1st Reading: Isaiah 25:1-10
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8
One of the most interesting parts of my Master Gardener Training has been about insects. They are just so interesting—their life cycles, their anatomy, their diet, and all they do for us. I met an entomologist about a year ago and I asked him if the extinction of bees will mean the extinction of humankind. He said more important than bees are all the insects that break down the soil. If we use too many pesticides or heat our planet too much, there may someday not be enough insects to break down all the organic matter in the soil to make vitamins available to plants. The leaves and cones and wood will simply sit there and pile up with nothing to break them down into soil.
Some of the most interesting insects go through a process called complete metamorphosis. An insect is fascinating, but to go from one form to a completely different form is incredible. Of course butterflies and moths go through complete metamorphosis, as well as bees, and many other insects. The egg hatches, a grub or caterpillar emerges, eventually it enters a cocoon or pupa state, and emerges completely changed from the way it was before, usually having wings and the ability to fly. The process has been studied and cocoons or chrysalises taken apart mid process, to find only goo. It seems the insect disintegrates and then reorganizes its cells into a whole new creature.
We often speak at Easter of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Jesus walked this earth as a common caterpillar. He died and went into the tomb, which is represented by the cocoon. Three days later, he emerged with new life for us all. He was no longer a common caterpillar after he rose, but was able to move through doors and walls. He was a butterfly. He gave us all the Holy Spirit and his epace and the ability to spread our wings and fly.
Jesus is the forerunner—he went through it first. Now he invites us to die with him, to go through death to new life, enter the cocoon and be born anew. We believe this happens in baptism—a symbolic drowning of the old self, entering the cocoon of the waters, and coming out of the waters reborn with eternal life. We are invited to continue this process, our whole life long, shedding the former and taking on new life.
Here are some examples in everyday life of death and resurrection, of complete metamorphosis.
We all know people who have experienced intense loss and grief. Some of us are those people. In time, peace comes. The grief circles back at times, but the intensity changes and eventually eases bit by bit. I am reminded of my former boss from National Frozen Foods. She and her husband both retired. They had all kinds of plans to travel and garden and enjoy their retirement. Then her husband suddenly died. I was not one of the people who walked with her on her journey of grief, I had moved away to go to seminary, but after 50 years of marriage it must have been a very difficult road. A few years later she contacted me to ask me to officiate at her wedding. The first wedding I ever did was for this couple who got a second chance at love after their spouses both passed away. On September 11, 2001, both of them, bewildered by world events, showed up at their local fire station to volunteer. There they met and eventually came to love each other and commit their lives to each other. It has been more than 15 years, now, that they have traveled together, been embraced by one another's families, and enjoyed each other's company. Christ is risen, and so are we, born into new life after a very dark time of disorientation and reorganization.
My friend Leo is transgender. We've been friends since high school when we were both exploring entering the ministry. He first became aware he was transgender about two years ago. I have to admit that sometimes I can't easily wrap my mind around the transformation that has taken place. The Leo I know now, in some ways resembles the person I once knew. But in some ways is completely different. I am slowly coming to realize that this metamorphosis that is taking place doesn't depend on my making sense of it. This is something that God is doing in Leo and I have to admit that he is more like a butterfly than before. He is becoming who God made him to be and that is a beautiful thing. Christ died and is risen. Leo has gone through a death and rebirth, even with a new name and blessing from his congregation. Now he can live more authentically, he can be free to be himself. This is truly new life. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Finally, I see my sabbatical as kind of a death and resurrection. We've had fun and learned and grown in the caterpillar stage. We've done some important ministry, important tasks together. But soon we will enter a chrysalis. We won't see each other for a little while. During that time a lot will be happening. We will be, in some ways deconstructed, as the avenues of communication we once used will shut down, as the expectations we had will change. And we will be reconstructed as we form new relationships, as leadership grows and each of you steps in to take on the work of this place, and as self-awareness and confidence grows in all of us. I truly believe that when we emerge from this sabbatical cocoon, we will soar with wings of beauty and strength. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
The women at the tomb, encounter the empty chrysalis. They were going there, expecting to anoint and mourn a beloved friend of theirs. The fact that it is empty bewilders them. They are stunned. This starts them on their process of entering the cocoon. For now, they are fearful. They aren't able to say anything to anyone. They close in themselves. Everything they have ever understood, they are questioning. They feel they are disintegrating. But the next few weeks will bring a reorganization, as they and the Disciples start to encounter the risen Christ and as they all puzzle about what this means for them. At some point we know they will emerge and tell their story. We know this because how else does this story come to us, today? These women at the tomb may be afraid now, but soon they will soar on wings of beauty and the Good News will be evident in everything they do and say. They will embody that good news that brought about their own transformation and new life.
Some new discoveries have been made about caterpillars. They have within them tiny beginnings of wings and butterfly body parts. If you take apart a chrysalis, you can observe with a microscope the organs of the creature are still intact. There is something of the original creature in the transformed insect and there is something that remains that is born with the caterpillar or grub. In each of us, also, there is something Holy from the beginning and persisting, something that lasts. Call this the Christ Spirit. It is the spirit of God within each one of us, something beautiful and good and pure, the image of God in each of us. Maybe we too are born with something of what we will be already there. Made in God's image, we all have the Divine Spark, the love of God that will someday give us wings and the courage to open them in the breeze so that we can soar the way God intended, so that someday we will naturally live the way God intended at peace with one another and all Creation.
Some people are disturbed by the ending of this Gospel: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” I love cliffhangers. I love movies with ambiguous endings. They keep me thinking about what might have happened next. More disturbing to me are stories and films in which all the pieces are tied up in a neat bow at the end. This is not how I have experienced life. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing in my life is neat and tidy. Those who have seen my office are nodding their heads. Childhood is a messy, experience which is never tied up neatly. Marriage is a big complicated mess. Being in a congregation is very messy and open-ended. And this Gospel is messy and open-ended, just like life.
This morning, I invite you to let the story sit with you. Let yourselves wonder what happened next, how this story got from this point that we read here with the women afraid and silent, to us knowing and telling and still trying to puzzle what the empty tomb means today in all our messy and puzzling lives. Easter isn't all pastel colors and baby chicks. It is a gaping tomb and the questions and the difficulties and life and death we all experience all the time. Easter meets us right where we are and takes us places we never expected, transforms us into something we could never have imagined, someone free and loved and truly alive and connected. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!