The Butterfly and Signs of Resurrection

Since I was a little girl, I have appreciated the butterfly as a symbol of resurrection. I remember a walk through a special display about butterflies in a natural history museum on a family trip when I was about eight or nine. We learned about the phases of life from caterpillar to chrysalis, to an amazing winged thing of beauty taking flight. That exhibit exited through a fully-fenced enclosure where butterflies flew and alighted on us.

I also remember my mother, a trained Christian educator, telling me how the caterpillar spins itself into a cocoon that looks like an ancient Egyptian mummy in a tomb (I spent a lot of my childhood in museums)! In the cocoon it dies to its old way of being and becomes something extraordinary. That’s why, my mother said, the butterfly has long been a symbol of resurrection as its old way of being dies, and it emerges into a completely new life.

As we emerge from this pandemic, I’ve been thinking about another butterfly story my mother sent to me more than 20 years ago, with a little note that it might be useful in a sermon. It was a sad story with a remarkable ending about a colony of monarch butterflies that overwintered in Mexico. Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles to the warm winter climate in the forests of Central America. That year, however, a late unexpected freeze caused the death of millions of monarch butterflies. Scientists sadly penetrated the gray carpet of dead butterflies, and in order to estimate the number of those lost, they reached down through the lifeless layers. There they discovered that below the depths were layers of butterflies saved by the blanket of the millions that had died. In that unexpected late winter freeze, their deceased and decaying frozen wings provided a layer of warmth for the butterflies they covered.

This year we are beginning to emerge from this pandemic season mindful of over three million lives lost worldwide. So much death. So much grief. Those of us who emerge have much to be grateful for all that we have learned during the most difficult days of cocooning isolation.

And like a butterfly taking shape, our emerging to communal life together is a slow process. We have begun coming together for outdoor events. This Sunday our elected leaders of Elders, Deacons and Trustees will hold a “trial run” of in-person worship in the Sanctuary to prepare for in-person Sanctuary worship beginning on May 9 at 10:00 a.m. The May 9 service is open to all church members, but pre-registration is required.

In the coming months even more opportunities for gathering will unfold for the whole congregation. In some ways it does feel like the church resurrecting! And I am thankful for the example of the butterfly, an ancient symbol of resurrection that becomes a thing of beauty!