I like butterflies. They are a wonderful symbol of resurrection – as long as the analogy isn’t pushed too far. I don’t think that caterpillars actually die and then come back to life as a butterfly. However, they do have the appearance of a tomb when they are in the chrysalis and then emerge in all their glory into new life. I chose a cover for one of my church Facebook pages with a butterfly on it.
Whilst preparing my sermon for Easter day I came across a poem by George Herbert that I’d never seen before. It is a shape poem entitled Easter Wings. The words on the page take on the shape of butterfly wings.
These images are from the Wikipedia article about the poem
I had dipped into a book of all age worship ideas and they had produced a modern worded prayer based on the poem. (Celebrations! by Nick and Claire Page) I incorporated that into my sermon.
I was preaching on Mark 16:1-8 where the women went to the tomb and were surprised to find the stone rolled away and no sign of Jesus’ body. I had various objects in a bag that I took out to show as I spoke.
Why do we have Hot cross buns? Cross = Good Friday. Why spices? Sunday morning women at tomb. Air freshener, not embalming. An echo back to Mary at Bethany who anointed Jesus. She sacrificed her precious perfume – they sacrificed their time. It is often the minor characters in the gospels, not the main disciples, who show us an example of being a servant. Those women were doing what would have been expected of the men. John the Baptist’s disciples buried his body. We can all, however lacking in importance we feel, serve Jesus, in small but important ways. We’ve found this year the value of key workers, low paid but essential.
Do you like hot cross buns? Taste and see that the Lord is good. And not just once a year! Perhaps I should say Trust and See or ‘believe and see’ that the Lord is good. We usually have those words the other way round – see and believe. But sometimes there’s nothing to see.
Why do we have Eggs?
New life + Stone rolled away. [I threw an egg at Garry in the congregation to everyone’s surprise – he caught it] The women certainly got a surprise when they got to the tomb.
I showed a Kinder Egg – what’s in it? Any guesses? We will have a look in a few minutes. But first let’s think about the stone.
The stone was moved. What would they find inside? Angel telling them that the Lord was risen. Cloth wrapped neatly. But no Jesus! Well, that’s a surprise!
So, who moved the stone? Evidence for the resurrection is historically reliable. Early Jewish writers didn’t dispute it. Even current atheist historians say that there is sufficient historical evidence that a man Jesus lived, was crucified and rose to new life. The body was never found. Therefore, the witnesses were not lying, they were not hallucinating nor suffering from wishful thinking.
Jesus appeared to over 5,000 people at various times over several weeks.
Death was defeated. For ever. Or as the prophet Isaiah put it when looking forward to the time that God would save his people:
“he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:8-9)
The greatest miracle ever. Jesus had raised others to life from death, like Lazarus. But they all went on to die a natural death. The inevitable was postponed. But Jesus is still alive.
Because of his death and resurrection, we are assured that when we die, if we have put our trust in him, believed and wanted to be joined with him, then we will be with him when this life here has finished.
But I don’t just celebrate the thought of life in heaven when this one is finished. We are not only celebrating the defeat of death. If that was all then I don’t think we would be celebrating now. If Jesus was raised from the dead, appeared a few times and then went back to heaven, and that was it. End of story…. Then what’s the benefit for us? What difference would it make to our lives in the here and now? The resurrection is a great miracle, but what’s in it for us now?
And let’s face it, there are so many stresses and difficulties in life that we need hope, we need comfort and strength, we need our tears mopping up from time to time. Especially now as we are emerging from lockdown. Some people are fearful, others anxious and possibly lost confidence. We are emerging into new life.
And that’s what an egg symbolises. New life – chicks and bunnies –
Easter is about new life. Jesus brings new life NOW, not just after our death.
Who can guess what’s in the Kinder egg? What’s the surprise? Nobody knows. “No eye has seen nor ear heard the wonderful things that God has in store for those who love the Lord.” What’s in it for me if I believe in the resurrection of Jesus?
The disciples had a surprising few weeks meeting the risen Jesus, when they least expected it, there he would be. And then they had an even more amazing time realising that what he had promised, he delivered. He told them to wait until the Holy Spirit gave them power and then they were to go and tell others the wonderful news of God’s love, forgiveness, healing and grace. In the weeks of the Easter season, we have readings from the book of Acts. We will hear, each week, a different time when Peter or one of the others, witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, not just with words but with healing. They spread the good news to everyone.
And it kept on spreading throughout the world and throughout time till it got to us. And we continue that sharing of the good news. But what IS the good news? What’s in it for us?
Butterflies – great symbols of new life. What does a butterfly start life as? A caterpillar, which looks as though it has died when it goes into a chrysalis. But it emerges, as if coming out of a tomb, into a beautiful creature with wings. It can fly. It doesn’t have to stay creeping along the ground or on leaves.
George Herbert wrote a poem called Easter Wings. It is in old English, so a bit difficult to understand. I have another version that will be easier:
Lord, you made us rich,
but somehow in our foolishness,
we threw it all away.
Time and again,
men and women have chosen to desert you,
preferring poverty to being a child of God the king.
With you, let us rise like a lark to sing
that In the battle between death and the king of life; you win!
And we have the enormous privilege of travelling in the wake of your victory.
As rebels we pitted ourselves against you.
Lord, we could have been fat with your love,
But somehow in our foolishness,
we turned our heads away and became thin.
Time and again,
men and women have chosen to starve themselves,
Preferring hunger to being a child of God the King.
With you, let us rise, hanging on to your coat-tails as you escape the cold clutches of the cave,
neatly dodging tragedy and death.
Let us fly with you with Eater wings.
Easter in us. Raise us to life today.
And here it is in the original old English. The word ‘imp’ meant to graft onto or implant.
BY GEORGE HERBERT
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
We can have new life now. We can have forgiveness, healing, wholeness and peace. We can have hope in Jesus to help us fly with him as we emerge from lockdown into freedom. We can graft our wings onto his and fly with the power of His resurrection and his holy spirit wherever he may lead us, into the future, into the new normal, and the surprises he has in store – just like the Kinder egg, the Christian faith needs to be opened up – we need to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
So, now a week later, I have got around to doing some art and want to do a butterfly with the words of the poem written on the wings. Not quite the same as the original. It was quite a challenge to know how to arrange the words.