Last Friday I followed in the Queen’s footsteps.
On Thursday she opened the new lion enclosure in London Zoo. On Friday Ruth and I were among the first members of the public to visit the new attraction, as part of a special preview for zoo members
We did get more than a glimpse of the lions- we actually saw them running and heard them roaring, which was first for me in nearly 50 years of visiting. As you know, lions, in captivity tend to pace or sleep!
I will never forget that.
But just before we joined the queue for that feature something, even more unforgettable happened.
I had my closest ever encounter with a Blue Morpho butterfly.
I was just about to leave the butterfly house when someone said ‘you seem to have a friend.’ And pointed at my coat.
There indeed was a large butterfly with its wings closed; so all I could see was the grey parchment- like, owl eyed exterior of the wing.
And then it opened its wings for a second and I glimpsed the iridescent blue inside. If you haven’t seen a Blue Morpho, the effect- produced by the refraction of light- is a kingfisher’s wing crossed with a summer sky- or the cloak of the Virgin Mary for those of you who know your medieval art!
As I knew I had to leave soon, to see the lions and I couldn’t let my hitch-hiker come with me, as the cold would kill it, and you are rightly forbidden to touch such fragile insects, I had a problem.
So I just stood there, waiting for it to take wing of its own accord.
But it didn’t budge, but just stayed their flashing its wings.
At which point the peace of the butterfly house was shattered by a troop of Primary school children. Most of whom were either nervous or terrified of the butterflies zooming around their heads- because of their unpredictable flight paths , speed, and size- some about the same size as this hymnbook.
So the children wanted to get out as quickly as they could.
Seeing that some were waving their arms about and were in danger of swiping the fragile insects, I gently remonstrated with them.
As I did so and turned, my Morpho opened its wings and the last group of the class saw it and stopped dead. The fear was immediately replaced by wonder. And they remained entranced, until I, having to get to the lions, coaxed it on to my finger and transferred it safely to a flower.
Here on Easter morning, we are at a moment when the terror of Holy Week, is eclipsed by the wonder of Easter Morning.
Jesus Christ, unjustly condemned, betrayed, abandoned by his friends, is put to death on a cross.
There are flashes of the butterfly’s wing too, of God’s and man’s glory- for example, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, as a great sign of the power of service for others, and the faithfulness and compassion of Jesus’ women followers, who don’t abandon him.
But it is only on Easter morning that the true wonder is revealed. The women are first at the tomb, and they are terrified. St Peter is next, and he is duly amazed. Which in the Greek has a much stronger sense than it does today.
To re-appropriate Yeats’ century old phrase about the Easter Rising;
the Resurrection has a terrible beauty.
Which is what we would expect- if we understand it as the decisive flashing forth of God’s glory in the world, which points towards the ultimate fulfilment for all creation of God’ loving purposes.
For centuries butterflies have been taken to represent the Resurrection, because of their beautiful transformations- as have flowers!
And candles have long been lit to help the faithful get their minds around the dazzling glory of Easter morning.
But such things were not originally seen as merely symbolic reminders of theological truths to tickle the mind. They were perceived as direct accessible examples of God’s power to transform, mend and enlighten.
God’ s glory was seen as all around- in nature, and the everyday stuff of human life. All that brings forth wonder and love.
I want to conclude with the powerful Easter prayer, written by one of the great Fathers of our Christian Church Gregory of Nazianzus, nearly 1700 years ago.
Let us pray.
Today we rejoice in the salvation of the cosmos.
Christ has risen; let us arise in him!
Christ enters new life; let us live in him;
Christ has come forth from the tomb;
The gates of hell are open,
And the powers of evil are overcome!
In Christ a new creation is coming to birth;
Lord make us new,