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Sunday, 25 March 2012


Today is all about butterflies! First of all, F is going to read us a story. It's a story you know very well – you probably remember it being read to you, or perhaps you read it to younger brothers and sisters, or to your own children. (F reads “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”).

So the caterpillar became a beautiful butterfly. But before he became a butterfly, there was an intermediate stage. He built a cocoon around himself. He became a pupa.

That isn’t just a matter of hibernating, like a dormouse or bear; to become a butterfly, caterpillars have to be completely remade.  While they are in the pupa, all their bits dissolve away, and are made from scratch, from the material that is there.  It’s not just a matter of rearranging what is there, it’s a matter of total breakdown and starting again. The caterpillar more-or-less has to die before it can become a butterfly.

That's really scary. But it's also very appropriate as we enter the season called Passiontide. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus knows that he is going to die. He is dreading it. He was, after all, human. We wouldn’t like it if we knew we were to be put to death tomorrow. I once dreamed that I was going to be executed, and I can’t tell you how frightened I was! I was so relieved to wake up and find that it was all a dream.

The farmers were sowing their fields. Jesus knew, perhaps, that he would not live to see the crops grow. But he knew that they would grow. And, more importantly, he knew that they would not grow if they were not sown. If they remained in their basket, they might germinate, but they would rot away almost at once. Or, if they were kept in very dry conditions, they might remain viable for years, but nothing would happen.

The seeds had to die.

The birds, at that time and in that place, were building their nests and laying their eggs. But the eggs couldn’t remain as eggs – they would addle and be no good to anybody. The young birds had to grow inside the eggs, and then they must force their way out or they would die.

Jesus could see the caterpillars that were hatching from the eggs laid last year. He knew, I expect, that they had to become pupae before they could be butterflies.

Someone he knew had had a baby lately; Jesus remembered this: “When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come.
But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. “

Jesus saw all this and knew that from seeming dissolution, God brought new life. He knew that he would have to die, so that new life could come.

Perhaps at that stage he didn’t really know how this would happen. He knew that it must happen, but not how it would.

We know that God raised Jesus from death, and because of that, we have eternal life. But that didn't stop it being really scary.

But this verse has become very important to me over the last ten days: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

What is going to happen to our Circuit with two of our Churches closing? What is going to happen to me? Where will I be worshipping this autumn? It's very scary, especially for the people of King's Acre and Railton Road – and, of course, it's dreadfully sad. I've been worshipping at King's Acre for well over thirty years now. But – what if, what if God is going to bring resurrection out of all of this? What if this Circuit needs to die in order to be raised to something better?
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

This is what I am taking with me into this Eastertide. When a caterpillar becomes a pupa, it seems as though it dies. But it is raised to new life as a butterfly. This Circuit is dying – my church is dying – but what is God going to raise it as? I am sad beyond words, but I'm also looking forward to finding out!

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