Once upon a time, I had an arrangement with the director of our church’s nursery school to come and give children’s sermons to the three and four-year-olds when the holidays arrived. At Christmas, I would bring out the Nativity set, and that was pretty straightforward. The concept of Baby Jesus being God was a little abstract, but that we pay special attention to this birth made sense, mostly. Angels, shepherds, animals, parents and a baby – it’s all good. But Easter was a challenge. I actually had a parent tell me that if I intended to mention anything about death, they would keep their child home that day. And I wasn’t going to be talking about Easter bunnies.
In the meantime, about once a month or so, I was visiting Doris, a very frail lady, tethered to large canister of oxygen in the corner of her living room. She lived alone in a small neighborhood of houses near one of the lakes in town. Although she had one of those portable oxygen units with a shoulder strap, I don’t think I ever saw her outside of her house. In spite of this limitation, she found ways to enjoy life very much. She helped her granddaughter with her homework and stayed in contact with her neighbors. Her oxygen tube was long enough to reach the mailbox by the street and that was her daily adventure when the weather allowed.
Doris had a hobby few people knew about or ever would have expected. She raised cecropia moths. Those are the enormous moths you sometimes see in the summer – brownish with big “eyes” on their wings and large, feathery antennae. Very beautiful, a miracle of creation, really. Doris knew what the cecropia caterpillars ate, their perfect environment, and every detail of their life-cycle. It might seem a little creepy to some people, but this was mostly hidden. The cocoons were in a fridge in the garage for much of the year, and when it came time for them to hatch, they went into an aquarium in a side room so that she could watch the transformation. She released the new moths each spring.
For a couple of years, Doris supplied me with my Easter children’s sermons. She could actually time the hatching of the moths with Holy Week. I would leave a cocoon in the nursery school in a large jar. By Easter weekend, a moth had emerged and we would talk about it. The kids were fascinated. I would describe to them how believing in Jesus also brings new life, a special life that only God can give – that’s what Easter is really all about. Jesus died, but God brought him back to life, something like the caterpillar in the cocoon. When we pray to God, God can make us into a new kind of person. Okay, still a little abstract!
Doris eventually experienced her own re-creation; her body no longer has limitations. And in the years since she has gone, I’ve found myself paying more attention to butterflies and moths, these temporary visitors to our flower beds, snapping a photo every now and then. Exquisite and fragile, sometimes wildly colorful, God is able to make them reappear every spring, after a winter of “death.” Especially in challenging places, especially when things seem lost, there is a promise of hope, new life, and renewal. Nothing is impossible with God.