Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Last Sunday, Richard was preaching on the Lord Jesus’ transfiguration. A tortoiseshell butterfly was fluttering about the chapel. The godlier pretended not to notice; the rest of us followed its progress around the front of the room, till it twice fluttered by the pulpit. Soon, it landed on a bunch of cut sweet pea flowers in a vase on the communion table, while the preacher faithfully executed his task. As we fed upon a good sermon, so it imbibed the nectar of those fragrant blooms. After that service, I released four butterflies from our chapel, and another seven the days following. Being rural, and having three large buddleja bushes in the grounds, these colourful but foolish creatures will find themselves guests in our chapel until Kingdom come.

Unknown to me, these are small tortoiseshell butterflies. The large tortoiseshell was a common sight in Victorian England, and declined thereafter, finding itself extinct by 1960. Living specimens exist in captivity and the odd one still migrates here from abroad. Reasons ranging from parasites to the decline of the Elm tree have been cited. 

While small tortoiseshells seem to be common and ubiquitous, we are nevertheless living in a poorer lepidopterological world for want of their larger cousins. If Sunday’s tortoiseshell fluttering about the sweet peas reminded me of contemporary Christians feeding on God’s word, their relative size is an accurate reflection of us, too. The spiritual giants are no more, the large denominations are dying, while faithful preachers are few and far between. The age of Lloyd Jones, Spurgeon, Wesley, Owen and Perkins is over; the age of Welby, Weatherhead, Hinn and Chalke is well and truly established. I feel like one of the old men and elderly Levites of Ezra chapter 3:

…who had seen the first temple, [and] wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. (v12)

The second temple whose foundation they witnessed was an inferior construction to that it replaced. If our land has enjoyed a past golden age of Christian theology and practice, we are truly in the age of plywood. Much of Christendom seems to be cheap and mediocre. On marriage, the denominations have ceded ground and surrendered to Baal; in 'worship', we entertain goats instead of feeding the sheep and honouring the Shepherd; deceiving spirits have infiltrated many a charismatic church, whispering lies and flattery. The giants are gone, the great cities lie in ruins, the testimonies stand marred. Yet even the small butterflies flourish on the flowers. The days may be dark and the churches weak, but food there is and fellowship may still be enjoyed. One day we shall be released, but while we are here, let us resolve to feed and grow.

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16, NKJV