The Stone at the Entrance of the Tomb: What Prevents us from Seeing into Deeper Things

Reading: Matthew 28:1-7

But late in the sabbaths, at the dawning into the first of the sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary came to gaze upon the grave. (2) And, behold! A great earthquake occurred! For descending from Heaven and coming near, an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone from the door and was sitting on it. (3) And his face was as lightning and his clothing white as snow. (4) And those keeping guard were shaken from the fear of him, and they became as dead. (5) But answering, the angel said to the women, You must not fear, for I know that you seek Jesus who has been crucified. (6) He is not here, for He was raised, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying. (7) And going quickly say to His disciples that He was raised from the dead. And behold! He goes before you into Galilee. You will see Him there. Behold! I told you.

Apocalypse Explained 400
And concerning the earthquake which took place when the angel descended and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, it is thus stated:

When “Mary Magdalene came and the other Mary to see the supulchre; and, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone from the mouth, and sat upon it” (Matt. xxviii. 1, 2).

Those earthquakes took place to indicate that the state of the church was then being changed; for the Lord, by His last temptation, which He sustained in Gethsemane and upon the cross, conquered the hells, and reduced to order all things there and in the heavens, and also glorified His Human, that is, made it Divine, therefore, there was an earthquake, and the rocks were rent. That the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, signified that His Human was made Divine; for within the veil was the ark in which was the testimony, and by the testimony was signified the Lord as to His Divine Human (as may be seen shown above, n. 392). The veil signified the external of the church which was with the Jews and Israelites, and which covered their eyes, so that they might not see the Lord and the Divine truth, or the Word in its own light. The same is signified by the great earthquake which took place when the angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, namely, that the state of the church was being entirely changed; for the Lord then rose again, and as to His Human took upon Him all dominion over heaven and earth, as He Himself says in Matthew (xxviii. 18). The angel rolling away the stone from the mouth and sitting upon it, signifies that the Lord removed all the falsity that cut off approach to Him, and that He opened Divine truth; for a stone signifies Divine truth, which the Jews had falsified by their tradition; for it is said that

the chief-priests and Pharisees sealed the stone with a watch (Matt. xxvii. 66);

but that an angel from heaven removed it, and sat upon it. But [although] the things that are mentioned respecting the earthquakes, also respecting the veil of the temple, and the stone before the mouth of the sepulchre, are few, there are still more things signified thereby; for everything in general and particular written in the Gospels concerning the Lord’s passion involves and signifies arcana.

SERMON
This is a wonderful passage full of hope and of promises realised. Jesus, when he was with His followers, often told them of what must come to pass. On numerous occasions he spoke to them of His impending death and resurrection. But His followers didn’t really hear what He was saying to them. They probably lived in a state of wishful thinking where these matters were concerned, hearing but not hearing, or hearing the words but not comprehending their meaning. But a little reflection on our own experience of the operation of spiritual truths in our life will reveal that we are not too dissimilar in our own responses and attitudes to that of the disciples in matters concerned with living a spiritual life. The Word deals with the idea of death and resurrection on almost every page. The implication is that the spiritual life can be viewed as a whole series of deaths and resurrections as we die to old states of life that can no longer usefully serve our spiritual progress only to rise to new states of life that are able to carry us through to the next phase of dying and rising. These states, when set in a spiritual context, are always connected with our understanding of the Lord’s Word. This involves dying to one level of understanding so that there might arise a new, deeper, understanding of the Word made possible through the application of truths to the life of our minds.

It’s a remarkable thing that when we begin to view the spiritual principles that the Word communicates to us through the stories we find there, and how much of our experience of life is actually pictured within them. On the other hand we shouldn’t be that surprised for the Heavenly Doctrine teaches us that on a deeper level the Word is actually all about our regeneration. The stories with all their characters and events, represent spiritual or  mental realities that play out within us as we respond to the challenges truths from the Word make upon our life. In this sense the Word is a truly invaluable guide for our spiritual life. This can be difficult to see when we are caught up in natural concerns, what the Gospels refer to as the cares of this world, or when we have fixed ideas about what it is the Lord seeks to achieve in our life. The disciples, like us all, had fixed ideas about how they were going to benefit from their connection with the Lord. They had natural ideas and dreams of ruling and reigning with the Lord in an earthly kingdom, and they probably held onto this belief right up to His death. Unfortunately this prevented them seeing that the Lord’s kingdom was not of this world, never has been, and never will be. We too are like this when we confuse natural aspirations and desires for spiritual realities. The disciples’ attachment to their own natural aspirations and the Lord as the vehicle to attaining them was so strong that they were unable to grasp anything the Lord was saying to them that contradicted these. This too is like us.

When we hold to preconceptions about how we think things ought to be, rather than what the Word says they are, we can put ourselves in a position where we can’t hear or see anything that goes against these preconceptions. An important spiritual principle found in the teachings for Spiritual Christianity is that of “affirmative doubt.” This is an attitude that holds that Divine Revelation is true regardless of whether we can see how it is true or not. So, where something in the Word doesn’t make sense, or fit in with our worldview, to maintain an affirmative attitude means that we hold it to be true so as not to dismiss it before we can gain insight into its spiritual applications. This requires us to consciously put our own agendas, ideas, or perspectives on hold to await insight into the matter. If we are readers of the Word we will often hear or read something that goes against our own ideas about how things are, or what we think ought to be, and because it goes against what we think we can tend to reject what’s said or dismiss it without giving it our considered attention.

We need to see that this dismissive response is one that makes truth subject to our own reasoning powers and is linked to thinking we know best and the intellectual pride associated with this. In the case of our study of Divine Revelation we have to learn not to respond in this way. The Word is designed to challenge our natural patterns of thought and behaviour and the teaching of the doctrines gives us what we need to be prepared for this. We need to understand that our proprium or ego, with its intellectual pride stands opposed Divine Revelation. The Heavenly Doctrines teach that the proprium is in the principle of “negative doubt” in relation to spiritual things. This principle is rooted in our intellectual pride and holds that anything that challenges our world view, or unsettles us must be false and that whatever we find agreeable is the only thing that is held to be true.

When this attitude is active truths, rather than being used to challenge us and draw out our motives, is used to support our proprium’s own self centred position. Something we saw in some detail in the character and response of Pilate in the sermon on Good Friday. By making a conscious effort to subject our proprial responses to the things of the Word that challenge us to this principle of affirmative doubt we can ensure that we remain open to heavenly influences and so be open to a much wider range of possibilities. It also puts us in a position of being open to being led by the Word which is to be led by the Lord. If we are too fixed in our own views, assumptions, or agenda’s then, when we are challenged by the Word, we will find ourselves being resistant and hardening ourselves against where truth is seeking to take us. This hardening towards truth is illustrated in our reading today by the stone that blocks the way into the sepulchre, which represents the resurrection of heavenly and spiritual things that lie within the letter of the Word within our own minds.

The whole idea of death and resurrection is really about putting off the old to allow the new to come. The principle is clear, you can’t have a resurrection without something dying first – you can’t jump straight into the resurrection side of the process without the pain and suffering associated with that of being severed from old attachments. This is referred to in the Scriptures as the death to self. Jesus said that we have to lose our life if we are to find it, this being a leading principle of spiritual life. But we struggle with pain and suffering, and seek to avoid it, often at any cost. We may even view such states as indicative of a lack of spiritual progress because we see distress, whether it is physical, psychological, or spiritual, as a lack of Divine favour. But whether we embrace the processes involved or resist them we ultimately can’t escape the pain associated with dying on its various levels of meaning, because we can’t escape change.

The disciples resistance was highlighted many times over in the Gospels.  They struggled at times not just with what the Lord taught, but with how he was with others – the Samaritan woman in John 4 is one example that readily comes to mind. Here he chose to speak with a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. This was so contrary to what was expected of a good Jew, for the Jews despised the Samaritans, and so the disciples, being Jewish, really struggled with it. It struck at their prejudices. The disciples represent our ideas about spiritual things, ideas that have been developed in the company of the Word – and this encounter with the Samaritan woman highlights our own prejudices in relation to the Word when it begins to challenge how we are and how we are viewing things. When we first come to the Word and begin to build an understanding of it we frame it within our own pre-existing natural ideas. Thus, in the example mentioned at the beginning, the disciples really expected Jesus to lead them against the Romans and become rulers with the Him over Israel. For them, everything He did and said was framed by this belief. We too have preconceived ideas about what it is to follow the Lord, how a church should be, what a church is, how others should be etc, but as we begin to work through things with an open heart we will come to see that often the things we hold as so important are really minor and the things we see as having less of a priority take on a much more significant role.

It’s inevitable that our views, values and priorities will change as our understanding of spiritual things develops. Whereas in the beginning everything spiritual is framed in accordance with natural beliefs so as more spiritual knowledge is gained, and we begin to work with the principles we are learning and gain experience of how the Word works in our lives, so we acquire the material for a new framework – a new way of seeing things, a spiritual way of seeing things. But there is a period of transition, a period in which our old beliefs begin to die and we struggle to find our connection to the Word in the way that we had previously. When we are in such times we will find that we struggle to draw meaning from the Word, as what we believed previously has now become an obstacle to moving forward. This stone of old natural ways of understanding has to be rolled away if we are to come to understand things in a new way and see how these things actually fit together so that we can move forward into Galilee where the Scriptures declare the Lord is to be found.

Crucial to this happening is the development of a genuine affection for truth. This affection is drawn from the Word itself and is developed within us through our being willing to live our lives according to the understanding of truth we have. When we are willing to learn truths with a view to applying them to our own lives then the Lord infills this effort with an affection for the things of the Word. When this affection is alive in us, in the truths we have from the Word, then we will be motivated to persevere in our search, even when all appears lost. Our thirst for truth will continue to draw us to the living water of the Word, the only place where we will be able to find something living and real. We know that if we are sincere in our efforts we will find a way forward; we will come to see how the Word can meet us to support and nurture our spiritual life. This will occur because the Lord promises that He will rise – and He is faithful to His Word.

This affection for truth that draws us to the Word even when it appears to lack life for us is represented here by the two Mary’s. Notice that it is the women who come to the tomb first here. The word tomb is from a Greek word that literally means, “memory vault”. There is a wonderful picture here of the process of spiritual resurrection, of coming to see the Word in a new way. The affection for the Word is represented by the two Mary’s and we see from their loving response an illustration of how this affection draws us back to our memories of the Word as we first understood it. We come knowing that it is no longer able to be with us as it once was, but as the approach is made, knowing that things can’t be the same any longer, that the Lord as we knew Him has died, yet we find, as we gaze on the grave that our understanding of the Word has become, an earthquake occurs. Something deep within shifts and out of the disruption of moving from our old understanding of things, an angel descends from heaven – this angel is a new heavenly understanding breaking forth from the Word, and this new understanding, as it descends from on high, moves the stone that blocks our way into something deeper within. The stone is our old understanding of the Word, our natural understanding of spiritual things, which has blocked our perception of the spiritual realities that lie within the letter of the Word.

The guards set at the tomb, those fixed false ideas and preconceptions which guarded and preserved the old understanding are rendered as dead, they have no power in the presence of the internal sense of the Word represented by this angel.  The old ideas tied to a historical faith of the memory, being no longer able to preserve the way things are, give way to the word of an angel who represents the internal sense of the Word which tells us that the one we seek is not in those old ways of thinking and seeing. That if we want to discover our real life we must go to our spiritual Galilee which, represents living the life of good from truths. We must apply the truths of the Word to the life of the affections of the will to have what is opposed to the life of heaven exposed.  To do this is to go to Galilee where the Lord is. This is our worship and this is where the material for living our spiritual life is to be found.

Amen

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