COMING TO LIFE
Psalm 146 Hymns: 128
Mark 16:1-19 554
Responsive Reading #49, p. 170 130
Secrets of Heaven 2405:8
When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were terrified. And he said to them, “Do not be afraid. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him."
There are so many messages in the Easter story that it is hard to know where to begin. One of the most obvious is the simple literal message that death is not the end of our own existence. As the Gospel of John makes very clear, the Lord went to prepare a place for us, and his return assures us of the reality of that place.
This is an assurance that is sorely needed in our own times. The material sciences are fascinating, absorbing, and when we get totally absorbed in something, it is all too easy to come to assume that nothing beyond its boundaries is real. It is not stupidity that leads people to believe that nothing but matter really exists, it is a kind of tunnel vision, an extension of that very human tendency to give supreme importance to whatever is most real to us, whether it is “my headache" as opposed to yours, or “my religion" as opposed to yours. It can be difficult to enter into the thought world of someone else.
The spiritual dimension of our lives, though, is very real indeed, and presses to be recognized. It is not superstition that has led to the widespread interest in near-death experiences or to the flood of books and programs about angels. At some level, we know that we are spiritual beings. We obviously know that our minds can travel where our bodies cannot. We regularly experience the strength of our purposes. We regularly discover that there can be vast discrepancies between outward and inward beauty, and that when these discrepancies exist, it is the inward beauty that matters most.
Materialism is only part of the problem, though. Perhaps equally at fault has been religion itself, and this for two main reasons. First, it has all too often offered pictures of eternal life that are both unreasonable and unappealing. Whether it is the picture of angels sitting on clouds and playing harps or the picture of everyone reclothed in flesh after some indefinite period of waiting, in a state no one has been able to describe, this supposed life seems to have little to do with life here and now and with the people we know ourselves to be.
Second, and far more serious, the church has used notions of eternal reward and punishment to advance its own causes. These abuses range from the commercialism of some televangelists to the destructive practices of sexual predators, all claiming on one way or another to hold the keys to heaven and hell. Karl Marx’s portrayal of religion as an opiate was not made up out of whole cloth; and the effort to still thedisquiet of the poor by promising them riches in heaven is all too well documented.
Place such distortions against the story of the resurrection, and their pitiful shabbiness is obvious. The resurrection is about coming to life here and now. For the disciples, it was about a transforming discovery, the discovery that the individual they had come to love beyond all others was far more than they had even dreamed. It is hard to imagine what must have gone on in their minds as they tried to digest what had happened. He had told them about laying up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, and now, suddenly, the profound truth of this image struck them with full force. The Jesus in whom they had put their trust was utterly beyond the power of this world. There could be no greater security.
This by itself, though, did not go to the heart of the matter. After all, they had not put their trust in the Lord because of his power. They had done so, essentially, because of his beauty, because they found themselves understood and loved by him in a way that surpassed everything they had ever experienced. Time after time, they had found him knowing what was going on in their hearts, knowing themselves to be transparent in his presence; and time after time, they found themselves not threatened by this vulnerability but comforted, strengthened, and blessed. This religion was not an opiate, not at all. It was an elixir, a tonic. It opened their eyes and energized their bodies.
The full force of the resurrection is experienced only against the background of the crucifixion. The height of the disciples' joy is in direct proportion to the depth of their despair. The resurrection, that is, had the power to pull them out of the deepest pit possible; and it had that power because the Lord had been victorious in the greatest of all possible trials or temptations. He had come to the point where he experienced not just a distance from the Divine but the very absence of the Divine, where he felt himself utterly forsaken. Devastatingly powerful as that feeling must have been, it was no match for divine love and wisdom.
It seems a long leap from this truly cosmic event to all the little things that go to make up our own daily lives, from the high drama of life and death to our usual routines, from the Jerusalem that has been the center of attention for millennia to a little corner of Maine that often seems quite content to be inconspicuous.
We miss the point, though, if we think in terms of size rather than in terms of quality. Underlying our third reading is the principle that the same thing may happen on very different scales, that there is a resurrection when a new church is being awakened in the world, when individuals are being reborn, and “whenever the good that love and faith can do is at work, because there is a coming of the Lord in this" (Secrets if Heaven 2405:8).
We are living in an age when a new church is being awakened in the world. There has been a judgment, a reordering of the spiritual world, that has resulted in a new freedom of thought about matters of faith (Last Judgment 73). We do not have to look very hard to see that freedom at work around us. We can see it in the breakdown of the illusion that all the heathen are benighted and damned. We can see it in Vatican II. We can see it in the challenging of all kinds of social patterns, some for better and some for worse, for freedom is never without risk.
Much of this—the “general" dimension, in doctrinal terms" is beyond our control, it is true, but we still have a special responsibility. Blessed by some awareness of the spiritual causes of all this instability, we can resist the temptation simply to cling to the past. We can try our best to sort out in the present what is for the better and what is for the worse. We can do so with the sure knowledge that the Lord is fully aware of what is going on and that while a heavenly outcome is by no means guaranteed, that is the Lord’s intent, and we are the only ones who can prevent it. We can recognize that basic questions are being asked and that old answers are not being taken for granted and that this is not necessarily bad. We can try our best to find new answers that are better than the old ones. That is how our world can “come to life."
As for our personal coming to life, the “specific?dimension, we are reminded that we are involved in a lifelong process. We are given our threescore years and ten—or twenty or thirty—because we need them. It is a long journey from the innocence of ignorance to the innocence of wisdom, and it seems that the Lord does not want to rush us. We can look back and see where we have come from, we can look ahead toward the heaven that is our goal; and we can see some of the things that the years have brought, some of the pieces that have begun to fall into place. We gain a better sense of what really matters as we see more and more clearly what lies beneath surface appearances.
Then, finally, there is the “individual?dimension that gives life to our daily routines, the “coming to life" that happens “whenever the good that love and faith can do is at work.?This is the contentment we feel when we become involved in doing something we love to do. At such times, we are moved beyond self-consciousness to a blessed state of self-forgetfulness. We are not worried about what others will think of us or even of what we will think of ourselves, we are simply experiencing the delight of doing something that is worth doing, or in doctrinal terms, “doing what is good for its own sake."
This is the Lord coming to life within us. It is Easter “every day, even every moment" (Secrets of Heaven 2405:8). It is how we truly “come to life."
It is also, most significantly, how we discover the concreteness of a truth that at first sounds abstract, the truth that the essence of life is love. The Lord did not overcome death simply out of strength, but out of love, out of the depth and purity of that love. Any self-concern would have been truly deadly, truly fatal; and this is something we can prove for ourselves if we want to. We can observe how the joy goes out of life in direct proportion to the extent to which we get wrapped up in ourselves. We can observe how much brighter and livelier everything is, both within and around us, when we let go of our self-concern, when we move out of our self-consciousness, and really look for “the good that love and faith can do."
We can then look back on the tomb of our self-absorption and see how empty it is. Truly, then, “He is risen."
Secrets of Heaven 2405:8
Since strictly understood, “morning?means the Lord, his coming, and the approach of his kingdom, we can tell what else “morning?means—namely, the arising of a new church, since this is the Lord’s kingdom on earth. This applies both in general and specifically and even individually.
In general, it happens when a new church is being awakened on earth. Specifically, it happens when we are being regenerated and becoming new people, since that is when the Lord’s kingdom is rising within us, when each of us is becoming a church. Individually, it happens whenever the good that love and faith can do is at work within us since within this is a coming of the Lord. That is why the Lord’s resurrection took place on the third day (Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1, John 20:1). All of this, in general and specifically, involves the Lord’s rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every single moment.