Angels of the Resurrection
Easter Sunday
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 12, 1998


Isaiah 25:6-9 The Lord will swallow up death

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, of rich food filled with marrow, of fine wines strained clear.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will take away the disgrace of his people from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

On that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we waited for him and he has saved us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!"

Luke 24:1-12 Angels at the Lord's resurrection

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed their faces to the ground; but the men said to them, "Why do are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all of this to the eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like idle nonsense. However, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves. Then he went home, wondering to himself what had happened.

Apocalypse Explained #659a Angels, death, and resurrection

In the Bible, being buried means waking up to life and resurrection because when we die and are buried, we wake up and rise again into eternal life. After we die we continue living just as we did in the world; but we set aside our earthly, physical body, which was useful to us in the physical world, and continue living in a spiritual body. So all that happens when we are buried is that we set aside the outer husk that we carried with us in the material world.

Burial means waking up to resurrection and eternal life because the angels do not know what a person's death or burial is. With them there is no death or burial; rather, they think of all things spiritually. So when the Bible mentions someone's death, the angels instead think of that person's passing over from one world into the other; And where the Bible mentions someone's burial, they think of that person's resurrection into life.


Suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood before them. In their fright the women bowed their faces to the ground; but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:4, 5)

It is always nice to see so many faces of members, friends, and visitors in the church on Easter Sunday. Though we do not have a coffee hour on Easter Sunday (since people are heading out for their Easter dinner) it is still a time for our extended congregation to gather together, enjoy each other's company, and celebrate an event that lies at the very heart of our religion: the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns as the God of all the universe.

Around the world on this day, Easter services are attracting tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of people for whom this is one of only two or three services experienced all year. A large percentage of the over one billion Christians in the world are attending some sort of service today. When you think about it, this is really ironic, since there were no people at all present for the event we celebrate on Easter. By the time those few women arrived at the tomb, the resurrection had already happened. They had missed it!

However, there were some beings there who hadn't missed the resurrection. The women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus saw two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning! Even today, with all our technology, we still don't have garments of brilliant light of the kind that these men were wearing. However, many people have seen beings with garments of light when they have had close encounters with death, and have spent a brief time with angels in the spiritual world. These garments that some angels wear are not bright from light that is shining on them; the clothing itself  is shining with light.

This light that shines from angels' clothes is not like our earthly light. Those who have experienced it sometimes say that feeling this light shining on them is like feeling love and understanding shining on them. Emanuel Swedenborg, who gave us the Bible interpretations and teachings that our church is based on, experienced this light of love and wisdom throughout the years in which he spent much of his time in the spiritual world. It is the light of a different perspective on life--the angels' perspective, which is a spiritual perspective. This perspective of the angels transforms our attitudes toward ordinary and not so ordinary things. It especially transforms our views of the ultimate questions of life and death.

The angels that the women saw at the tomb had a completely different perspective on the Lord's burial in the tomb than the women did. To the women, death meant only death: it meant that this Jesus whom they loved was gone forever. They had come to anoint his body with spices--to pay their last respects. Those of us who have had a loved one die can understand how those women felt. We were so used to having that person's presence in our lives, and now he or she is gone. We feel a cold void where once there was warmth. We feel lonely and abandoned. There is a pain in our chest--sort of a heart attack of the spirit.

Yet to the angels, physical death is not a sad event, but a happy one! The angels at the tomb said, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" The angels that Swedenborg met in heaven had the very same view of death as these angels whose words were recorded nearly two thousand years ago. Swedenborg tells us:

Angels do not know what a person's death or burial is. With them there is no death or burial; rather, they think of all things spiritually. So when the Bible mentions someone's death, the angels instead think of that person's passing over from one world into the other. And where the Bible mentions someone's burial, they think of that person's resurrection into life. (Apocalypse Explained #659a)

This view of death certainly is different from the world's view. From a worldly perspective, death is the end of life. But from an angelic and spiritual perspective, death is just the beginning! For those of us who have a strong faith in our resurrection into the spiritual world, it may be hard to realize just how bleak the end of life would be without that promise of continuing life on the other side. It is hard enough to deal with our feelings about being separated from a loved one by death without having to feel that the separation is permanent.

For those of us whose faith wavers, or who are just starting out on the path of faith, the angels' perspective may seem like "idle nonsense": that when someone dies here, it is a time to celebrate a life that has now gone on to higher usefulness and fuller joy. Most of us will never have so bright a perspective on death as long as we live in this world. But the angels of the resurrection do call us toward this more optimistic view of death and life.

In fact, I believe that it is not simply the cultural trappings of the holiday that bring this larger congregation into the church on Easter Sunday. I believe that there is a deep need within us all to feel that life has some larger purpose, a purpose that transcends even death, which from the world's perspective has the final say. Whatever our outward reasons, we come to church on Easter Sunday because deep within, we need to be reminded of Jesus' resurrection from death, and of its meaning for our own lives.

The human spirit withers and dies without faith and hope in a heavenly life to come, where we will be reunited with the loved ones we have lost, and where all we have learned on earth will be put to eternal service in a human community of mutual love and kindness. For those of us who have had a difficult life, this faith and hope in a future life of happiness can serve as the life raft that keeps us from drowning in our struggles and disappointments. For those of us whose lives have been happier, it gives us the joy of knowing that our happiness does not have to end, but can continue forever with those we love. And so we come to church on Easter Sunday to recharge our spiritual batteries and sustain our souls. To paraphrase our reading from Isaiah, on this mountaintop experience of Easter Sunday, the Lord will destroy the shroud of death that enfolds all the people of the world. The Lord will swallow up death forever, and put in its place a rich feast of new spiritual life and love.

The Lord offers this feast to each one of us. The depth and richness of life that we can gain from an active, growing faith in our risen Lord goes far beyond anything this world and its enjoyments have to offer. Yes, we are meant to enjoy the pleasures of this world; the Lord gave us physical senses so that we could take pleasure in our surroundings and in each other.

Yet the angels know a secret that so many of us miss out on as we get caught up in the whirl of activities that wants to consume all our time here on earth. The angels know that the time and effort we put into developing our inner, spiritual life will give new meaning and joy to all of the other activities that we engage in. When our faith is weak, our day-to-day activities are like going for a walk on a cloudy, rainy day as fall fades into winter. Sure, the walk is good for us, and we enjoy getting out of the house. But something is missing. When we have a living, growing faith, our day-to-day activities are like going for a walk on a beautiful, sunny day in springtime, with birds singing all around us. The warmth and light of the Lord's love and understanding in our souls makes everything around us so much brighter!

The deeper message of Easter is that we do not have to wait for physical death in order to experience the meaning of resurrection in our lives. If we are living under a cloud of uncertainty, doubt, and the lack of deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, the Easter story offers the personal resurrection of a strong, warm, and growing spiritual life within us. If our relationships with those we love seem to be missing something; if we wish we could feel closer to each other and have more happiness with one another, the Easter story offers a resurrection of new life from the Lord shining like the bright springtime sun, coaxing open the buds of our wishes and dreams into blossoms of tender and joyful love for each other.

It is our lack of faith in the Lord and in each other that separates us and draws us inward toward ourselves. And it is the light and warmth of faith and love from the Lord that opens us up to all the new possibilities there are right here on earth. When we leave behind our preoccupations with our own concerns and our own wellbeing, and focus instead on higher motives of mutual love, understanding, and kindness that the Lord taught us through his life on earth, we open up all sorts of new possibilities in our relationships with the people who are closest to us, the ones we share our homes with--and with everyone else as well.

When we look at ourselves and our relationships honestly, we realize that when we are not happy with how things are going, there are parts of our own selves that need to be transformed so that we can accept the richer and more loving relationships the Lord calls us toward. This transformation of our feelings and attitudes is the deeper meaning of the angels' words. Why do we seek the life of mutual love and joy among the dead bones of our old, mistaken attitudes? Those attitudes must die so that we can be reborn as new people, able to love and be loved; so that we can feel other people's joy as our own joy; so that we can take pleasure in the simple goodness of a kind word, a hug, the company of those we love.

To the angels eyes, this simple goodness and love that comes from the Lord is the deepest reality of life. As we each go to share the Easter feast with our loved ones, I pray that we will also open ourselves up to the spiritual feast of faith, of mutual love, and of joy that the Lord invites us to as he rises again in our hearts and minds each day of our lives. Amen.

Music: Christ the Lord is Risen Today