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The Rector The Revd Rob Farmer writes:
In my years in ministry I have often come into contact with young children who have been bereaved, and in an attempt to try and explain to them what has happened, I keep a supply of a small book called Water bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Children by Doris Stickley. I give these out freely to families as I think it is a really helpful analogy in trying to explain death and resurrection to youngsters.
It puts me in mind of a similar creature, the butterfly, and how its life-cycle is a particularly fitting symbol of Easter, helping us to reflect on the great unfathomable mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The butterfly goes through four distinct stages of growth: the egg, larva, pupa and finally this beautiful winged creature appears. In the larval stage, the butterfly is essentially a caterpillar. It eats a lot and sheds its skin a number of times. Then, when it is a pupa, the butterfly undergoes a stunning metamorphosis. During this stage the cells are actually disassembled and then completely re-assembled, in readiness for the final stage. What emerges from the cocoon bears no resemblance to the caterpillar that entered the pupa. It is one of the most spectacular transformations in all of nature.
Could it be that in the life cycle of the butterfly we can see a parable about the potential for our own lives? Is life here on planet earth, compared to what we will experience after death, as improbable as the difference between the larva and the adult butterfly?
There are certainly things about our own existence that we simply cannot fathom, not because we are not extraordinarily intelligent or perceptive people, but because there are things in life and death that are beyond our ability to conceive or imagine.
To get all scientific about it again, which I seem to be doing a lot lately, astrophysicists can explain with a high degree of certainty things that are happening in the far-flung reaches of space, things that cannot be studied through a telescope. At times they have to use a deductive process: in order for such and such to make sense, such and such needs to be happening. If the universe behaves the way it does, then certain things need to be taking place.
If someone came upon a butterfly, having never seen or heard about the process of its development, even with careful observation they would never arrive at the correct understanding of how it grows and changes.
The frustrating thing is that we cannot know what we don’t know. We cannot step outside our own limits of perception, however large they may be, and imagine something that is beyond our understanding.
In his letter to the Christians at the Church in Corinth, Paul acknowledges the limits of human knowledge - even the special knowledge that comes as a gift from God - and contrasts this with the superior values of faith, hope and love. He says that we ‘see in a mirror, dimly’, in others words we only see a poor reflection of what is to be. His awareness of the limitations of our knowledge made no difference to what he believed, but the two great events of Jesus’ life - the crucifixion and the resurrection - were essential to Paul in order to make sense of his faith.
The events surrounding the resurrection were massively important to Paul, and in fact he reasoned that if there is no resurrection, and being a Christian is of value only in this life, then, as he puts it, ‘we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied’. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
After the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul never doubted. He had been met and blinded by the living Christ, whose followers he was busy rounding up and having put to death.
The bottom line in all of this is that often God knows things and we don’t. What is important is to be aware of things about your life and about other people, living and dead, that bring you to the point of realizing that there is more.
There is more to life and death than we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly - that unseen transition - there is more than we can observe and measure. The journey of Jesus Christ, from death to life, is our proof of it, and indeed the promise to us that we will enjoy that miraculous transformation too.
With every blessing for a happy and blessed Easter.
Your parish priest and friend,
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