April 16, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Carla Wilks

Rev. Carla Wilks

Associate Minister

Emerge A Metamorphosis Moment

“Tombs and Cocoons: Trusting in the Dark “

Scripture Reading: John 20: 1-18    

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When I lived in Hanover, Ontario, we lived within the region where the monarch butterfly lived. Having grown up in Burnaby – I had not experienced monarch butterflies. My daughters were both very interested in nature and science, as was I, so we decided to raise butterflies. We went to the park by the river, found the milkweed, as milkweed is the only plant that the monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on, and it is the only food that the monarch caterpillars eat. (IMAGE) We brought home some milkweed leaves that had monarch eggs on the underside – the eggs are little white eggs that are the size of the head of a pin. We watched the caterpillars hatch and grow and shed their skin and grow and shed their skin again. I learned a lot from these caterpillars – when it was time for them to transform, they would hang from the net and in a J shaped form. (IMAGE) Then the caterpillar would bust out of its skin and its insides would become a beautiful green chrysalis, with a gold band around the top, filled with a green goo. (IMAGE) As it begins to transform, the green chrysalis would start to darken and then we would begin to see the butterfly inside. (IMAGE) It was an amazing thing to watch. When it was ready, it would bust out of the chrysalis, which is no longer green, but a clear outer case. The butterfly would then spread its wings to dry them out and hang for a bit. (IMAGE) Once they were ready, we would release them outside and they would fly away.

It was a fascinating process to watch and learn about transformation. That tiny egg on the milkweed leaf had everything that it needed in order to hatch into a caterpillar. In the case of the monarch, the caterpillar did not enter into or create a protective casing around it for transformation to happen – but instead it busts out of its skin and becomes a chrysalis. The caterpillar is no longer, and it waits for transformation to occur again, when it becomes a butterfly.

In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, the theologian Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that the darkness is precisely where new life takes root. She writes, “Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpeters, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave [a tomb], it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air… new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

For Mary being pregnant in the situation she is in, in that time and place, her growing womb would not be for her an experience of complete joy. There would have been the fear of being an unwed young woman at a time when that was not ok. But, in today’s first reading the angel appears to her and tells her to not be afraid. This begins for her a transformation. Her growing womb, which may have been a place of darkness and fear, she learns is a place of nurture and promise for birthing the Holy child.

And then in our second reading, we fast forward through Jesus’ life and teaching, straight to his death. He was placed in this dark, quiet, safe tomb, as his dignified resting place after a public and humiliating death by crucifixion. But again that dark tomb surrounded by sadness and despair, became instead a place of promise for what would happen next. The time in the darkness would be a waiting time for the promise of new life to come when the tomb was found to be empty.

I imagine there is not one person here in this sanctuary who has not gone through some dark times in their lives. For some of you, that time may be right now. When we are in the midst of those difficult times, there are times when we think the darkness will consume us, that the constraints will never ease up, that we will never emerge from the tomb that surrounds us. We feel like we will remain buried in our grief or our brokenness or our despair. And then, one day there is a little bit of light. Or maybe have our eyes just adjusted to the darkness? Regardless, we begin to navigate that darkness a little better. Maybe it feels a little lighter because we have found someone who has walked a similar path before us, and it gives us a little promise. Or maybe we can navigate a little easier because there is someone bringing light and some joy to our day. Or maybe enough time has passed that we don’t feel as immobilized as we felt before. Or maybe we have the energy to focus on something different for a while.

When we look back on difficult times in our past, it is sometimes easier to see where those bursts of light break into the darkness. Hindsight is a gift for the next time we find ourselves in darkness. We have successfully emerged from those difficult times before, so just maybe we will remember that for the next time, and we might recognize the signs of promise sooner.

Each time we move through the Good Friday story through to Easter, it is a reminder for our own lives of the promise of new life after darkness or difficulty or tragedy. We are reminded to trust in the God that can help us to see the potential in the darkness, who can make what seems impossible, possible. We learn to trust in God to see us through the darkness to better times.

In the darkness of the womb and the darkness of the tomb, the preparation happens for the new life and rebirth that is about to emerge. One thing we will never know is what happened to Jesus’ body in the three days between Good Friday and Easter morning.

We don’t really understand how Jesus came to be conceived, or came to be resurrected — but we take it on faith that these two things happened and did so in the obscure darkness out of anyone’s sight. We can mischaracterize the dark as a place of uncertainty, fear, and even death. But that isn’t the whole picture. Darkness, that is a place without light, is also a place of incredible possibility. The womb, though dark, is a nurturing place.

Spiritual mystics attribute a time of deep spiritual potential in what is called the “dark night of the soul” when we experience spiritual and even existential doubt, emptiness, and discouragement. While it can seem difficult or painful, the dark night of the soul is often understood as a crucial precipice before spiritual transformation occurs. Darkness is the place that is waiting for the morning to come. Darkness is where we go to rest and recuperate and recover. Darkness in the cocoon is a place of mysterious transformation where a worm like thing becomes a winged thing of incandescent beauty.

How can we revel in the potential of the darkness – the “in-between” places rather than simply be impatient for the result? What holy and sacred life can be lived in the time that is between what was, and what has yet to become?

When raising butterflies back in Hanover, (IMAGE)I was amazed that those tiny eggs that were laid on those milkweed leaves, had all the ingredients of a big caterpillar, which then transformed into the green and gold chrysalis and then the orange and white and black butterfly. Each stage was not recognizable in the stage before.

I wonder what kind of ingredients for future possibilities exist within you and within me. Many of us are at a stage of life that things have emerged in our lives that we never thought possible. Or our lives took an unexpected turn to a place we never would have imagined.

I wonder what kind of ingredients for future possibilities exist within Mount Seymour United Church? What might be nurtured in the darkness and uncertainty of these times? What ministry possibilities is God calling us to in these days?

The reminder today of the womb where Jesus was nurtured and the tomb where he was buried, can be a reminder for us that even in the dark places, there is possibility and potential, and it is a reminder to us to find and to trust the holy, mystical, and spiritual presence of God in the incomplete, in the potential, and in the waiting time, and we might just be amazed by what emerges.

I came across this reading this week, and it really resonated with me about the darkness holding promise, so I will close with it.

There is nothing I dislike more than stumbling around in the dark

Things get scary in the dark


Everything is magnified

Every sound

Every smell

Every sensation


Its terrifying


And when it is really dark

I mean deep down

Soul dark


We sometimes feel hopeless

And helpless

We see no end to this darkness

It feels as if the light will never come


But of course

It does


And it is then we realize

We learned things in the dark


About ourselves

Mostly about ourselves


We learn what we are afraid of

What we dislike

We learn where we are weak

We learn about resilience

And patience


Things are born in the darkness

That blossom

When finally exposed to the light


Hope is born

So is generosity

And love


What gets us through those dark times?

Those moments when we think

The light will never come


What gets us through the night of despair

When it feels as if the world will never be right again?

When it feels as if hate wins

And love loses


When it feels like we will never be right again

Sometimes it is nothing more than a whisper

The hint of an angels breath


Sometimes it is a message so faint

We can barely hear it

So soft we wonder if it is real


You are loved

You are a child of God

You can start fresh

Love wins


Thanks be to God.