories reveal what God always does – through and with people like you and me: restores – reconciles – rebuilds and resurrects! Not buildings – but people. Not institutions – but communities. New creations – new expressions of life-giving truth will always break forth in the world – the darkness cannot overcome the light.
You know, the longer I do this job - a job I never in a million years imagined I'd do, but resurrection is like that - the longer I do this job I've come to believe that the word itself "resurrection" like much of our religious-speak – comes with too much baggage. It is a word loaded with misconceptions – reinforced over the centuries, sadly, by a power hungry church (albeit that power is indeed passing away).
Faith is not contingent on a belief or on a set of statements that require our intellectual assent.
Faith is a verb – and its like light. We don’t see it – it helps us see. God’s light helps us see the patterns of new beginnings– like butterflies – and spring – and sunrise. The pattern all of us are living all the time – constantly starting over – day by day by day.
Today at early dawn – Christ’s light broke forth again from the heavens – alleluia. Today – like every precious day we are given – may Christ’s light help you remember – what Jesus said, there is no other commandment greater than this – to love one another as God loves you (John 13:34). If you live that, you will be brought to and see resurrection breaking forth in light and life all around you.
Alleluia. Christ is risen – The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.