The butterfly brooch glinted in the afternoon sunlight; the parted wings glittering in shades of deep plum, violet, and Gaudete rose. It was a fitting piece of jewelry for the season and the occasion. It matched the royal purple of the paraments on the altar and the swath of linen-draped upon the wooden cross. It coordinated perfectly with the indigo jacket it was affixed to, worn by the woman in the casket.
There is never a good time for a funeral, but if there was, it would be Lent, when we reflect on the realities of our sinful condition. What better way to see the consequences of sin than to face death itself? My grandmother had lived a long, full life. She worked hard to love and serve her neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. She glorified God in all she did. Her last wish was for her grandchildren to know God. Yet, even she was not immune to death.
A few weeks before her funeral, on Ash Wednesday, I’d heard my Pastor declare “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return” as he swiped the gritty ash across my forehead. I’d hear another pastor repeat the sentiment again some time later, as the dirt settled with a sense of solemn finality on my grandmother’s grave. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sin and death are unavoidable. How humbling. How heartbreaking. How horrifying.
Without Christ, that is.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV), the Apostle Paul writes:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
Lent should not be a time for flaunting how humbled and sinful we are by public displays of self-sacrifice and discipline. It shouldn’t be a time to squabble over the best way to fast, nor to bemoan on social media how difficult it is to abstain from chocolate and carbs. Lent is a time to reflect and come head to head with the reality that because of sin, we will die. Because of sin, every person who ever lived has died. Because of sin, Christ, true God and true Man died. But He did not remain in death. He defeated it; ripping its chains wide apart and transforming it into a portal to life everlasting. Because of His suffering, death, and resurrection, we will not remain in death. By His death, the dust, ashes, and tears that cling to us are wiped away. Now, at the funerals of those who died with faith in Christ, we can grieve, but not without hope. Our condition is sad, but not hopeless or final. So also in the season of Lent, we can grieve, but not without hope.
The butterfly brooch that graced my Grandmother’s final earthly outfit now rests in the wooden jewelry box on my dresser instead of in that wooden casket. I take it out from time to time to touch its jeweled surface and to contemplate the beautiful symbolism behind it. The butterfly has long been used by Christians as a symbol for the resurrection. Caterpillars encase themselves in a tomb-like chrysalis, appearing lifeless from the outside. But one day, the papery tomb bursts open suddenly to reveal a life more beautiful than the one before. And it will be like that when we are reunited with Christ at the resurrection. The Apostle Paul continues on in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 (ESV):
“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
I will see my Grandma again. I will see my Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and all those who have passed before me. I will see Christ with my own eyes. We all will. Though we often walk in grief and sadness and struggle along our earthly way, we don’t do so without that hope Christ gives us. So while we walk through the somber season of Lent, let us do so with minds not wallowing in shame and sadness, but in the hope, relief, and gratefulness of the glorious Easter morning to come.