Resurrection to Internal Life
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 4, 1999
Easter Sunday

Readings

Psalm 118:14-21 I will not die, but live!

The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.

Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous:
"The Lord's right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord's right hand is lifted high;
The Lord's right hand has done mighty things!"

I will not die but live,
And will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
But he has not given me over to death.

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
Through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
You have become my salvation.


Matthew 28:1-9 The Lord's resurrection

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here! He has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet, and worshipped him.

Arcana Coelestia #9405.7 The morning of resurrection

"Morning," in its genuine sense, means the Lord, his coming, and the coming of his kingdom. So another sense of "morning" becomes clear: it is the rise of a new religion--since religion is the Lord's kingdom on earth. This kingdom is meant both overall and individually, and even in the details.

     

  • Overall, it refers to a time when any religion on earth is being established anew.
  • Individually, it refers to a time when we are personally being reborn as new people, since the Lord's kingdom is then being established within us, and we are becoming an embodiment of our religion.
  • In the details, it refers to whenever the goodness that comes from love and faith is at work in us, since that is what constitutes the Lord's coming.

So in the individual and detailed senses, the Lord's resurrection on the third morning expresses the truth that in the minds of people who are spiritually reborn, the Lord rises again every day, and even every moment.

Sermon

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen! . . . So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy. (Matthew 28:1-6, 8)

What a different reaction to the same events!

The guards were being paid to make sure Jesus' body remained firmly sealed in the tomb. Their employers had seen to it that Jesus got the death penalty, and they intended to prevent even the slightest rumor that they hadn't put him away for good. So when the guards felt the earth shaking under their feet, and their eyes were blinded by the presence of a powerful angel who rolled away the stone from the tomb, they quaked with fear and became like dead men. For them, the miracle of the angel's presence, and of Jesus' absence from the tomb, was a matter of pure fear. And there was the awful realization that they had failed to do their job, and would have to face consequences--which could mean their own deaths.

But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone to the tomb out of love, wishing to do what they could for the one they knew as their Lord and Savior. Yes, they felt fear at the earthquake and the brilliant, powerful angel. Who wouldn't? But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid." Then he gave them the amazing news of the Lord's resurrection. In contrast to the guards, the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy! For them, this was the most wonderful thing that could possibly have happened.

For the guards, the Lord's resurrection meant fear and even death. For those who loved him and believed in him, it meant joy and renewal of life. As is so often the case, the reactions to the Lord's resurrection did not have as much to do with the event itself as with the attitudes of those who experienced it. The dramatic story of Easter has a powerful ability to highlight the differences in our attitudes. It deals with crucial issues of life and death, of the power of the material world versus the power of the spirit.

From an earthly, materialistic viewpoint, physical death has the last word. The grave is the final arbiter of our human drama--the point at which all our consciousness stops. But from a Christian and spiritual point of view, death and the grave are simply the beginning of a new chapter of our existence when we have finished our work here on earth. Spiritually, death means resurrection to spiritual life. This is the first message of Easter.

As wonderful as this message is, there are deeper layers of meaning within the Easter story of death and resurrection to new life. There are other kinds of death besides the death of our physical body. Have you ever felt dead emotionally? Have you experienced the death of a relationship? Have you ever felt dead spiritually--cut off from your faith in God? These inner and interpersonal deaths can bring us every bit as much grief as physical death. In fact, they often feel much more painful to us; in the worst of our emotional and spiritual deaths, we may long for physical death as a release from a far deeper pain.

Of all these deaths, the deepest and most profound is the death of our spiritual life. When we are cut off from God and from our own deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life, we experience a living death of separation from the deepest stirrings of life and love within us. We human beings are not simply bodies. We are living spirits, with loves and feelings, thoughts and ideas, goals and purposes. And it is on the level of our spirits that we truly live and die. In The Heavenly City #38, Emanuel Swedenborg writes:

Our inner self is also called our "spiritual self," because it is in heaven's light, which is spiritual. And our outer self is also called our "material self" because it is in the world's light, which is material. If our inner part is in heaven's light and our outer part is in the world's light, we are spiritual on both levels. However, if our inner part is not in heaven's light, but only in the world's light (which our outer part is in as well), we are materialistic on both levels. In the Bible, spiritual people are called "living" and materialistic people are called "dead."

In the Bible, spiritual people are called "living," and materialistic people are called "dead." We could read this statement as a judgmental condemnation of people who have no interest in spiritual things. However, it is not a matter of judgment, but of personal experience. Each one of us, if we think about it, has experienced the difference between the death of being completely absorbed in materialistic concerns versus the life of being open to the deeper, spiritual dimensions of life.

At this stage of my own life, the issue of spiritual life and death hits most strongly when it comes to balancing work with family. As anyone who has done it knows, supporting a family in today's economic and social climate is no easy task. Keeping a roof over the family's head, clothes on their bodies, and food in their stomachs is just the beginning. There are a multitude of other wants and needs that can easily absorb every minute of a parent's life.

Have you had times when every waking moment was spent simply in making ends meet? In working, shopping, maintaining the house and the car, paying the bills, shoveling the snow, mowing the lawn, cooking supper, changing diapers, doing the laundry, fixing the faucet, and on and on and on? I have. It feels like a turmoil of constant activity, with a gnawing sense of emotional emptiness--of emotional death--underneath.

My children will not remember all the time I spent working away so that they could have a warm house, clothes to wear, and food to eat. That work is part of my experience, but not part of theirs--except, perhaps, as time when their father is not available to them. But they will remember the times that I take to be with them. Last week, I spent some wonderful time with Chris and Caleb, walking in the woods and stopping at the streams to throw sticks into the current on one side of the bridge and watch them come out the other side. As they get older, they will remember those times with their father. Two days ago I spent several hours with Heidi doing the six mile Good Friday walk and then going out for lunch together. She'll remember that time with her father, too.

I don't remember all the time my parents spent working to support me--as necessary as it was. But I do remember the times my father took me to the baseball stadium in St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play. I got to pick where we sat. The first time I chose to sit near home plate for a close-up on the action; the second time I chose to sit way up toward the top of the stands, where the players looked like ants running around the field. I also remember the times my mother read stories to us, and when she taught my Sunday School class, telling us about the drama and the deeper meanings of the Bible stories.

We all have memories of those bright spots in our childhood, when our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, did special things with us. In the family, these are the times we experience spiritual life, because these are the times we share love and understanding with one another. No matter what phase of our lives we may be in, when we take time out from our busy schedules to have special times with our loved ones, that is when we begin to feel alive again. We realize once again that, in the words of Jesus, "life is more important that food, and the body is more important than clothes" (Matthew 6:25).

Of course, as long as we are living on this earth, we do have to expend our six days of labor securing the food and clothes that our bodies need. Yet if we do not look beyond these material things to the seventh day of spiritual fulfillment, we condemn ourselves to the grave of an empty and meaningless existence. If we do not take the time to show our love to the people we live and work with, what will we leave behind but dead monuments to an earthly existence spent skating across the surface of life?

We were created to experience far greater depths of human life. When the angel rolled away the stone from the mouth of the grave, it was a message to us as well, showing us where our deepest satisfaction and our fullest life can be found. "Do not be afraid," the angel said. Do not be afraid of the deadening pressures of life in the material world. Do not be afraid that you will be swallowed up in an existence that has no meaning.

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified." What are we really looking for, in our heart of hearts? As children, we sought the love of our parents, and we blossomed when we felt its warmth shining on us. As adults aren't we all, in our own way, looking for our divine Parent--for our all-wise and all-loving Creator--to give us the infinite, unconditional love and understanding that only God can give? Aren't we looking for the deepest fulfillment that comes only from following a path toward our Lord?

Yes, Easter carries a message even deeper than the assurance life after death. It carries a message of resurrection to new life within us and among us right here on earth. We know that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has risen and is still with us. We know that when we turn to the Lord, we can find a meaning and purpose that goes far beyond the busyness of physical and material life. With the risen Lord at the center of our lives, our truest and deepest aspirations can become living realities for us every day, and even every moment.

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here! He has risen, just as he said." Amen.


Music: How I Love You
1999 Bruce DeBoer