Giving Up Death

John 20:1-18                                                                                               NIV 1685

 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.


  1. Several years ago, Ann and I took a trip to Niagara Falls to see the splendor of this beautiful sight. It was amazing to see all the water flowing rapidly over the falls and getting sprayed by the mist.
    1. As we searched for other things to do in the area, we found a Butterfly Conservatory located downstream near Lake Ontario.
    2. It was amazing — Located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, visitors to the Butterfly Conservatory are transported to a tropical paradise full of lush vegetation, trickling waterfalls and thousands of vibrantly colored butterflies. Over 2,000 butterflies, made up of 45 different species, call this beautiful space home.
    3. Every year people come from all over to explore this covered outdoor garden full of colorful flowers and hundreds of different kinds of butterflies. The butterflies are everywhere, and they land on your head or arms – they are everywhere with their dazzling colors and size.
  2. Butterflies are nature’s best example of transformation, and Easter Sunday is the quintessential transformation story of our faith, which means butterflies are the perfect illustration of Jesus’ journey from cross to tomb to resurrection.
  3. Butterflies are transformational creatures.
  4. In our own faith lives, Holy Week is also transformational.  
    1. On Good Friday, Jesus’ broken body was lifted onto the most extreme instrument of torture of his time, the cross. 
    2. He was mocked and by the soldiers and the crowd, people who had gathered to hear Jesus preach, witnessed miracles and signs, people who just a week ago had laid their coats on the ground and waved palms as Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem.   
    3. Jesus died slowly, painfully, unjustly.  By the time he drew his last breath just as the sun disappeared from the sky, he would have been unrecognizable to even those closest to him. 
    4. His body was beaten and broken, bruised and crushed, and his death was not the gentle picture we often see on stained glass recreations.  
  5. Because Jewish custom required his body to be removed by sundown, and because it took time for Joseph of Arimathea and the other disciples to convince Pilate to release Jesus’s body, he was rushed, un-anointed into the borrowed tomb. 
    1. Jesus was wrapped in burial cloths, hurriedly and unceremoniously, and sealed in utter darkness as the giant stone was rolled into place and the tomb was closed off from the world and the ones who loved Jesus. 
    2. And that was the end. Good Friday was over.  Jesus was dead.  His body lay in the dark from Friday evening, until the third day, Sunday.
  6. Pause
  7. Back to the butterfly.
    1. Have you ever thought about what happens when caterpillar transforms from furry little worm to beautiful winged butterfly?
    2.  Have you ever what wondered what happens to that larva (also known as chrysalis), when the caterpillar is cocooned away from the light of the world, when in a sense, the stone is rolled in front of his tiny tomb?
  8. In my mind’s eye I see the little caterpillar go to sleep, and while it hibernates, legs sprout from his furry body.
    1. Wings sprout from his back, until the day when the chrysalis cracks open and the gentle transformation has produced a beautiful butterfly that is like the thing it used to be, but prettier and more impressive. 
  9. And how wrong my imagination actually is!  There is nothing gentle or smooth about this transformation and in fact, it is nothing short of cataclysmic!
    1. There is a podcast by biologist Andrei Sourakov, who is with the Florida Museum of Natural History.
    2. In this podcast, he explained how he took a day-old chrysalis and cut it open, inside, there was no caterpillar. There was no butterfly. There was no halfway thing, like a tadpole, with legs sprouting or wings breaking through.
  10. In fact, Sourakov found nothing to resemble an insect at all. No head, no legs, no little body.
    1. The inside of the chrysalis was a white, yucky, goo.
    2. You see, when that caterpillar enters its tomb, muscles dissolve and structures rupture. 
    3. All that is left of the caterpillar who once was — is an amino acid protein mixture. 
    4. Sourakov called the transformation “cataclysmic and catastrophic.” It is a violent, disruptive change.
  11. It is the model Easter Story! 
    1. In order to emerge from the chrysalis, in order to enable a new birth of beauty and wonder, the caterpillar must first be entirely broken and crushed.
    2. The caterpillar experiences its own Good Friday before it too experiences resurrection!
  12. But there’s something that’s even more amazing. Biologists at Georgetown University in Washington DC have experimented with conditioning caterpillars to respond to attractive and repulsive odors before those caterpillars go into the chrysalis.
    1.  Amazingly, when the butterflies emerge, they retain the same attraction and repulsion to the same smells. 
  13. Wow!
    1. Even though the caterpillars are dissolved in their tomb, somehow the essence of who they are remains when they are reborn.
    2. They are a totally and completely new thing, but the old thing is not completely lost. 
    3. The core of who they are remains. They are reborn, but they are still themselves.
  14. And there’s even more.
    1. When biologists study young caterpillars, they discover that within the caterpillar exists microscopic seeds of butterfly’s wings.
    2. Long before it will go through transformation.  Even before the caterpillar is destroyed in order to birth the butterfly, its future self already lives within it. 
    3. The butterfly that will become — is hidden within the caterpillar that already is.
    4. The butterfly that will become — is hidden within the caterpillar that already is.    
  15. Of course, Easter isn’t about butterflies, it’s about Jesus, but so much that we see in the chrysalis we see also in Jesus.
    1. When Jesus emerges from the mystery of the tomb, the change is utter and complete.
    2. What was destroyed has been restored; what was dead has been reborn. What was killed has been resurrected. 
  16. On Easter morning, when Mary meets Jesus, she does not even recognize the man she buried two days ago.  He is once again unrecognizable, but this time not because he is broken and bloody, but because he has been reborn, transformed completely.  
  17. Yet evidence of who he was remains in who he is. 
    1. The scars on Jesus’ hands and feet are present even on his resurrected body.
    2.  His love for Mary and the others is still present. 
    3. His commitment to his disciples and all the world is as strong as it was before he entered the tomb.
    4.  His is new life, but evidence of the old life, the Jesus known and loved by Mary and the others, is still present.
  18. Easter is about Jesus, but it is also about us.
    1. We claim the way of suffering when we claim the way of Christ. 
    2. We say again and again that in order to share in the promises of resurrection we must also share in the passion of Jesus. 
  19. So many of us want to skip Good Friday.
    1. We want to rush headlong into Easter, claim the promises of resurrection for ourselves, experience rebirth and be assured of life everlasting, but we want to get there without walking the Via Dolorosa—the way of suffering — the way of the cross.
    2. We want the gain without the pain, the glory without the sacrifice, the resurrection without the death. 
  20. But revealed in the story of the caterpillar is the mistake in that kind of reasoning. 
    1. The caterpillar cannot become what it was meant to be all along without giving up what it already is. 
    2. Likewise, Jesus could not become for us good news unless he first experienced the death of the cross and the cataclysmic change of the dark, lonely tomb.  
  21. We must experience Good Friday. 
    1. We must be willing to be dissolved of those things we cling to that separate us from God’s presence and goodness. 
  22. All during this Lenten season, we have been looking at giving up for Lent. Not delicious things like chocolate or candy or coffee, but things that keep us astray from following God’s desires for us. 
    1. We have given up our need to be in control and our own expectations.
    2. We have let go of our predisposition towards superiority and our obsession with popularity. 
    3. We have promised to give up our lives for the sake of others.
    4. These are difficult steps for us to take – but Good Friday is in the way of Easter.  
  23. But, oh, how Easter is worth Good Friday!
  24. How the experience of the tomb is worth the promise!
    1. The promise is that the tombstone will roll away.
    2. The chrysalis will crack open.
  25. We will emerge from Good Friday with Jesus into new life.
    1. But this doesn’t mean we lose our old selves. 
    2. We will be remade, recreated, but the best of who we were and are remain—our passions, our loves, our gifts, what makes us – us.  
    3. We will be who we are, but redeemed in the light of God’s grace, we will be us, but rebirthed, remade, something altogether new!
  26. Easter is the climatic resolution of all of life’s work, struggles, and hardships. 
    1. Just as Jesus emerged from that tomb whole and new, so we too emerge from our darkest night a new creation. 
    2. And the same spirit that transforms the caterpillar is the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is the same spirit who lives within us, destroying the old, recreating us, resurrecting us to a new mission and a new purpose.  
  27. Easter is the day of transformation realized, not because it is offered to us but because we experience it for ourselves—the death, the cataclysmic change, the rebirth, the resurrection.  It’s for us but it is also a part of us.  
    1. Easter empowers us to stand in the margins with people who are locked in their own dark places, to assure them that there is more to this life than what they can see.  
    2. Easter turns us into kingdom builders who carry the light of eternity into the darkness in a world still ruled by flawed human beings with bombs and threats of war.  
    3. Easter gives us power to proclaim the good news, which is life, wholeness, and hope! Easter allows us to speak life into death with authority, because death has already been overcome. 
    4.  Easter is the heart of justice, the voice of revelation, the arms of mercy, the moment of truth and the fulfillment of every promise given human beings since the beginning of time.
  28. To experience Easter for ourselves, we need only look inward, where the seed of resurrection life has been within us since the moment God created us, knit us together, breathed into us God’s own spirit.
  29. As the mathematician Blaise Pascal said it:  there is a God-shaped hole in each of us.  In each of us is a spark of what is yet to be, unrealized but not out of reach. 
  30. Let us be willing to embrace the Spirit even as it pulls us into the tomb of not ready to grow, to displace and dissolve those things that separate us from God and our neighbors, to burst forth in unimaginable and brilliant color.
  31. Norah has entered the tomb of Good Friday. She has struggled for three weeks. Her body amputated to save her life – but Good Friday came – the darkness of death.
    1. Soon her body will turn into ashes –as in the funeral liturgy – ashes to ashes -dust to dust.
    2. But – and this is a big But of hope — deep in the ash’s DNA resides a seed – a seed that has her new body – whole body without amputations. A whole body, blossoming with the potential for a new person – whole – brilliant – waiting to emerge.
    3. Like the chrysalis of the caterpillar – God has implanted the seeds of a new life – a new body – a complete beautiful body – seeds that will make her destined to be at resurrection time.
  32. This is the moment. This is the day, for the caterpillar, for Christ, for Norah, for you, for all of us. 
  33. May the power and the hope of resurrection be ours, this Easter Sunday, and for all eternity.
  34. Thanks be to God
  35. [1] Paraphrased from Rev. Becca Wiering Easter Sunday 4/16/2017