by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, March 30, 1997
Luke 24:1-13 The
resurrection of Jesus
Malachi 3:16-4:2 The sun of righteousness will rise
Arcana Coelestia #9031 The Lord is always rising, and never
for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness will rise
with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2)
was the last time you watched the sun rise? For me, it has been
much too long. There was a time when I kept earlier hours than I
do now, and I used to watch the sun rise quite often. My
favorite was to watch it rise over a lake, or better yet, over
the ocean. Nothing can quite compare to seeing the color growing
on the eastern horizon, until finally that first bright point of
light appears, quickly turning into a sliver of light spreading
out on the horizon as the sun climbs higher. A sunrise has a
different feel to it than a sunset; instead of coming before the
gathering night, it heralds the coming of a new day. As the sun
moves higher and higher, the light grows until it is the bright,
full, and cheerful sunshine of the morning hours.
is amazing to think that every day that is not cloudy starts
with a sunrise, even if we do not see it. God paints the sky
with those beautiful colors each morning, whether or not we are
there to appreciate that beauty. The sunrise is one of the many
beautiful things God has created in this world--beautiful things
that are waiting for us all the time, if we will only open our
eyes to see them. When we do open our eyes to see them, it seems
to us as if they come into existence for the first time. But
that is our perspective, and it comes about because we
have never noticed those beautiful things before. From God's
perspective, the beauty is always there.
matter of perspective is even more strange to think about. We
say all the time that the sun rises and sets; but if we think
about it, we know that this is not true at all. It looks to
us as if the sun rises and sets, but we know that in
relation to the earth, the sun stays still, and the earth
moves, rotating around its axis each day to give us the illusion
that the sun is rising and setting. From our perspective, the
sun rises and sets because we are living on the surface of the
earth, which carries us into and out of sight of the sun each
day. But if we were to take off in a space ship and watch the
earth from a million miles away, we would see that the earth is
turning so that different parts of it face the sun at different
said all this, will each one of us from now on be careful to
say, "My, that was a beautiful display of colors caused by
the earth rotating on its axis so that the sun comes into our
view over the earth's horizon?" Of course not! We will
continue to say, "My, that was a beautiful sunrise!"
The other way is too awkward. It is much easier to describe
things from our perspective.
is no problem with this as long as we realize, when we think
about it, that really the earth is moving and the sun is staying
in one place in relation to the earth. It is only when we insist
that, by God, (I choose this phrase carefully!) the sun does
move and the earth stands still, that we get into trouble. Then
we start doing things like forcing Galileo to recant his
heretical theories or face burning at the stake.
was not the only person ever condemned by the religious
authorities for opposing false ideas that were held to as dogma
by a mistaken church. Jesus, in his day, was condemned for the
very same reason. Jesus taught that it is obedience to the law
of love for God and for the neighbor, not obedience to
human-made laws and traditions, that gives us spiritual life.
For threatening the basis of worldly power enjoyed by the
religious authorities of his day, he was executed by
could have been the end of the story. But it was not. And the
fact that it was not--the fact that Jesus did not stay dead, but
rose on the third day--is the reason for our celebration today,
on Easter Sunday.
Jesus rose from the dead, he also turned upside-down all of our
assumptions about life and death. One of those assumption goes
something like this: "The only things that are sure in life
are death and taxes." My apologies if I have brought up a
painful subject . . . I realize that at this
particular time of year, taxes are the last thing we want to
think about. Relax! We are not going to talk about taxes. The
church, thankfully, remains exempt from most taxes. So here in
church all we have to be concerned with is death.
about death? To use our earlier image, from the perspective of
our physical senses, death looks like the sunset of our lives.
Once the sun of our life here on earth has set in the event we
call death, life as we know it is over. There is only the night
of nonexistence and oblivion. We sleep the eternal sleep of
is a human view of death. It creeps into many different aspects
of our lives. It even makes its way into our traditional
marriage ceremonies, in which we make vows to love and to
cherish our partner "until death do us part." The
implication is that at death, our marriage and the rest of our
life ends. (I hasten to add that the marriage ceremonies in our Book
of Worship do not include that phrase!)
the religious authorities of Jesus' day succeeded in having him
put to death, they apparently believed that was the end of
things, too. They probably figured that with that troublemaker
out of the way, they could go back to their business undisturbed
by that particular heresy. But it didn't work that way.
Very soon, they found themselves facing the people of the same
movement that they thought they had smashed through the death of
Jesus, its leader. Somehow, the death that had been meant to
destroy the movement instead made it stronger.
Why? The answer lies in the events we read about in the Gospel
of Luke. When the women followers of Jesus went to the tomb on
that first Easter Sunday morning, they were bringing spices to
prepare Jesus' body for burial. Clearly, they believed that the
Lord's death was final. But to their surprise, when they got to
the tomb, instead of finding the Lord's dead body, they found an
empty tomb! And as they were puzzling over this strange turn of
events, two men in dazzling clothes--angels, of course--stood
beside them and brought them the good news: Jesus is not here.
He has risen!
impact of those simple words could hardly be greater. From our
perspective--from the perspective of our physical senses--death
looks like a final ending. But from God's perspective, death is
simply a new beginning. The angels who appeared to the women
were almost casual about their announcement. They ask the women,
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" He
already told you, they said, that he would be crucified and
would rise again on the third day.
from the perspective of the angels, the fact of the Lord's
rising again is just as plain as it is to us, from a million
miles out in space, that it is the earth that is moving, not the
sun. Of course Jesus rose again. That is how things work.
Contrary to the way it seems to our earthly way of thinking,
death is simply the beginning of another phase of life.
again, the image of the earth and the sun can help us to
understand. We know that when we are watching the sun set here
on this part of the earth, in another part of the earth people
are watching the sun rise. Our sunset is simply an appearance
brought about by our particular position on the face of the
sun does not stop shining just because it is blocked by the
earth. Even on a completely overcast day, the sun is still
shining just as brightly as ever. The tops of the clouds
are always brightly illuminated. It is only those of us who
happen to be down below the clouds who think the sun is not
shining. In other words, from the sun's perspective, it is
always daytime. It is only from our perspective that there is
darkness and night.
is exactly the same with death. From our perspective, there is
death. When someone we know and love dies, their body is placed
in the earth, and we no longer see them. As far as we are
concerned, they are gone. But from God's perspective, and from
the angels' perspective, physical death is not death at all.
From a spiritual perspective, death is no different than birth;
it is our birth from the womb of this physical world into the
reality of eternal life in the spiritual world. To an angel, our
death here on earth looks like a new entrance into the life of
heaven. It is something to be celebrated!
is the perspective Jesus was speaking from when he said, "I
am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even
though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes
in me will never die" (John 11:25, 26). From a physical
perspective, this is nonsense. Of course we will die! But from a
spiritual perspective, Jesus speaks the truth. Everyone who
lives spiritually by believing in the Lord and living according
to his teachings will never die.
there, then, some way in which we really can die? Die
spiritually? Yes. Even though the Lord's resurrection on Easter
Sunday shows us that physical death is meaningless from a
spiritual perspective, there is a type of death that is real. It
is the death that the prophet Malachi speaks of in our Old
Testament reading: "See, the day is coming, burning like an
oven," says Malachi, "when all the arrogant and all
evildoers will be stubble. The day that comes shall burn them
up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither
root nor branch."
nighttime, spiritual death does not come when the Lord turns his
back on us, any more than nighttime comes when the sun turns
away from the earth. No, it is when the earth turns away from
the sun that there is night. And for us, it is when we turn away
from and reject the Lord through arrogance and evil (or
destructive) ways of living that we have spiritual death. As
Swedenborg says, the Lord never turns away from us; rather, we
turn away from the Lord.
Swedenborg tells us, the Lord as the sun is always rising, never
setting. In a literal sense, the sun of our world is always
rising, too. Somewhere in the world, the sun is rising right
now--and that will be just as true in another five or ten hours.
The place where the sun is rising is the place where the earth
is turning toward the sun.
Lord is always rising also, even if it is sometimes spiritual
sunset for us because we are turning away from the Lord. But
whenever we turn to the Lord, then the Lord is rising in our
hearts as the sun of heaven. That sun is not flaming from the
heat of blind nuclear reactions; rather, it is flaming from the
glowing warmth of love. It is a healing love of mutual
caring and service toward each other.
Malachi says, "For you who revere my name, the sun of
righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." This is
not simply a sunrise. No, it is much deeper and more beautiful
than that. It is a Christrise. Amen.
Music: Christ the Lord is Risen