Category Archives: Easter

The Promise of Easter

By Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh

“…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of the resurrection of human life, to know that the spirits of our friends and relatives, as well as all others, are withdrawn by the Lord from their bodies at death and raised up to new life in a spiritual body that will never die but will be ever young.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 grave clothes. 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 there from 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).


Peter’s Denial of the Lord

By Rev. David W. Millar

Apocalypse Explained 627.16

But it must be understood that every thing related concerning the passion of the Lord, signifies the mockery of Divine Truth, and therefore the falsification and adulteration of the Word, because the Lord, when in the world, was the Divine Truth itself, which is the Word in the church. For this reason He permitted the Jews to treat Him in the same way that they treated Divine Truth, or the Word, by its falsification and adulteration; for they applied every thing in the Word to their own loves, and ridiculed every truth that did not agree with their loves, just as they did the Messiah Himself, because He did not become king over the whole world, and exalt them, according to their interpretation and religion, in glory above all peoples and nations.

Peter represents our developing faith or understanding of what it means to live a spiritual life. The difficulty Peter had along with the rest of the disciples, with the prospect of Jesus’ death was his dependence on His physical presence for his life’s meaning. He could not conceive of a life without the Lord being accessible in His physicality. Of course denial speaks volumes of our response to the truth, particularly the truth about ourselves. Peter would not have considered himself weak, or for that matter a coward. Yet how often is it that our very strengths or that in which we trust to get us through life merely conceals our inadequacy. It easy to be strong and show courage when events are seemingly under our control, but when things get beyond us we can be left with very little resource to draw on and find it extremely difficult to trust the Lord.

Peter as our developing faith or understanding is at this stage a faith grounded in self reliance rather than a trust and reliance on the Lord. As such he represents a natural state of faith in this case and not a truly spiritual faith. We can see this in that Peter did not trust the Lord. Despite the Lord’s efforts to prepare him along with the other disciples for what was to occur in Jerusalem, even to the degree that the Lord had told him that he would actually deny Him three times, what occurred came as a complete shock. A natural faith or a faith grounded in self reliance needs to be broken before a person is able to enter into a true spiritual faith. We often think and say that we trust in the Lord, but it is not until we hit a crisis that the extent of that trust is determined. Had Peter trusted, he would not have entered into states of denial. Lets look at these for a moment;

There are described in this event three levels of denial:

1. there is the denial of Jesus the Galilean

2. there is then the denial of Jesus the Nazarene

3. followed by the denial of being one of “them”

In denial 2 and 3 Peter’s words are identical where he says “I do not know the Man” where as in denial 1 Peter says “I do not know what you are saying!”. It is also interesting to note where the denials are said to take place. In the case of the first denial, Peter is said to be “sat outside in the courtyard” the second denial occurs in his coming out into the gate or portal, it would appear this is also where the third denial occurred after which we are told that he heard the cock crow and was reminded of the Lord’s words that he would deny him three times, after this he goes outside and breaks down in much sorrow.

In the first denial Peter is approached by a servant girl, in the second case we are told simply another one (we know from the Gk that it is definitely a woman and more than likely another servant girl) spoke to those who where there concerning his association with Jesus. In the third denial we are told those who challenged him were those standing around.

The number three is significant and the heavenly doctrines tell us it speaks of that which is complete. Thus here, whatever this process represents and we will be looking at that in more detail in a moment, it is one that is complete from beginning to end. But first we see that this trial of Peter’s faith occurs within the bounds of the high priest’s palace. This speaks volumes regarding natural faith – it is seated within the domain of the high priest. This teaches us that a natural state of faith finds itself dominated by the loves of self and the world in their various manifestations within a religious context as this is what the high priest represents. The problem is that when we are in such a state we can’t see it. What these events teach us however is that the process whereby we move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith involves a breaking of our ownership of that which belongs to the Lord – such a breaking can only occur through trial or temptation. Peter here teaches us what natural understanding of spiritual things is like – his suffering arose from his personal attachment and devotion to the Lord and from the prospect of loosing all hope of achieving those natural ambitions or what he had come to believe he was to receive once Jesus became ruler over Israel. You see a natural faith stays strong while there is the prospect of achieving some worldly end. But with the arrest and trial of Jesus Peter’s aspirations, and he no doubt felt he deserved to be rewarded due to what he had given up to follow the Lord, were fast becoming nothing more than a phantasm or vapour.

Thus these events describe in some detail the process whereby the breaking of a natural understanding of spiritual things. A natural faith is a faith where a self centered perspective in regard to spiritual things is supported, whether that self centeredness exists at a personal or an organizational level. If an individual or a church is to move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith then it cannot avoid the process described here. We need to be brought to a place where we worship the Lord for the sake of others and not for ourselves. And to do this we have to be freed from the high priest or Caiaphas or self interest and its domain of influence in spiritual matters.

Names in the Word are wonderfully descriptive and this is certainly true of Caiaphas whose name means “hollowed out”. Here we see the true nature of religion built on self interest. For it is only interested in its forms and traditions so far as they are able to promote and support the very loves true religion seeks to demote – thus the interest only goes so far as external things for here the internal of the church, love to the Lord and love to the neighbour have no place. Without these loves at the center all religion is nothing but a hollow shell. This is seen in Caiaphas’ treatment of the embodiment of those loves standing before him in our Lord Jesus Christ. Caiaphas represents a hollow religious expression, professing to having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.

The three areas in which the denials take place represent three levels of the natural or external man. The heavenly doctrines teach that we have an external man and an internal man. Peter’s struggle is illustrative of the Lord’s dealing’s with our external man. Each has a will, an understanding and a life that is expressed in actions and activity in the external world. Peter’s court yard encounter with the maid or servant girl is a denial at the level of the will, his denial in the portal or gate is a denial at the level of the understanding and the third denial is a denial in the external actions of ones life. Hence will understanding and life the denial is as far as the human mind is concern complete and utter.

If we read these words in their literal sense we will have difficulty seeing this story and Peter’s denial of the Lord in anything but a negative frame. We see the betrayal of a friend and perhaps we wonder how one who showed such boldness could at the point of the Lord’s hour of greatest need, disown Him.

Yet the spiritual content is far more positive in its expression. And to see if we need to ask ourselves what it is that Peter is actually saying. Remember this process describes the transformation of a person’s faith from a natural faith to a spiritual faith. The servant girl in the first denial is an affection belonging to the domain of the will, for a girl or woman in the Word corresponds to our affections. Peter’s response on the surface appears to be a lie, but is it. In the literal sense we certainly have that impression, but lets look at what is actually said, I am reading from the Concordant Literal New Testament which gives a much better rendering of the Greek;

“Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And one maid came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus, the Galilean.” Yet he disowns Him in front of them all, saying, “Not aware am I what you are saying!”

Could it be that this disowning of the Lord is absolutely necessary if we are to move on. The term “disown” is interesting because it suggests a state of faith which claims ownership of the Lord. Think about it in this way – this denial is a disowning of the false ideas associated with a natural understanding of spiritual things. It is the Lord as Peter knew Him that is here being denied or disowned. Natural affinity and affection, aspirations, expectations – the nature of the relationship is here undergoing a necessary change if a natural faith is to become spiritual. There has to be a breaking that is so complete the mind is made ready to receive the Lord resurrected in a new way. What we are seeing here is a description of that process. Those in the house of Ciaiphas seek to have something in us by which they can exercise power over us. Remember Ciaiphas is external religion without internals.

While our faith is such that it finds itself in Ciaiphas’ courtyard we will be vulnerable. Peter is drawn into the courtyard because of his natural affections for Jesus. Spiritually understood, natural affections that hold too tightly to external forms and traditions will inhibit the Church being able to express its love in ways that benefit others and they constantly seek to entrap us- this is the servant girl of Ciaiphas’ courtyard, an affection that serves a ‘hollow’, merely external religious expression and interest. Here we see her trying to tempt Peter or our developing faith, to align himself with those natural ties he has to Jesus – the temptation for the Church is to hang onto forms and traditions which hinder it finding new forms of uses relevant to the generation she is commissioned to serve.

Peter’s resistance far from being despicable is in fact truly commendable as far as a spiritual understanding of the passage goes. To give up old forms, to weigh our traditions in the balance of usefulness in the light of our purpose or reason for being will always involve a struggle. It will involve much soul searching, grief and the sense of loss will be in proportion to the strength of the attachment. It can bring confusion and a sense of disorientation. The statements of Peter express this – his first statement is literally;

“I am not perceiving what you are saying!”

far from being a lie, is in fact spiritually quite true – Peter now hasn’t a clue who Jesus is – everything he thought and attributed to Jesus, his famous confession “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” has very little meaning at this point. Prior to the Lord’s arrest Peter probably thought he knew very well who Jesus was. His two other statements of denial in the literal sense are also spiritually statements of truth.

The two statements are identical and read “I do not know the Man” but literally they read

“I have not perceived the human!”

The Greek word for “man” in this statement is “anthropos” which literally means human.

“I have not perceived the Human” is a statement with powerful spiritual significance. For the Lord was yet to fully glorify His Human, something that would be accomplished through His death and resurrection. So the statement of Peter represents a statement of faith that releases Him finally from a purely natural idea of the Lord tied into his own goals and aspirations. The process is complete, Peter has disowned a sense of ownership over the things of the Lord and the Church, yes there is despair and grief as his sense of being is rocked to the core – but the scripture reads he came out, out from the house of Ciaiphas, out from the mixed motives that had brought him thus far and the result is a heart prepared to receive His Lord in His glorified Human a few days hence.

The lessons for us as a church are clear. We need to look at where our affections actually lie, to see if there are any elements of natural “ownership” over the things of the Lord that hinder our ability to reach out to others that they might have an encounter with the living God.