THE PROMISE OF EASTER
A Sermon by Rev Kurt H. AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynApril 3, 1994
. . . I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
Today we gather to celebrate the miracle of Easter. Christians throughout the world join in great number in thousands of churches, large and small, on this day. Spring blossoms and fragrant plants adorn and cheer many chancels as they do our own. This is not only because the Lord’s sepulchre from which He rose was in a garden, but because the buds and blooms of plants in springtime remind us of rebirth and resurrection. The Lord Himself taught, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). There is a natural cycle of death and rebirth.
For Christians, Easter carries the promise of resurrection. It teaches that human life is immortal. So our Lord Jesus has said: “I am the resurrection and the life; . . . whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25f). He was slain by His enemies but He rose again. Before His death He had promised: “If I am lifted up from the earth,
. . . [I] . . . will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32). We picture the Lord, in heaven, gathering all the faithful to Himself, lifting them up by His Divine power from natural weakness and death into the light and beauty of His heavenly kingdom.
The miracle of resurrection is a wonderful thing. We see it represented here in these blooming plants as they cycle from dormancy to new life. How delightful and uplifting the renewal of spring in the world is to our souls, especially when we have endured a bitter winter. How much more beautiful and satisfying to think of the resurrection of human life, to know that the spirits of our friends and relatives, as well as all others, are withdrawn by the Lord from their bodies at death and raised up to new life in a spiritual body that will never die but will be ever young. The special gift of each person’s life is not lost at death.
Death comes to us all, and we all are touched by it again and again as those we love are called from this life. The promise of the Easter resurrection can sustain us then. This was recognized by the apostle Paul who wrote these memorable words: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” “Death,” he said, “is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:55, 54).
The promise of resurrection is one reason we rejoice on Easter Sunday. But is this the only, or even the greatest, reason to celebrate Easter? It is my hope to show that there is another reason. Indeed, the miracle of resurrection is only a pale shadow in comparison with the real miracle accomplished by the Lord when He rose from the tomb that Easter morning.
Let us begin by remembering this simple teaching of the Heavenly Doctrine: “Every man is created that he may live forever in a state of happiness” (DP 324:6). Note that there are two things here that the Lord wants for us: not only that we shall live forever but that we shall be happy in that life. “He who wills that man should live forever also wills that he should live in a state of happiness,” we are told. “What would eternal life be without that?” “This state of man, indeed, is the end of creation” (Ibid.).
What is this state of man in which he may find eternal happiness? It is the state of regeneration or salvation. The hidden promise of Easter, and the greater one, is the promise of salvation. The Lord’s resurrection was to make this possible so that you and I could have not only eternal life but eternal happiness as well. That this is so has been revealed by the Lord in the Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church.
What is new here? Does not Christian doctrine teach salvation through Christ? The teaching of the Lord to Nicodemus is well known: “You must be born again,” and “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:7,3). Here the New Church is in agreement with all Christians. We differ in the understanding of how that salvation is accomplished.
Perhaps the difference can be brought out by this simple distinction: The means of salvation, according to Christian doctrine, is rooted in Christ’s death on the cross; in New Church doctrine it is rooted instead in the resurrection of His body. The difference is as simple and as profound as what took place on Friday and what took place on Sunday.
It is widely believed among Christians that Christ died for our sins; that in an act of unselfish love, He paid the price for the evils of the human race and made satisfaction to the Father for them, and that henceforth all who believe that He did this for them and who seek His grace can be saved. It is because of this concept that the day of Christ’s crucifixion and death is known throughout Christendom as “Good Friday.” It is thought that by lovingly sacrificing His life, Christ accomplished the ultimate good deed. It is evident that the focus in Christian worship is on the crucified Lord: the cross, with or without the body of Christ, is the prominent symbol and identifying sign of Christian faith.
In contradistinction to this, the New Church regards the crucifixion of the Lord as a final temptation combat, not as an act of redemption. The crucifixion marked the culmination of the Lord’s lifelong process of glorification, or the making Divine of the Human He had assumed in the world. To state this in a simple way, the crucifixion was not something the Lord endured for us, that we might be saved because of it; it was something He endured for Himself, so that He could become Divine Man.
So the Lord, on earth, spoke not only of His resurrection but also of His glorification, as in this statement: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son also may glorify You” (John 17:1).
Certainly, the Lord’s ultimate reason for enduring all temptations in the world was to make our salvation possible, but salvation was not effected by His temptations; it is effected by His saving power as a living God in our lives.
For the New Church person, Sunday’s events are the key to understanding the concept of salvation. Unlike the resurrection of any person, the Lord’s resurrection was with His whole body. Nothing was found in the tomb except the graveclothes. The Lord rose with a glorified body. His Human Essence had been united with His Divine Essence. He had become the embodiment of the Supreme being in His Divine Human. We worship not a crucified Lord but a living Lord who has assumed all power in heaven and on earth.
This is the hidden promise of Easter, and a greater one. For while the Lord’s resurrection after death reassures us of our own, our resurrection to life eternal is not dependent upon the Easter resurrection. People have passed into the spiritual world after death from the beginning and will continue to do so. However, the Lord’s glorification is essential to salvation. Our eternal happiness is dependent upon that. If the Lord had not glorified His Human and had not risen to be our living Lord, there would be no salvation today.
How grateful we should be for this arcane Easter miracle. The resurrection of the Divine body gives hope of salvation and heavenly happiness that would not be possible in any other way.
This is the promise of the text we have chosen this Easter morning. As the Lord sat with His disciples at the Last Supper, He gave them the bread and wine of the Holy Supper, and said: ” . . . I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
What did He mean? What did the disciples understand of this? The Writings for the New Church explain the text: ” The product of the vine,’ that is, [the] . . . wine,’ which the Lord would drink with them new in His Father’s kingdom’ . . . means that all Divine truth in heaven and the church would then be from His Divine Human . . . ” (AE 376e:25). In that new kingdom about to be established by His glorification, He would teach them directly from Himself as their God and Father.
It is a sad fact that man has removed himself so far from the Supreme Divine, by the evil loves in which he has immersed himself and by the falsities with which he has blinded himself, “that there could not possibly be any influx of the Divine into the rational part of his mind,” we are told, “except through the Human which the Lord united in Himself to the Divine. Through His Human, [however] communication has been effected; for thereby the Supreme Divine has been able to come to man” (AC 2016).
There is but one God, called here the “Supreme Divine.” All Christian religions would agree that man has alienated himself from that God by the sins of a thousand generations. It is not the case that the “Supreme Divine” is alienated. God continues and will ever continue to love us every one, in whatever state of life we put ourselves, even the most grievously evil. Thus, from the longings of His love, He came to us in Human form, as Jesus Christ. Jesus walked among us, healing, casting out devils, raising from the dead. He reached out to us in our lowly state with no obstacle between Himself and us save what we freely set up against Him.
The power of the “Supreme Divine” was in Jesus. Once when Jesus declared: “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30), the Jews took up stones to kill Him. He said ” . . . know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:37f). Later, when Philip the disciple said he would be satisfied if Jesus would show them the Father, Jesus replied, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . . . Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me” (John 14:8-11).
This was the mission of His life on earth, to unite the Divine with the Human so that the “Supreme Divine” with its unchanging love could reach out by means of a Human Essence to save the human race. When the women came early to the tomb and did not find the body of Jesus, it was because He had risen above all limitations of body and mind put on at birth and had united Himself with His own Divine soul. He was glorified. He embodied the “Supreme Divine” and brought saving power to all who were willing to receive it. From that time forward, “all good and truth would . . . come to man from [God’s] Divine Essence through His Human Essence” (AC 2016:2). This then is what is here affirmed: that from Him, namely, “from the Human united to the Divine, is all good and all truth” (AC 2016:2).
We are taught further that “when . . . the Human was made Divine . . . the result was an influx of the Infinite or Supreme Divine with man that otherwise could not possibly have existed . . . ” (AC 2034). So it was that when the Lord said to His disciples: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you . . . ” He meant that from that time the only power by which man could be made spiritual or be “born again” would be from His glorified Human. This “fruit of the vine” which they are to drink new is, we are told, “no other than the truth of the New Church and of heaven” (TCR 708). “What is Divine is incomprehensible,” the doctrines teach, “but still this Divine, which in itself is incomprehensible, can flow in through the Lord’s Divine Human into man’s rational, and . . . it is there received according to the truths which are therein . . . ” (AC 2531).
How important are interior truths, for these are the basis of the Lord’s presence in our minds. “To those who are angelic as to doctrine and at the same time as to life,” we read, ” . . . [the] . . . rational is enlightened therefrom to such a degree that their enlightenment is compared to the brightness of stars and the sun” (AC 2531). By means of such truth from the Lord Himself, which speaks directly to the rational mind, we may be made spiritually intelligent and be reborn of God.
The promise of Easter is not only a promise of resurrection but of rebirth. For “the Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning . . . involves . . . His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment” (AC 2405e). “He rises again with everyone who is being regenerated” (AC 2917). And is not this the promise of the prophets, whose words have been from of old, from everlasting?
“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you . . . ” (Isaiah 60:1-3). “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Amen.
Lessons: Matt. 26:26-30; John 19:41-20:16; AC 1676:2,3; TCR 126
Arcana Coelestia 1676:2.3
He to whom it has not been given to know heavenly arcana may suppose that there was no need of the Lord’s coming into the world to fight against the hells, and by means of temptations admitted into Himself to vanquish and conquer them, when they might have been subjugated at any time by the Divine Omnipotence, and shut up in their hells; but that still the fact is really so is a certain truth. To unfold the arcana themselves merely as to the most general things would fill a whole work; and it would also give occasion for reasonings about such Divine mysteries as human minds would not comprehend, however fully they might be unfolded; and most people would not desire to comprehend them.
Therefore it is sufficient for men to know, and, because it is so, to believe, that it is an eternal truth that unless the Lord had come into the world and subjugated and conquered the hells by means of temptations admitted into Himself, the human race would have perished; and that otherwise those who have been on this earth even from the time of the Most Ancient Church could not possibly have been saved.
True Christian Religion 126:6
The passion of the cross was the last temptation which the Lord, as the greatest Prophet, endured, and was the means whereby His Human was glorified, that is, whereby it was united with the Divine of the Father; but it was not redemption. There are two things for which the Lord came into the world, and by means of which He saved men and angels, namely, redemption and the glorification of His Human. These two are distinct from each other; and yet in reference to salvation they make one. It has been shown in the preceding sections what the work of redemption was, namely, that it was a combat against the hells, a subjugation of the hells, and a restoration of order in the heavens. But glorification is the uniting of the Lord’s Human with the Divine of His Father. This was effected gradually, and was completed through the passion of the cross. For every man on his part ought to draw near to God; and as far as man does draw near, God on His part enters into him. It is the same as with a temple, which first must be built, and this is done by the hands of men; afterwards it must be dedicated; and finally prayer must be made for God to be present and there unite Himself with the church. The union itself was made complete through the passion of the cross, because that was the last temptation endured by the Lord in the world; and it is by means of temptations that conjunction is effected. For in temptations apparently man is left to himself alone, although he is not; for God is then most nearly present in man’s inmosts, and sustains him; therefore when man conquers in temptation he is inmostly conjoined with God, as in temptation the Lord was inmostly united to God His Father. That in the passion of the cross the Lord was left to Himself is evident from His exclamation upon the cross: “O God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46); as also from these words of the Lord: “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I had power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from My Father” (John 10:18). From all this it can now be seen that it was not in respect to His Divine but in respect to His Human that the Lord suffered, and that thereby an inmost and thus a complete union was effected. This may also be illustrated by the fact that when a man suffers in body, his soul does not suffer but only grieves; and after the victory, God takes away this grief and wipes it away as one wipes away tears from the eyes.