Readings: Matthew 28.1-7 and Apocalypse Explained 400
This is a wonderful passage full of hope and of promises realised. Jesus when he was with His followers often told them of what must come, on numerous occasions he spoke to them of His impending death and resurrection. But His followers didn’t really hear what He was saying to them. They probably lived in a state of wishful thinking where these matters were concerned, hearing but not hearing, or hearing the words but not comprehending their meaning. However it was for them, a little reflection on our own experience of the operation of spiritual truths in our life will reveal that we are not too dissimilar in our own responses and attitudes to that of the disciples in matters concerned with living a spiritual life. The Word understood in the light of the teachings for Spriritual Christianity found in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg deal with the idea of death and resurrection on almost every page. The spiritual life can be viewed as a whole series of deaths and resurrections as we die to old states of life that can no longer usefully serve our spiritual progress to rise to new states of life able to carry us through to the next phase of dying and rising. These states, when set in a spiritual context, are always connected with our perception of the Lord’s Word, a dying to one level of understanding and a rising of a new understanding that comes from our obedience in life to our current understanding of the truths the Lord has opened to us.
It’s a remarkable thing that when we begin to view the Word as to the spiritual principles that lie behind the stories, how much of our experience of life is actually pictured there within them. On the other hand we shouldn’t be that surprised as the Heavenly Doctrines teach us that on one level it is actually all about our regeneration and how different aspects within us are inclined to respond to the demands the Lord’s truth makes upon our life. In this sense the Word is an invaluable guide for our spiritual life. This can be difficult to see when we are caught up in natural concerns and, what the gospels refer to as the cares of this world, or when we have fixed ideas about what it is the Lord seeks to achieve in our life. The disciples, like us all, had fixed ideas about how they were going to benefit from their connection with the Lord, they had natural ideas and dreams of ruling and reigning with the Lord in an earthly kingdom, and they probably held onto this belief right up to His death. Unfortunately this prevented them seeing that the Lord’s kingdom was not of this world, never has been and never will be. We are like this when we frame spiritual realities in natural aspirations and desires. The disciples attachment to natural aspirations was so strong that they held to them despite the things the Lord said and did that contradicted this. This too is like us.
When we hold to preconceptions about how these things ought to be we can put ourselves in a position where we can’t hear or see anything that goes against these preconceptions. An important spiritual principle found in the teachings for Spiritual Christianity is that of “affirmative doubt” – this is an attitude which holds that Divine Revelation is true, and if it doesn’t make sense, or fit in with our world view then we are to maintain an affirmative attitude towards it so as not to dismiss it before we can gain insight into its spiritual applications. What is involved is consciously putting our own agendas, ideas, or perspectives on hold to await insight into the matter. If we are readers of the Word and the doctrines we will often hear or read something that goes against our own ideas about how things are, or what we think ought to be, and because it goes against what we think we can tend to reject what’s said or dismiss it outright without giving it another thought.
We need to see that this dismissive response is one that makes truth subject to our own reasoning powers and is linked to thinking we know best and the intellectual pride associated with this. In the case of our study of Divine Revelation we have to learn not to respond in this way. The Word is designed to challenge our natural patterns of thought and behaviour and the teaching of the doctrines gives us what we need to be prepared for this. We need to understand that our proprium or ego, with its intellectual pride stands opposed Divine Revelation. The Heavenly Doctrines teach that the proprium is in the principle of “negative doubt” in relation to spiritual things. This principle is rooted in our intellectual pride and holds that anything that challenges our world view, or unsettles us is false and what agrees with us is true.
When this attitude is active truths, rather than being used to challenge us and draw out our motives, is used to support our proprium’s own self centred position – we saw this in some detail in what we looked at in regard to Pilate on Good Friday. By making a conscious effort to subject our proprium to this principle of affirmative doubt we can ensure that we remain open to heavenly influences and so be open to a much wider range of possibilities – it also puts us in a position in relation to the Word wherein we remain open to being led by it which is to be led by the Lord. If we are too fixed in our own views, assumptions or agenda’s then, when we are challenged by the Word or the truths drawn from it in the Heavenly Doctrines, we will find ourselves being resistant and hardening ourselves against where truth is seeking to take us. This hardening towards truth is illustrated in our reading today by the stone that blocks the way into the sepulchre, which represents the resurrection of heavenly things within the Word and from there within our own minds.
The whole idea of death and resurrection is really about putting off the old to allow the new to come. The principle is clear, you can’t have a resurrection without something dying first – you can’t jump straight into the resurrection side of the process without the pain and suffering associated with that of being severed from old attachments. This is referred to in the Scriptures as the death of self. Jesus said that we have to loose our life to find it – this is a principle of spiritual life. But we struggle with pain and suffering, and view them as bad, because it produces states that are uncomfortable and causes distress whether it is physical, psychological or spiritual. But whether we embrace the process or resist it we ultimately can’t escape the pain associated with dying on its various levels, because we can’t escape change.
The disciples resistance was highlighted many times over in the gospels, they struggled at times not just with what the Lord taught, but with how he was with others – the Samaritan woman in John 4 is one example that readily comes to mind. Here he chose to speak with a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. This was so contrary to what was expected of a good Jew for the Jews despised the Samaritans and so the disciples being Jewish really struggled with it. It struck at their prejudices. The disciples represent our ideas about spiritual things, ideas that have been developed in the company of the Word – and this encounter highlights our own prejudices in relation to the Word when it begins to challenge how we are and how we are viewing things. When we first come to the Word and begin to build an understanding of it we frame it within our own pre-existing natural ideas. Thus in the example mentioned at the beginning, the disciples really expected Jesus to lead them against the Romans and so rule Israel. For them, everything He did and said was framed by this belief. We too have preconceived ideas about what it is to follow the Lord, how a church should be, what a church is, how others should be etc, but as we begin to work through things with an open heart we will come to see that often the things we hold as so important are really minor and the things we see as having less of a priority take on a much more significant role.
It’s inevitable that our views, values and priorities will change as our understanding of spiritual things develops. Whereas in the beginning everything spiritual is framed in accordance with natural beliefs so as more spiritual knowledge is gained, and we begin to work with the principles we are learning and gain experience of how the Word works in our lives, we acquire the material for a new framework – a new way of seeing things, a spiritual way of seeing things. But there is a period of transition, a period in which our old beliefs begin to die and we struggle to find our connection to the Word in the way that we had previously. When we are in such times we will find that we struggle to draw meaning from the Word, as what we believed previously has now become an obstacle to moving forward. This stone of old natural ways of understanding has to be rolled away if we are to come to understand things in a new way and see how these things actually fit together so that we can move forward into Galilee where the Scriptures declare the Lord is to be found.
Crucial to this happening is the development of a genuine affection for truth. This affection is drawn from the Word itself and it is developed within us through our being willing to live our lives according to the understanding of truth we have. When we are willing to learn truths with a view to applying them to our own lives then the Lord in fills this effort with a celestial affection for the Word. When this affection is alive in us, in the truths we have from the Word, then we will be motivated to persevere in our search, even when all appears lost. Our thirst for truth will continue to draw us to the living water of the Word, the only place where we will be able to find something living and real. We know that if we are sincere in our efforts we will find a way forward; we will come to see how the Word can meet us to support and nurture our spiritual life. This will occur because the Lord promises that He will rise – and He is faithful to His Word.
This affection for truth that draws us to the Word even when it appears to lack life for us is represented here by the two Mary’s. Notice that it is the women who come to the tomb first here. The word tomb is from a Greek word that literally means, “memory vault”. There is a wonderful picture here of the process of spiritual resurrection, of coming to see the Word in a new way. The affection for the Word is represented by the two Mary’s and we see from their loving response an illustration of how this affection draws us back to our memories of the Word as we first understood it. We come knowing that it is no longer able to be with us as it once was, but as the approach is made, knowing that things can’t be the same any longer, that the Lord as we knew Him has died, we find as we gaze upon the grave, that the Word has become, an earthquake occurs. Something deep within shifts and out of the disruption of moving from our old way of being an angel descends from heaven – this angel is a new heavenly understanding breaking forth from the Word, and this new understanding as it descends from on high moves the stone that blocks our way into something deeper within. The stone is our old understanding of the Word, our natural understanding of spiritual things, which has blocked our perception of the spiritual realities that lie within the Word.
The guards set at the tomb, those fixed false ideas and preconceptions which guarded and preserved the old understanding are rendered as dead, they have no power in the presence of the internal sense of the Word breaking forth – and with these old ideas no longer being able to preserve the way things were we can hear the Word of this angel and it tells us that the one we seek is not in those old ways of thinking and seeing. That if we want to discover our real life we must go to our spiritual Galilee which represents living the life of good from truths. We must take into life the truths we have if we want to find our life, to do this is to go to Galilee where the Lord is, then we must see that this life is lived in the uses we have the opportunity to serve others in. That this is our worship and this is where the material for living our spiritual life is to be found.