Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
Easter Day 2005
Have you seen what they have done to (name withheld) the television presenter. She has been rebuilt. I was staggered to see her on the television last week. She has been botoxed, lifted, stitched and goodness only know what else. A real case of nip and tuck. There are apparently now such things as botox parties, and the need for greater regulation is becoming apparent. People want to look younger and live longer.
This is interesting, there is a real move to stop ageing and make people last longer. I suppose that when Dr Christian Barnard made the first heart transplant the idea started that it would be possible to really extend life, and recently there has been much talk in the media of ways in which medical science considers that it will be possible to make us live longer. I have heard reports this only week that it is expected that we will be living easily past 100 in the near future.
This is perhaps good and bad, but of course it is not what Christians mean when they look forward to eternal life. Jesus taught his disciples that they would live for ever, but it was to be a very different quality of new, new life, and it could only be achieved by first tasting death.
Sounds ambitious we might think, until we see Easter and the reports of what happened to Jesus after death. When Mary reported to the other Apostles what Jesus had told her, it was a magnificent triumph over death itself. Jesus had conquered death and risen to a new life.
The new life of Jesus was different. Mary could not hold onto Jesus, because he had changed. This was not just making his old body live for ever. It was a new body, recognisable in many ways, able to eat fish, but also capable of appearing in the middle of a closed room.
In the chapel window at St Mark’s there are symbols of the resurrection. There are cups of wine, pieces of bread, the dice which the soldiers rolled to gamble for the clothes of Jesus. There is also a butterfly. The butterfly is a magnificent image for the resurrection, because it shows how a seemingly dead caterpillar can find rebirth and new life.
There is a cartoon which shows two caterpillars sitting on a leaf. They look up and see a butterfly and one says to the other ‘you will never get me up in one of those things.’
Of course if a caterpillar wants to become a butterfly it has to leave being a caterpillar behind.
The beautiful winged butterfly's life begins as a starving, crawling, and often very ugly caterpillar that hatched from a fertile butterfly egg. Caterpillars hatch having ravenous appetites and eat almost constantly during this brief life stage. Then they enter a second stage -- the dark chrysalis or "death" stage.
Although the chrysalis has appeared quite lifeless and dead for several weeks, wondrous things have been happening inside of it. Through the process of metamorphosis, the former caterpillar has been totally transformed into a beautiful gossamer-winged butterfly. Finally, the chrysalis splits open, the gorgeous butterfly emerges, pumps up its wings, and is soon flying free! It has truly been resurrected and now has a brand new body!
Like the beautiful butterfly's release from its dark chrysalis stage into freedom, so the Christian can also look forward to his resurrection, his freedom from earth's trials, and eternal life. His mortal life on earth will be forever changed to immortality!
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross movingly tells of travelling through post-war Europe to help rebuild clinics, she had visited the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. There she saw butterflies drawn all over the walls of the children’s dormitories in that World War II concentration camp. They were scratched by children who were about to be sent to the gas chambers. This, she surmised, was what death meant to them: the shedding of the unlamented body and the release of the spirit to a higher, better life. Elisabeth concluded that these children knew their fate and were leaving us a message.
When we have done all the work we were sent to do,
we are allowed to shed our bodies,
which imprisons our soul like a cocoon encloses the butterfly
and when the time is right we can let go of it.
Then we will be free of pain, free of fears and free of worries--
free as a beautiful butterfly returning home to God....
And that is the message of Easter
"How does one become a butterfly?" she asked pensively.
"You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."