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Butterflies and Resurrection

“The butterfly is sometimes seen in paintings of the Virgin and Child, and is usually in the Child’s hand. It is a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ. In a more general sense, the butterfly may symbolize the resurrection of all [people]. This meaning is derived from the three stages in its life as represented by the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly, which are clearly symbols of life, death, and resurrection.” George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art.

This spring we planted some more milkweed in our back yard wildflower garden. Milkweed is the only host plant for monarch butterflies, and monarchs are the only butterflies that make a two-way migration, like birds. Monarchs winter in California and Mexico. In the spring they fly north and lay eggs on milkweed plants. Out hatches a caterpillar who munches on the milkweed for a couple of weeks until it turns into a chrysalis (a pupa). From the outside, the chrysalis appears dormant, but inside a remarkable metamorphosis is happening. The body parts of the caterpillar are being transformed into a beautiful butterfly. In ten days, the butterfly emerges, feeds on flowers and flies north. The round-trip journey takes four generations.

I can find monarch caterpillars, but Laura is better at spotting butterfly pupae. The elusive pupae remind me that death is not a state of nothingness. It is, rather, a state of powerful transformation. As Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “We will all be changed… and the dead will be raised imperishable.” Our scripture for this Sunday, 1 John 3, states, “Beloved, we are children of God now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” We struggle to imagine what we will become when we are raised from the dead, but we trust that we will be more beautiful than we are now. Then, by God’s grace, we will truly take flight.

Monarch butterflies are in trouble. 20 years ago, 1,200,000 monarchs wintered over in California. Last winter, just 1,914 did. The number of monarchs that returned to Mexico declined by 25% this winter. Loss of milkweed due to mowing, herbicide use, and development is a leading cause of monarch butterfly decline.

In April, we begin the month celebrating Easter, and we will end the month re-affirming our status as an Earth Care Congregation. If you’re looking for some flowers to buy for your garden this year, why not buy some milkweed? Adding milkweed to your flower beds or pots is a fitting way to be good stewards of God’s creation. The caterpillars and pupae that you might find on them in a few months will remind you that Jesus Christ entered the tomb dead but emerged alive in a new and wonderful way. Give thanks when you see the butterflies, and give them a place to call home.

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