Here is an Easter story I created twenty years ago about two nasty caterpillars named Joe and Pete who were also asleep in their cocoons, completely unaware of what was going to happen next. Perhaps we can hear it with the eyes and ears of children and bow, once again, before the mystery of life!
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Once upon a time, Mrs. Murphy had a very beautiful magical garden nestled against her very lovely house in East Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She had nasturtiums, and marigolds and tulips and petunias and begonias and roses in her garden. They were all arranged in a way delightful to the eye along the brick pathway that encircled her garden. It really was the prettiest garden in greater Oshkosh.
EXCEPT…something or someone was eating the leaves off her pretty flowers. The flowers were lovely, but the leaves were all chewed up!
She hunted and hunted all over the garden for the nasty little culprits, but no matter how she tried, she couldn’t find them.
Meanwhile, Joe and Pete were munching away contentedly on the underside of the leaves so they couldn’t be found. Joe and Pete were rather ugly caterpillars. (At least the girls thought so; the boys always delight in such funny looking creatures.)
Joe was fuzzy all over with black fur and had orange stripes. Pete, on the other hand, was rather naked for a caterpillar, with ridges up and down its body. Even the boys felt sorry for him — he was so ugly!
Joe and Pete rather enjoyed their diet of leaves, but it took them light years to get from plant to plant because they had to crawl from place to place. “Remember one leg at time — one leg at a time,” Pete told himself when he had to make the long journey to another plant. (And all those legs! It took a century for a caterpillar to move from place to place.)
Though they ate voraciously, they were rather bored with life. Existence was really very dull for them. They longed for a freer, more happy existence, and wondered what future might lay in store for them.
One day, something mysterious called them away to a quiet corner of the garden where no one, including Mrs. Murphy, could find them. They were really very grateful that she hadn’t found them, for they would surely have come to a dastardly end. (The society for the prevention of cruelty to caterpillars was not too pleased with this article.)
And then something very wonderful began to happen to them. Something that has happened to every caterpillar that has ever existed on this planet — although they won’t know what it is like until they have experienced it.
They attached themselves to the underside of two large leaves and went to sleep — a very, very long sleep. Soon a cocoon made of silvery silk threads began to grow around them. It covered them all over as if they were dead and sealed them up as if they had gone into a tomb. A long time passed — at least a long time for caterpillars.
Mrs. Murphy kept searching for her nasty little pests, but couldn’t find them. But she did notice that no more of her lovely flowers were being disturbed. (She had been praying against these mischievous caterpillars and it looked like her prayers had been answered. That was as violent as Mrs. Murphy ever got — to pray against them.) She breathed a sigh of relief because it looked as if there was finally peace in her lovely garden.
One bright, spring morning she noticed two wonderful additions to the feast for the eyes that lay before her and all the visitors that came to see her roses and nasturtiums and tulips and daffodils. These two new additions to her garden were really wonderful to behold — though one had to be really discerning to notice them. They were the two most beautiful butterflies her garden had ever seen! One was hued with silvery blue in the center, surrounded with bright crimson. (Was it Joe or Pete? — we could ask; but they wouldn’t tell, they were so delighted to be free and happy and no longer condemned to eat off the leaves of plants. They actually had felt not a little guilty for destroying others so they could eat.)
The other (Was it Pete or Joe? They wouldn’t tell.) was bright orange and yellow and brown on the outside along the tips of the wings. Both wonderful butterflies danced in the air from flower to flower. They were so happy that any one who noticed them could see. They were free! Finally free! They really, really loved their new existence.
No longer did they have personalities that hurt or destroyed others, but now they were actually helping all the flowers spread their pollen around so that, next year, there would be some more beautiful nasturtiums and roses and begonias.
And for the purposes of this little Easter story, let us just say that Joe and Pete and Mrs. Murphy lived happily ever after.
Quite a story of transformation, don’t you think? Joe and Pete as caterpillars were ugly and (let’s face it) downright nasty creatures. Who would ever think that they could have such a total transformation! After their experience of darkness, they became the most beautiful of God’s creatures.
So it is with Jesus: before his experience of darkness, he was bound to the physical laws of suffering and death, just as you and I. After the Resurrection, his body became transformed as light! And his power extends from end to end: he lives and reigns as Lord of the Universe.
So too with us: we are also bound by the laws of suffering and death. And many of us think that that is all there is– that there is no hope beyond the grave.
But the wonderful meaning of Easter for us is that we will transcend our own experiences of darkness — our own experiences of cocoon, or tomb — and we will also have a body which will be transformed as light!
This is the central message of the faith of Christians. We, too, will have a glorified body and spirit and will live forever and ever and ever and ever!
I KNOW this is true. I am absolutely certain of it. There is not the slightest doubt in me that all my ugliness and nastiness will eventually be transformed into a beautiful creature of God.
And so, I become interested in the transformation process. We call this “the Paschal Mystery,” namely the transition from suffering > to death > to resurrection.
My faith trains me to keep recognizing where I am in the transformation cycle. Am I in the suffering phase? Am I dying to my self-centeredness? Letting go of my faults and my own nastiness? Or am I in the rising phase, experiencing new life and new growth?
This cycle goes on and on and on until that day in our off-planet journey (at a time that the Father himself decrees) that the glory of God and all his creation should be revealed in all splendor and refulgence. And we, too, will be included in that glorious transformation!
Who would ever think that a caterpillar could become a butterfly! Who would every think that a man could be risen from the dead! Who would ever think that our own darkness and drudgery could become as light!
And so, dear reader, the message of Easter is that there is hope. Things are not as dark as they seem. Even if they do not get better for us in our planetside journey, they will be so wonderfully better on our off-planet journey — if we open ourselves to God and to love. And what is even better news, is that the Paschal Mystery continues–even in this life. In other words, transformation of our ugliness and nastiness is possible right here in the midst of our earthly life!
And so, may we say with e. e. cummings (the wonderful poet known for his preference for small letters): “let him easter in us!”
Let him easter in us. Let him work his wonderful transformation in the inner parts of our soul. As for me, a most wonderful affirmation of my priestly ministry has been to witness him “eastering” in so many of his people, including myself — transforming darkness into light, pain into joy, despair into hope.
Yes, the caterpillar-transformed-into-a-butterfly is the natural symbol that enables us to understand the resurrection of Jesus and our own participation in the death/resurrection process which we call the Paschal Mystery. Reflect on the little story I have told here. Take in its power, its magic, its mystery, its miracle, its beauty.
And then apply it to your own life. Let it strengthen your faith and enliven your hope. Hope that there is a way out of darkness and pain and suffering and seemingly hopeless situations. Be assured that there is even hope that whatever ugliness or nastiness may be in your personality can be transformed as well.
Let him easter in us! Unite your life cycle to the wonderful life cycle which is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus! Let the Lord do for us what we cannot do for ourselves! The caterpillar cannot effect its own transformation. That happens by the power of nature. So, too, with us. We cannot effect our own transformation. No matter how much we try, we are powerless to bring about so great a miracle as God is calling us to. In God, what wonderful things can come about in us! In God, we will not even recognize the new self we are called to be (as we do not recognize the caterpillar in the transformed butterfly).
Yes! let him easter in us!
(Isn’t wonderful that someone has made “Easter” a verb?)