PASSAGES – METAMORPHOSES
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118, John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday, 1997 by Tad Mitsui (Confirmation Service)
They say, cats have nine lives. But when we think of the changes we go through in our life time, we also have many lives. We may not change our appearances as much as an egg does when it hatches into a yellow baby chick, and then grows into a full grown chicken. But when you pull out some old pictures of yours, you realize how much you have changed. These big changes in life are called metamorphoses. Those people who confirmed their faith and joined the church today are making a lot of changes. They may not realize it, but even in those five short months of confirmation class, they grew up so much. From birth to death, all of us go through many transformations, almost as often as once in every ten years. And we call each period of time of change a passage. The message of Easter is that death is also a passage, not an end to life but a metamorphosis. Jesus showed us the way through a difficult passage called death, making our transition from mere physical existence into a state of spiritual being.
Passages often feel like difficult tight spaces to go through, which we must pass. When I am not well, I often have a nightmare of a dark, endless and narrow passage like a tube where the air is tight and suffocating. I awake gasping for air. It is frightening not only due to the fear of suffocation but also for the fear of unknown at the end of the tunnel. I don”t know what”s out there, and that”s scary. Psychologists suggest that at some level we remember the first passage we go through in our journey into the world; from our mother”s womb through the narrow, dark, and suffocating tube into open air. We usually do not consciously recall this because it is too scary to remember. We forget something we don”t want to remember. But our body remembers – so it comes back in bad dreams. After the birth passage, we go through other difficult new experiences in the first few years as a baby. Babies cry a lot, because often they don”t know what”s happening. And that”s frightening. When they are hungry, they cry because they don”t know why their tummies hurt. When they are wet, they cry because they don”t know why they have that yucky feeling on the bottom. When a baby cries, it is calling you to pay attention. It is a God”s call to love.
Puberty is another difficult passage of life. Between the ages of ten and fifteen, we go through incredible amount of change, in our bodies and in our mind. I remember I stumbled a lot because I had not realized how fast I was growing up. Friends begin to look more important than parents, though we are still very much dependent on them. Suddenly you become aware that people begin to pay more attention to you. You don”t realize that you are more attractive in appearance. You are like fresh bread just out of oven. And the attention people give you is not necessarily the kind you want. It is a difficult time.
When Jesus was twelve, he proved to the parents that he was growing not only in height but also in spirit. The mind begins to work differently at that age. Jesus and his parents went to the big city of Jerusalem for the spring festival of passover, which for us is the same time as our Easter. When they started to head home, they lost Jesus. But they did not worry. He was a big boy now. He had begun to spend more time with friends and grown-ups. They travelled looking for him among friends and relatives who were also going home. They could not find him for three days. Now they were really worried. So they went back to Jerusalem. After a frantic search of the city, finally they found him in the temple. He was talking with teachers of the Bible and the law. They were so fascinated by the young Jesus who had so much to say about religion, that they kept him in the Temple for three days talking with him. Jesus said to the parents, "Why are you worried? Don”t you know I am in my father”s house?" When you reach twelve or older, mere facts and figures alone are not as interesting as they were when you were younger. But now you want to know the meaning of things. The factual world is not enough. Also openly or secretly, you begin to be more interested in the other sex. Relationships are suddenly very important. Your interest has shifted to what is emotional and spiritual. So you ask "why" more often. You are now ready to enter into adult world just like Jesus was when he was twelve.
This is why in many cultures, the special training period for young people entering adolescence is important to prepare them for the shock of adulthood. The end of this training period is celebrated with gusto. It is important to mark this period of passage, because it is important for them to feel welcomed by a community of people who care for them. The adult world they are preparing to join is not an easy place. They must know that there are people beyond family, who have same values and same outlook in life. They must know that there are people who share happiness, and help you and support you in times of trouble. It is a way of God to tell us that he loves us. Schools do not do this.
I wish there were more celebrations of our lives” passages. Not only baptisms, weddings, and birthdays, but also occasions to acknowledge and show support for our friends and loved ones when they go through a mid-life crisis, or serious illness, separation, or retirement. They are difficult times and important times. In all those passages, we change, just like a butterfly in its different stages of development. We must have a community to celebrate together and affirm together the fact that God loves us. The community of faith is a group of people who stick with you no matter what. When we live in such a community, even death can become believable as another passage of life just like it was for Jesus, who came back from death and promised to live with us forever.