How do the story of the tomb & resurrection from John 20:1-18, the lifecycle of the butterfly and my own story intersect?
Let’s start with the butterfly. At church today, we covered the poles in the hall with paper butterflies. Each one had a word written on it beginning with ‘re’. We had words such as renewal, restore, receive, relinquish and, of course, resurrection. The prefix, ‘re’, is Latin for again or again and again. That idea fits in well with the butterfly lifecycle because it’s a cycle. It doesn’t end with the butterfly.
As humans, we can get very linear about things, expecting a beginning, middle and end stage. We even fixate on the idea that the butterfly is the best part of this creature’s life. But what if it isn't? I'd argue that every stage of the cycle is sacred, and there is no end. The butterfly lays its eggs then dies, and the cycle continues.
Having said that, when it comes to applying this metaphor to our lives, some stages are definitely more enjoyable than others.
Five years ago, against my will, I found myself in the middle of a chrysalis experience. I’d been an author for more than a decade, and was working on my eighth book. I was in the grip of writer's block and it was not going well. Around this time, I felt a call to become a counsellor. It didn't seem realistic. Writing was my income source, and being a writer was my identity — it's what I'd wanted to do since I was ten years old. So, the question hovered over me: How would this even work?
I certainly didn’t want to let go of the safety and familiarity of my old role. And yet, when God calls you to something new, like it or not, the thing you were doing previously begins to lose its meaning. That was what was happening to me, but rather than surrender to the process, I clung on. Hard. In other words, I resisted, which is another powerful word beginning with ‘re’.
So, I can understand why Mary went to the tomb. She felt lost without Jesus. He offered not only love but a sense of solidity and security. He ignited her sense of purpose and gave her life meaning. And she identified as one of his followers. With him gone, what was she now? No wonder she went in search of his body. It was the closest thing she could get to the real him – or so she thought.
As for me, I eventually enrolled in a counselling course. To qualify, I had to complete fifty practice sessions within twelve months. At this time, I was also working on a novel that a publisher had shown interest in. So, even though I wanted to get on with my course, I was also nervous about it, so I decided to focus on my novel for three months, and then do the counselling course.
Three years passed. I had completed neither my novel nor my course.
I hated much of this time, and I felt completely stuck. I'd forgotten that the job of a pupa in the chrysalis is not to cling to its pupa-ness, but to allow the process of transformation. Its role is to surrender to that, not try and block or control it. And I wasn't really losing myself. The pupa may be turning into something new, but its DNA remains the same; only its expression is different.
The thing about a call is that it doesn’t let up. So, once again, I had this growing sense that I should get back to my counselling course. I thought about Jesus on the cross and how he surrenders completely to the experience. In his case, it was the death of his body. My experience wasn't like that – I certainly wasn’t being put to death – but Jesus’ story of death and resurrection is an archetypal one that plays out in all of our lives. I was being invited to allow a part of my life to die so that I could live.
It's important to remember that Jesus doesn’t remain in the tomb. Instead, he moves on to the next phase – the resurrection phase. What he is doing is surrendering to the eternal cycle of life and death, modelling for us how to do it.
So, I let go. It wasn’t a smooth process. There were times I clung on again, and let go and clung on and let go. Eventually, I got qualified, and the next thing you know, my business website was about to go live.
Let’s return to the Bible story. It’s interesting to note that Mary doesn’t recognise Jesus at first. His essence is the same, but because he’s undergone a transformation, he appears different. But she is stuck back in the old paradigm where death means the end. And because of that — because of her expectations — she’s unable to receive the truth of the resurrection and all that it means.
How often do our narrow expectations blind us to the truth of new life right in front of us?
When I was watching a video of a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, it struck me how there’s a certain point where the butterfly is half way out but not yet able to fly. It's left the protection of the dark, camouflaged shell where no one can see it, and now it’s highly visible. Parts of its coloured wings are on display and attracting attention, but it can’t fly away. It’s completely powerless.
Just before my website was about to go live and my new counselling business was officially launched, all my fears came to the fore. Like the emerging butterfly, I felt very visible and vulnerable.
What if I failed? Publicly!
What if I wasn't enough?
What if I didn't get enough clients?
Or any clients?
What if I couldn't pay the mortgage?
That’s the thing about transformation. When you’re on the cusp of it, your fear is at its peak. In my case, my fears were underpinned by the belief that I had to do it all in my own strength. But we don’t have to. Jesus has already been through this process and shown us that we can do it, and that we will come out the other side. And he'll accompany us on the way. So, when the fear arises and you want to pull away, surrender more instead.
A key part is trust — giving up the idea of controlling and predicting what our resurrection will look like, because we simply can't know the outcome. A butterfly looks nothing like a pupa. The resurrected Jesus was different from the Jesus who lived on Earth. Being a counsellor is very different from being a writer. And incidentally, I do still write, but it’s secondary — for now, at least — and what I write has a different quality to it.
The need for trust applies to the Church too. Many churches around the world are shrinking so, in a sense, we are all in the chrysalis. We don’t know what the next new stage will look like, but that’s not our job. Our job is to surrender, knowing we may look very different from what we do now. The thing is, even if our external form changes, our divine DNA – like Jesus’ – remains the same, and that DNA is love.
Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, encourages us to look for signs of the resurrection in a different way. She writes:
God isn’t about making you spiffy. God isn’t about making you nicer. God is about making you new. And new doesn’t always look perfect, with a fabulous new dress, [or a renovated church packed to the rafters with new members – ed] because just like the Easter story itself, new can be messy. New still has dirt under its nails. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between two family members - neither of which actually deserve it ... New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing you never saw coming … never even hoped for, but ends up being what you needed all along … Because God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and pulling us out of the graves we dig for ourselves … And God keeps loving us back to life over and over. So yes, even now, even this year, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by dying and then rising again.
Mary eventually recognises Jesus and is forever changed. Jesus' resurrection is an invitation for us too — an invitation to take part in the transformative cycle of life. How can we receive the truth of it, and go out and share the Good News?