Readings: Isaiah 42:16-20, Luke 24:13-35, Secrets of Heaven #3863:14 (see below)
See also on YouTube here
We hear today about one of the most beloved and detailed post-resurrection appearances: Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We begin the story with two followers of Jesus who are traveling to Emmaus from Jerusalem, after everything had went down. We don’t know why they were traveling to Emmaus; it was not an especially notable town. Perhaps they were just going home. Along the way, they encounter someone, and here begins the delicious irony. The reader—us—we know something that these two followers do not yet know. The person is Jesus.
Jesus asks them what they are discussing. (The actual Greek is quite charming: it is literally “what are you tossing back and forth between you?”) The two are incredulous — how can this person not know the biggest news of the last few days? Jesus feigns ignorance. What news? So they give him a summary of the easter story that we ourselves have read over the last several weeks. Jesus is bemused, and begins to explain the significance of the events according to Scripture. Yet, still the two remain in the dark. Finally, when they reach the village, they invite Jesus to dine with them, and it is in the moment of breaking bread that their eyes are opened to his identity.
It is such beautiful story-telling. One of the reasons that I believe this story is so beloved is that resonates so fully with our experience. We have all had disappointed hopes, we have all had our expectations dashed, or felt overwhelmed and confused. And we’ve all had moments of being taken by surprise by the in-breaking of the spirit, a moment gone before we knew it was there.
But one of the main things that makes this story so compelling is the mounting irony: we know that Jesus has been resurrected but the disciples don’t recognize him. So, what keeps them from seeing? Well, the text makes pretty clear that it was their expectations kept them from seeing. They say it themselves: “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
They had their own story that they are telling themselves about what happened. They had their own ideas about what Jesus was, and why he had come. And this kept them from seeing Jesus right in front of them. You see, Jesus was the one who was going redeem Israel. Jesus existed for them within their Messiah construct, and that came with certain ideas about what success looked like, and it sure didn’t look like death on the cross. Now, we shouldn’t be too hard on them, when Jesus was crucified and put in a tomb, that really must have seemed like the end, and we in their place, well, we all have thought so too. But part of Jesus’ whole message was that, if we want to usher in the reality of the kingdom of God, we cannot always trust our own telling of the story. Part of the point of being crucified was to upend human ideas about what is righteous, so that we might learn to depend on God’s telling of the story more than our own.
We too, like the two followers, have stories that we tell ourselves about the way life is. About what has happened to us. About what other people have done, or not done. About what God’s plans are. About what, or who, is good or not good. Yet, our telling of the story will always be formed and marked by our social location, by our expectations, our community formation, and yes, our personal interest. Now that is not bad thing necessarily, in fact, it is kind of unavoidable. We all have our particular viewpoints, we all have our unique experiences. But it *is* important to remember that our story is not the whole or only story. It is important to recognize the existence of a variety of experience, a variety of interpretation, a variety of stories, which means that there is always more to learn. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron likes to say “let the world speak for itself.” She says, “the world doesn’t speak for itself because we are so caught up in our story line…You just keep speaking to yourself, so nothing speaks to you.” (1)
So it is important remember not to get so caught up in crafting our own narrative, so invested in our own story-lines and expectations, that we can’t see what is unfolding right in front of us. We must let God, and the world, speak for itself.
But it is not quite that simple now is it? Because, certainly, our own self-centeredness and our expectations can absolutely get in the way of seeing how God is showing up for us, but is that the only thing that obscures God’s presence? Yes, the disciples had expectations, sure, and they were having a hard time letting go of them, and of what they wanted Jesus to do for *them.* But also, they were sad. They were suffering. They had had good intentions overall and an oppressive regime had crushed their hopes. They were reeling, they were hurting, they were confused and overwhelmed. Like most human beings, their experience was a complicated mish-mash of things that were their fault and things that weren’t, things that were in their control and things were out of their control. People sometimes suffer under things that are not their fault, and this experience can *also* make it hard to see God, to recognize God’s work in our lives. We shouldn’t heap shame upon ourselves when our circumstances…political, economic, biological…all make it hard to feel positive, open and receptive.
And as usual, the Word of God speaks to our human experience in a both/and kind of way. God shows up for us on the road of life no matter what, a companion to our hardest days and our deepest challenges. When everything feels like it has fallen apart, God is there. The text tells us that when Jesus asked what had happened, the disciples “stood still, looking sad.” The simplicity of this description just kills me. Their sadness literally stopped them in their tracks. I know that I can relate to that right now. A deep deep sadness. God shows up for us in this sadness, or whatever else we are experiencing, unequivocally, and non-judgmentally.
But God shows up with more than companionship. Even in our suffering, the stories that we are telling ourselves matter. God comes to us where we are and introduces the possibility of seeing things differently. Not judging, just gently asking, “hmm, so what happened again?” And listening to the way that we tell it. And then inviting us into a new way of seeing and understanding, if that is what we need.
God understands that we are both products of our environments *and* that we are capable of rising above our environment. When we quiet our litany of desires and interests and expectations, we open ourselves to the possibility that God is welcoming us into a new story. And this new story isn’t always about what we are doing wrong, although it can be. This new story is also sometimes about grace, or realignment, or rest, or forgiveness, or so many other things.
So, what helped the disciples to see? Well, first, they were curious and hospitable. They told their story and Jesus listened to the whole of it. But they didn’t argue the truth of it with him. When Jesus started to explain things to them, they listened, they were open. And then, they offered for Jesus to continue with them. They made space for what was being offered.
Second, they sat down to an ordinary meal and allowed Jesus to be the host in a situation in what he should have been the guest. And what Jesus did was draw their attention to the bread, to the breaking of bread, which is done for the purpose of nourishment. As we learned in our Swedenborg reading, bread represents goodness, represents love. God’s presence with us is most fundamentally grounded and recognizable in acts of service, is most fundamentally accessible and understandable in love that is given freely to one another. Many times our thinking is caught up in questions of what is right or what is best or what is efficient. But are we told that God is found in goodness, not in truth without goodness. All the explanations in the world don’t matter unless they are organized around the question of “how do we serve?” or “how can we bring goodness and love into being?”
The answer we give to these questions will be individually different. If we are already serving a lot, it might be loving to serve our own health for a while. If we are spending a lot of energy in trying to figure out how to serve in the best possible way, it might be loving to just serve in the one way that we can today. And of course, if we have privilege of some kind, it certainly might be loving to use that privilege for the sake of others. The key is, God is recognizable in love that is shared, in power that is relinquished, in concern that is extended. And this is why Jesus disappeared from sight, because God is seen in the moment that we give something away. Personally, I don’t love this idea. I want to hold on to God! But this comes from my own fear of scarcity. When we recognize what this story is telling us, that God is present and recognizable in each tiny ordinary bread-crumb moment of love and goodness, then we realize that God is all around us, all the time, and always will be.
(1) Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, p30
16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. 17 They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, "You are our gods." 18 Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD? 20 He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cle'opas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see." 25 And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29 but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34 who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Secrets of Heaven 3863:
It came to pass when Jesus sat down with them, that He took the bread, and blessed, and breaking, gave to them; and their eyes were opened, and they knew Him (Luke 24:30-31);
by which was signified that the Lord appears by good, but not by truth without good, for "bread" is the good of love. From these and other passages it is evident that "seeing," in the internal sense, signifies faith from the Lord, for there is no other faith which is faith than that which comes from the Lord. This also enables a person to "see," that is, to believe; but faith from self, or from what is a person's own, is not faith, for it causes them to see falsities as truths, and truths as falsities; and if they see truths as truths, still they do not see, because they do not believe, for they see themselves in them, and not the Lord.
Photo credit: Phillipp Birmes
Readings: Psalm 16, John 20:19-22, 24-28, Divine Providence 3:2 (see below)
See also on YouTube here
So, here we are, the Sunday after Easter. Depending where you are in the world, spring continues to abound, I know it does here. As the world bursts into bloom and generativity, that might feel in stark contrast with the confinement of our current circumstances. In the news this week, and this has certainly in lots of people’s minds for a while now, is the question of when and how will our lives return to normal?
There is so much longing held in that question. We want to be able to see our friends, to go back to our jobs or to school, to not have this sense of anxiety and uncertainty following us around constantly.
But to a lot of people, we must remember that normal wasn’t working. As we sit here on this threshold, in this moment that one I article I read called The Great Pause,(1) as nations and governments start to release their plans for how to phase back safely into our lives as we knew them, we also need to recognize what an incredible moment this has been and what it has revealed to us.
In the last few years, many a theologian has pointed out the meaning of the word apocalypse, which is “an unveiling.” This is a powerful reminder that when things seem to be falling apart, there is also an opportunity to see what we might not otherwise have been open to seeing. Certainly, the last few years have been ripe for an unveiling of many kinds. The US elections in 2016 revealed a level of racism and xenophobia that some thought no longer existed (although marginalized communities could have told us all along that it still did). A year later, the #metoo movement revealed the extent to which women have always had to deal with sexual harassment and assault, and the ways in which the powerful worked to cover up their transgressions. And now the spread of Covid-19 is revealing to us some other things too. As millions lose their jobs due to a pandemic, perhaps we might wonder if connecting health insurance to employment is the right approach. As air quality in major cities miraculously clears when no one is driving anymore, we might no longer be able to deny how much we all contribute to the degradation of our environment. As food bank use explodes, we come to realize just how many of our neighbors were only barely squeaking by, how unevenly resources are distributed by our economic system. We are seeing all this and so much more, on personal, communal and national levels.
The disciples were also living interesting times. Our text today finds them uncertain as to what was going to happen. They were likewise locked in their room in fear (though at least they were together). Jesus appears to them, offers them peace, breathes the holy spirit upon them. Thomas wasn’t with them though, and would not believe until he had seen Jesus himself. So the next time, Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger upon his wounds, his hand in his side.
We often frame this episode in terms of doubt, that the wounds were proof of the resurrection, that it wasn’t some trick, or that Jesus was not a spirit. This can be a reasonable and productive angle. But also think it is interesting that Thomas was invited to really experience the woundedness of Jesus in a way that the other disciples didn’t. To not look away from the wounds, to really feel them. In the first encounter with the rest of the disciples, the main emotion was joy. Which is wonderful, of course it was. Jesus did show them his wounds but they didn’t seem to dwell on them. And so we might wonder how much in the moment did the disciples eyes pass over the wounds, how much were they tempted to pretend, now that Jesus was back, that everything might return to normal, might return to what they had expected might happen before the crucifixion derailed everything. But Thomas needed to account for what happened, for the trauma of it. He put his hand in the wounds and really saw them, and then he was able to imagine the resurrection as a real event. The reality is, as much as the disciples might have wanted their lives to go back to normal, they were not going to. Jesus would be leaving them soon and from that moment on they would be apostles, and their lives would be dedicated to bringing alive to others what had been revealed to them.
We have also been in our metaphorical tomb, experiencing various traumas and crucifixions and losses but before we fast forward into the joy of the resurrection, I believe we must ask ourselves, are we willing to see the the wounds that have now been revealed to us? Are we willing to put our hands in Jesus’ side and really sit with the implications of how an innocent person was put to death, really grapple with the forces that wounded him, really grapple with the scars and trauma that remain? As we consider and imagine “getting back to normal,” how willing are we re-imagine what normal should be?
Let us not waste this moment. Let us be like Thomas and not be afraid to put our hand in the wound, to see its existence and to feel its contours. Let us really assimilate what is being revealed to us during this time: the potential for resurrection —yes, and always— but also how resurrection must contain and include the ways that we and the world and our neighbor have been wounded. How resurrection must seek their active healing and integration. How Jesus’ whole ministry pointed towards a woundedness that was just below the surface all along.
So I love that Psalm 16 is part of the lectionary today because it expresses a beautiful balance between the ways that God guides us and our own agency in creating the contours of our realities.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. (v.5-7)
In these days of upheaval and re-evaluation, perhaps now it is a good time to take a look at where our boundary lines have fallen. Before, they might have been in pleasant places for us, but not for others. Or maybe they fell in ways we weren’t conscious of, or we didn’t want to examine, or maybe they fell somewhere out of necessity. Maybe we followed the crowd. Maybe we have changed now. Maybe we got it almost right but it needs a tweak. Maybe we need to start from scratch.
So, let’s do something a little different. I’m going to ask you to go get a piece of paper and a pen, and to write down something that you know you want to hold on to from this time, something that has been revealed to you, something you don’t want to lose when life goes back to normal. Go ahead, pause me and come back! You can’t do this to me when I’m in the pulpit but you can do it now! Ok, have you done it? Have you written something down? Maybe you want to keep family game night, maybe you want to keep an increased awareness of local food insecurity, maybe you want to keep a sense of God’s care, or Sabbath, maybe you want to keep a renewed interest in protecting the environment. There are so many beautiful and personal options. And now let’s just pray upon these things for a moment:
“Lord, you have given us the gift of this insight. You have given us counsel, and our hearts have instructed us. Let us resist the call to rush back to normal but rather to consider what You would now have us bring into being. Let us pause and remember.” Amen.
I love the final sentence in our Swedenborg reading today: Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being. We will endure, our world will endure, our nation will endure, our economy will endure, our way of life will endure. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be exactly the same. True endurance, true resilience, holds within it a sense of constant creation, a constant coming into being, a coming into newness.
So let us not wish to back to normal but rather forward into a new normal. There will be many things we bring with us, that we return to with joy, just as there are things we will need to be re-imagined or re-invigorated. Let us embrace this fact and this opportunity, one that is supported by the very way in which God made all of creation.
(1) Julio Vincent Gambuto, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting, medium.com, https://forge.medium.com/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." 3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. 7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
John 20:19-22, 24–28
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
24 Now Thomas…one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Divine Providence 3:2
 Everything that meets our eyes in this world can serve to convince us that the universe and absolutely everything in it was created out of divine love by means of divine wisdom. Take any particular thing…a tree--or its seed, its fruit, its flower, or its leaf. Collect your wits and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things; and the deeper things that you cannot see are even more incredible….The goal it is headed for is a seed that has a new power to reproduce. If you are willing to think spiritually…surely you see wisdom in this. Then too, if you are willing to press your spiritual thinking further, surely you see that this power does not come from the seed or from our world's sun, which is nothing but fire, but that it was put into the seed by a creator God who has infinite wisdom. This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.
See also on Youtube here
Readings: Isaiah 42:5-9, John 20:1-18, True Christianity #109 (see below)
Happy Easter everyone, I sure do miss being with you all! As I was thinking about this sermon this past week, I realized that there were to two particular things that I wanted to emphasize: the symbolism of the empty tomb and how that connects to grace.
We touched on the correspondence of a tomb or a grave two weeks ago when considering the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel, and we learned that in the internal sense of the Word, in the Swedenborgian symbolic worldview, a grave or a tomb or a sepulcher, any burial place really, actually symbolizes the opposite: life, renewal, regeneration. From Secrets of Heaven:
The reason it means life…is that angels, who possess the internal sense of the Word, have no other concept of a grave, because they have no other concept of death. Consequently instead of a grave they perceive nothing else than the continuation of life, and so resurrection… Now because 'burial' means resurrection, it also means regeneration, since regeneration is the primary resurrection of a person, for when regenerated they die as regards their former self and rise again as regards the new.(1)
I just want to sit with this for moment so that it can really sink in. I know that one of the reasons that I really love being with people who are new to Swedenborg is that I get to see the tradition and the teachings with new eyes. I’ve grown up in the faith, and it has always been the air that I breathe, so sometimes the really simple teachings lose their power. Sort of like this Easter teaching. Anyone in the Christian world is already familiar with it; the fundamental recognition that someone that we thought was dead becomes alive. And for Swedenborgians…yes yes, the tomb actually symbolizes life and regeneration, got it. Cool.
But…wait a minute. What this is actually saying to us is enormous. For, as Swedenborgians we believe that this cosmic meaning is more than just an interesting metaphor. We believe that this symbolism of words and concepts and things is what actually binds heaven and earth together, binds spirit and flesh together. So it is not just that Jesus’ tomb meant life for him, or even that Jesus tomb means life for us, it is that the whole notion of death/tomb/burial/ending/loss/suffering, that whole notion, in whatever way it comes it us in our lives, in whatever way we recognize it or experience it, this notion is connected spiritually to its opposite: life/renewal/regeneration/growth.
And I think it is important to recognize that this is not a connection that *we* have to make, through either goodness or progressive enlightenment. This is a connection that exists. God made it so. God gifted this to us. God made a loving universe in which the potential for goodness and growth exists in everything. I can’t think of a single other gift that is more important. Everything which we experience as unpleasant, no matter how small or large, no matter the kind of suffering, God has arranged the universe so that these things are fundamentally spiritually connected to that which is growing and renewing and living, all the time, every time, no exceptions. We really do not need to be afraid, ever. Oh we will be, and that’s totally okay. But, because of God there is nothing in the universe, no condition of fear or loss or overwhelm, that exists just purely as itself. There is no black hole of suffering that does not, potentially, come out the other side without some sliver of new life, new truth, new compassion, new understanding.
This means that God has our back in the most fundamental way. God can’t live our life for us, but God can arranged it so goodness and love and growth always have the last word, somehow, someway, somewhere.
And we see this borne out in the Easter story. As Jesus, God is reaching out and demonstrating this fundamental principle in a personal and embodied way, showing us that, yes, there will be loss, there will be death, and it will happen in the most unfair, evil, and shameful ways. That it will seem like empire, dominion, selfishness and cowardice (in ourselves and in others) will take the day. But Jesus rises from the tomb. There will be life, there will always be life because God has not left us alone with our suffering.
A simple but gorgeous truth. It seems like I know it and don’t know it all at once. It seems too simple. And it is exactly what I would want and expect a God of love to do.
But even this most lovely truth…well, human beings will weaponize it to hurt ourselves. Sometimes because our Lord conquered death so completely, rose so completely, even as to his body, as we read in our Swedenborg reading…because it was so complete a resurrection, we might feel that anything other than a complete resurrection in ourselves is a failure. If we don’t make the most delicious lemonade out of our lemons. If we don’t learn some amazing life lesson from our loss. If we don’t emerge from our suffering triumphant, changed, better. If we don’t emerge from this quarantine, more centered, more skilled, more enlightened.
The truth is though, the process is not often quite so neat. Our resurrections can sometimes feel barely grasped, scrabbly and wispy, and not enough, not nearly enough. Our resurrections can sometimes feel late to the party, or like they took the very very scenic route. They can be partial, they can be incremental, they can be incredibly hard won. Jesus was never supposed to be model but an inspiration. Our Lord wasn’t saying what should be so, but was revealing a potential that exists, revealing a gift and a grace that exists. In Swedenborgian speak, God works all the way to the ultimates, redeeming the whole of what can be redeemed and leaving nothing behind, so that the potential for redemption for us and the world and everything in it is always completely possible.
And because of this potential for redemption, there is often a lot of talk about belief around Easter. The traditional Christian notion has been that belief in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross makes God’s grace accessible to us. And certainly, being open to the import of Jesus life, death and resurrection *can* be transformational to our ways of thinking and being. But, the Swedenborgian tradition rejects the transactional nature of the belief for grace equation. We rather subscribe to a kind of naturalized grace, a grace as described earlier that is built into the structure of the universe, that flows out unimpeded from God’s being. And so often times, we don’t even speak of grace at all, firstly because it doesn’t always mean the same thing to us as it does to other traditions, and second, because it is so foundational, it is built into the notion of a loving God, it is a given.
And yet, perhaps now is a perfect time to speak of it. Perhaps now we need to be reminded of grace in this time of crisis and strangeness. In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, when we are all just doing our best, but we are exhausted, afraid, disillusioned, and just barely keeping it together. This is exactly when we need to remember God’s naturalized grace, in this time when we are having trouble believing in it.
Because this is the actual gift. We don’t even have to fully believe in God’s naturalized grace, we don’t even need to believe that God can actually bring something good out of suffering. Our belief isn’t what makes it true. God’s love makes it true. Certainly, our beliefs have some relationship to what we see and what we are open to. Certainly, our partnership and engagement has some relationship to what comes into being for us. But it is also true that God’s power is not limited by our consciousness. Even in our darkest, lowest, doubting times, resurrection happens anyway. It happens with or without us, because God made the universe that way.
I’ve always enjoyed the quote: Grace is the face love wears when it meets imperfection(2). I don’t see this grace as a condescension or as pity, as “oh honey, maybe you’ll get it right next time” but rather it is a face full of hope and confidence because of the way God has designed the world, and us. Grace is an announcement of a pre-ordained newness, like the power and potential that exists in every seed, a quiet and serene and explosive power, waiting inside each breath, each moment, and circling back evermore as an offering to us, God’s beloved.
See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.
5 This is what God the LORD says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
True Christianity 109
The Lord's process of glorification was a transformation of the human nature that he took on in the world. The transformed human nature of the Lord is the divine physical form. A proof of this is that the Lord rose from the tomb with the whole body he had had in the world. Nothing was left in the tomb. Therefore he took with him from the tomb every aspect of his earthly human form. This is why after the resurrection he said to disciples who thought they were seeing a spirit, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have" (Luke 24:37, 39).
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Readings: Luke 19:28-48, Divine Love and Wisdom #14 (see below)
It’s a little hard to get in the spirit of Palm Sunday this week. The notion of gathering together in a large group for a parade has quickly become foreign to us. And additionally, we probably don’t feel much like celebrating. Blessed is the king? No thank you.
This is fair. We are not in that celebrating headspace right now. And honestly, neither was Jesus. As we heard in our text, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he sat down and wept for the city and the people in it. Why was he weeping? He knew what was coming. He knew that many people would not understand what he was doing. He grieved for humanity and our pain. And this didn’t mean he was just play-acting the triumphant parade; he directed the colt to be found, he refused to rebuke his disciples for their praise. But, he understood the duality of the coming days. There would be resurrection but first there would be crucifixion. There would be the last supper but then there would be betrayal. There would an ascension but first there would be despair and fear and confusion.
We are all holding that great duality right now too, as we journey towards Holy Week in these unusual circumstances. We are seeing beauty and pain all bound up together, all around us. I spoke to a woman the other day (on an essential errand at an appropriate social distance of course!) about how difficult it has been for her to navigate these days with a newborn baby. Of course, these days are filled with joy for her; how could they not be? Each moment with a new baby is filled with wonder —and exhaustion too!—but there is nothing quite like seeing the world through the eyes of a newborn. The tiny fingernails, the soft hair, the magical baby smell. Everything is a miracle. And yet. She cannot fully embrace having a baby in the world right now. She can’t let her parents hold her baby, she can’t introduce her child to her friends, show her infant the world in the way she wants to. Every new infant development, a wonder in itself, deserves to be celebrated in community, and right now, physical community cannot be achieved. And so this woman grieves for what has already been lost to her family, what will continue to be lost in these days. She holds both the joy of new life and the grief of isolation in one heart, one mind, one body.
And so it is with all of us in different ways. We see the beauty of springtime all around us, but we cannot take a walk together. We are getting to experience more family time, while also having to give up events that are important to us. We are settling into a slow rhythm of days, contrasted with a high vibration of anxiety as bad news mounts. We see people and communities stepping up to support each other yet we wish it wasn’t necessary in the first place, and we are afraid it won’t be enough.
And so we might wonder why Jesus bothered to enter triumphantly into Jerusalem at all. We might imagine his heart heavy and his smile forced, nothing but a tiny furrow in his brow to betray his knowledge of what lay ahead. Yet he still did it…why?
I think it has something to do with embracing the fundamental duality of our experience. It wasn’t right to only celebrate. It wasn’t right to only grieve. The grief and the celebration were both fully real, fully manifested in Jesus. And in us. We see the origins of this reality in our Swedenborg reading, where we come to understand the essential nature of God as a distinguishable oneness. He writes: In the Divine-Human One, infinite things are distinguishably one.(1)
In particular, Swedenborg writes that God’s love and wisdom…
are one entity in such a way that although they can be distinguished in thought they cannot be distinguished in fact; and since they can be distinguished in thought and not in fact, we refer to them as "distinguishably one.” (2)
Meaning, they are both separate but not separate. Theoretically separate but not functionally separate. This is how I am experiencing my days, I don’t know about you. My grief and my celebration are theoretically but not functionally separate. Our joy in a spring flower makes us think of the person we can’t share it with. Our closeness with family brings ever more intimate appreciation of their personal losses. Our gratitude for being well is held within anxiety for those who are not. Our thankfulness and awe for those on the frontlines of care is balanced with frustration and unbelief wherever leadership has been abdicated. Grief and celebration bound up together. Beauty and heartache bound up together. We are made in God’s image and likeness, so of course we can also experience some small facsimile of God’s oneness of many things, God’s oneness of love and wisdom, God’s oneness of praise and grief.
I would hope that we would not fight this seemingly strange condition but rather lean into it, because we are built for it. God has built us for it. Or rather, God has built us to be able to experience both suffering and the growth that comes from suffering, both the weeping and the breath that comes after, both the despair and the re-alignment. This is not a fracturedness but rather true wholeness, true integration of multiple co-existing realities. And these realities do not merge, we do not finally learn that celebration is better than grief, or that grief is more honest than celebration, we finally learn that we are big enough, vast enough, safe enough to feel it all.
In the words of Tara Brach: “As our heart transforms suffering into compassion, we experience being both the holder of our sorrows and the vulnerable one who is being held.” (3)
We get to both celebrate and grieve, to be the holder and the held, the one who has gained and the one who has lost. God’s presence with us during this time is one of accompaniment, to both embrace us and expand us into new realities. Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem is such a poignant representation of this notion. He was grieving and discouraged and yet was still drawn forth into a greater purpose, into both action and sacrifice. He rode a donkey amid joyful praise, he wept in frustration, and then he drove the sellers from the temple and continued teaching.
Brach points out, in reference to a beautiful Sufi teaching, that when we recognize the universal nature of our pain, we can see how our suffering is “entrusted to us,” (4) rather than being something we must resist in bitterness and fear. How it connects us to each other and God rather than divides us. That when we breathe into the balance of celebration and grief, we can know that God means for us to be both comforted and awakened, broken down and strengthened. We are entrusted with the experience, not because we are special or strong but because we are human, because we are beloved, because with God’s help we are capable of living it forward in a myriad of brilliant, authentic, vulnerable ways. It’s okay if our palm fronds are stained with tears this year. God remains present, weaving together our dualities, loving us into wholeness.
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom #17
(2) Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom #14
(3) Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of the Buddha, p215
(4) Ibid, p216.
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” 47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
Divine Love and Wisdom 14
In the Divine-Human One, reality and its manifestation are both distinguishable and united. Wherever there is reality, there is its manifestation: the one does not occur without the other. In fact, reality exists through its manifestation, and not apart from it. Our rational capacity grasps this when we ponder whether there can be any reality that does not manifest itself, and whether there can be any manifestation except from some reality. Since each occurs with the other and not apart from it, it follows that they are one entity, but "distinguishably one."
They are distinguishably one like love and wisdom. Further, love is reality and wisdom is its manifestation. Love occurs only in wisdom, and wisdom only from love. So love becomes manifest when it is in wisdom. These two are one entity in such a way that although they can be distinguished in thought they cannot be distinguished in fact; and since they can be distinguished in thought and not in fact, we refer to them as "distinguishably one."