Chrysalis Soup: All Saints' & These Tense Times
The Rev. Sara Cosca Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
Do you know what the most frightening thing about the Beatitudes is? That comma between each phrase:
Blessed are the poor in spirit [COMMA] for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn [COMMA] for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek [COMMA] for they will inherit the earth.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in that comma. How do we know that the poor in spirit will come into the kingdom of heaven? How do we know that those who mourn will be comforted? How do we know that the meek will inherit the earth?
How do we know that when we live the way Jesus taught us, that we are actually creating a new world? A world only God can imagine for us.
How do we know anything right now?
Today, I am afraid. The fear has been growing each day that covid cases hit a new all-time high, each day I hear about yet another police killing of a Black man, each day we get closer to the election.
I want to trust that when we treat each other with compassion, we build a community that allows everyone to thrive in their own way. I want to trust that when we do little things to care for our environment, when we use less plastic or eat less meat, that we will be able to preserve this home of ours that we call Earth. I want to trust that when we live our Jesus values, we create a new world.
But the truth is, it’s been hard to see how things can get better right now. It’s been hard for me to believe that the things I do really matter. It’s been hard to believe that when I try so hard to live with intention, guided by my faith, that it really makes a difference.
These times make me doubt. Do I actually believe in comfort after suffering? Do I actually believe in the kingdom of God? Do I actually believe in resurrection?
Our being here together today tells us that we want to believe, that we want to trust God, but do we? Do we believe what Jesus says in today’s gospel?
And today, on this All Saints’ Day, I think these are the very questions that make us afraid of death. We wonder, after we die will our lives have mattered?
What we are actually facing, in the moment we’re in right now, and in death, is not an ending, but a transition whose outcome is utterly unknown.
But God, in all of God’s vast and unfathomable wisdom, gave us a creature that embodies this acute moment of uncertainty. Rebecca Solnit, a writer and historian who has studied major disasters in our world, describes this creature much better than I ever could:
When a caterpillar enters its chrysalis, it dissolves itself, quite literally, into liquid. In this state, what was a caterpillar and will be a butterfly is neither one nor the other, it’s a sort of living soup. Within this living soup are the imaginal cells that will catalyze its transformation into winged maturity….The outcome of disasters is not foreordained. It’s a conflict, one that takes place while things that were frozen, solid and locked up, have become open and fluid – full of both the best and worst possibilities. We are both becalmed and in a state of profound change.
We are in the soup right now, folks. We are neither caterpillar nor butterfly but swirling and muddled in our chrysalis, longing to go back to the solid state we knew and understood, terrified of what’s to come.
And death, well, death feels like permanent soup to us. Our loved ones are no longer flesh beside us, and there’s no knowing what’s become of them. We miss them and we want to know they’re okay.
In the Beatitudes, God makes us a promise: the kingdom will come: Where the hungry will have food, where the meek will be empowered, where all the suffering that we experience will not be for nothing.
Not maybe. Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are the merciful, for they might receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for maybe they’ll see God.” No, he said, they WILL receive mercy, they WILL see God.” What we do and how we live will matter.
We may never fully know or see the kingdom in this lifetime, but I think we get glimpses. Sometimes a caterpillar catches a glimpse of a butterfly fluttering overhead, not knowing what’s in store. We get glimpses of real justice in our world, of deep beauty, of endless love.
Many of those glimpses come through those we love. I’m sure we can remember some of those kingdom moments with those we’ve lost. Those memories are one way we see God keeping God’s promise to us. The fact that we remember those who have died, that we recognize the impact they had on us, the fact that they have shaped us to be who we are shows that what they did in their lives mattered. And because what they did in their lives mattered, what we do in our lives matters. Not only because we want to honor how they shaped us, but also because we have a chance to shape those around us, those who will remember us when we die.
This All Saints day, and this moment in our country, ask us to confront uncertainty: how do we know that we will be okay? How do we know that we will come out of this chrysalis soup intact, whole, even gorgeous and flying?
We know because that’s what God has promised us. God didn’t promise, though, that we will see the kingdom come in this lifetime. We may have to wait for the great metamorphoses death brings. So we rely on glimpses, and we trust what our saints have shown us: that what we do in the week, in the month, in the years to come matters. What we do in our lives matters. Just like what they did in their lives matters to us.