Archive for April, 2010
Images of Jesus
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 25, 2010
Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22-39 Psalm 23
In this morning’s Bible readings, we have about every concept of Jesus that people think of. In Revelation, we have Jesus as the Lamb in the center of the throne presiding over the whole heavens. Then by marked contrast, we have the Jews wanting to stone Jesus because they think Him a man only. We also have Jesus making that claim, that He is God. We have Jesus using Trinitarian language, calling Himself the Son of God. Then Jesus makes an interesting reference to Psalm 82, which reads, “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’” This could be read as saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the same way that we are gods and sons of the Most High. At least, Jesus seems to use this Psalm to justify His own claim to be the Son of God. So we have five different ways of viewing Jesus in these readings. And these five ways of viewing Jesus are how people today still see Him. I’d like to talk about these ways of viewing Jesus this morning.
The picture that we have from the book of Revelation is a wonderfully inclusive picture. We have innumerable people surrounding the throne on which the Lamb sits. The Lamb is the risen Jesus Christ who presides over the whole heavens. What interests me in this image are the people worshipping the Lamb. They are, “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (7:9). This means that all different races and nationalities are worshipping the Lamb–not just the saved Christians. In this picture, we see that everyone, everywhere who live the best they know are accepted by the Christ, and that they, in turn, will recognize God when they see Him. The salvation of the Lamb is for the whole world. Some Christians think that people of other religions will not be saved. This notion is what fuels their missionary efforts. They go to all parts of the world to convert others to Christianity so that they will be saved. I remember a Lutheran minister I met in Florida. I was going to work with him to fulfill a requirement for ordination. But he found one of our web pages, and had underlined the part that said, “He is present to save everyone, everywhere, whose lives affirm the best they know.” He pointed to that passage and said, “I can’t accept that.” For strict Lutherans, it is Christ’s reconciling sacrifice on the cross that saves people. Those who do not believe this are not saved. How sad. How much of a limit that puts on God’s love. For this minister, good Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, and other religions would not make the cut. How refreshing is the picture we have in this passage from Revelation, that people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” are all in heaven worshipping the Lamb. This is an image of Jesus that speaks to me. And the description of Jesus’ salvation is beautiful. The Bible tells us that,
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat, For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (9:16-17).
Moving on to another image of Jesus from this morning’s readings, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” How much more clearly can it be said that Jesus is God. At least that is how the Jews took it. The idea that God could assume a human form was blaspheme to the Jews. They were prepared to stone Jesus to death because He said so. They accused Jesus of being a mere man and claiming to be God. This is a doctrine that many today have a hard time with. Most people today admit that there was a Jesus, and that he was a great teacher and leader. They love His teachings. But many find it hard to accept that Jesus is God. But to me, that belief is at the center of Christianity, and it is at the center of our Swedenborgian faith. In a small book that summarizes the teachings of the New Church, Swedenborg writes, “Since the Father is in the Lord, and the Father and the Lord are one; and since the Lord must be believed in; it is evident that the Lord is God” (NJHD #284). But Swedenborg recognizes that there are those, even in Christianity, who do not believe this. He writes,
All who are of the Church, and in light from heaven, see the Divine in the Lord; but those who are not in light from heaven, see nothing but the Human in the Lord; when yet the Divind and the Human have been so united in Him that they are one; as the Lord also taught elsewhere in John: “Father, all mine are Thine, and all Thine are Mine (17:10) (NJHD 285).
Jesus seems to give people an escape route if this doctrine is too hard. He says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me, but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works” (10:37-38). His own works were evidence of His divinity. So if it is too hard to accept a Divine Human, look at the works Jesus does and believe them. I take this to mean that what Jesus stands for is almost as important as who He is. His compassion for the sick, his demonstration of love, his miraculous power, the burning of their hearts when the apostles were near Him, all these things are what Jesus stands for, and what are to be believed. Who else but God can do these wonderful works.
Jesus calls Himself the Son of God. This is one of the places where traditional Christians get their ideas about the trinity. They teach that God is three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How they get a person out of the Holy Spirit I can’t understand. In fact, I can’t understand the whole idea of three persons who share one essence. Swedenborg strongly opposes the trinity. He thinks that traditional Christians are polytheists–that is, they believe in three gods. This reminds me of a graffiti I saw spray painted on the sidewalk in front of a Christian church in Boston. There was a star of David and the words, “You worship gods I can’t understand.” It is in this very John passage, that we find support for the unity of God in the one person of Jesus. John 10:30 says, “I and the Father are one.” That line is so clear that it is what led the Jews to want to stone Jesus. They understood it to mean Jesus is God. And that is exactly what that passage means. There are other passages in the Bible that make Jesus look separate from God the Father. When Jesus was in the humanity He inherited from Mary, He spoke to God as if to another. But there are other passages in which He is at one with God the Father, as in the transfiguration on the mountain top we find in Mark 9. There his clothes became dazzling white and He shone with the power and glory of God. I think that reason and the Bible can support the doctrine that God and Human are one in Jesus, and that there is no other person in the Godhead besides Jesus.
The passage from Psalm 82 brings up an interesting way of viewing Jesus, that I have personally encountered recently. Psalm 82 calls all of us gods, and “sons of the Most High.” I have a friend who told me once, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but so am I. We are all sons of God.” Some people believe that Jesus united Himself fully with God, and that we all have the potential to unite ourselves with God too. Often people of this belief will say that Jesus did it more perfectly than most of us could. But they hold open the idea that what Jesus did, we could all potentially do. It is true that for Swedenborg, union with God is what salvation means. We are saved to the extent that God’s Holy Spirit is in us. But Swedenborg also makes a clear distinction between what Jesus did and what we can do. Jesus is an avatar of God. His Humanity is infinite and one with the Father. We will always be finite. No matter how closely we approach God, we will always be finite and the ratio of finite to infinite is infinite. We will never be an avatar of God. The belief that we are sons of God in the same sense that Jesus is is making Jesus a mere man, and not a Divine Human. In this sense, it is not much different than the belief of the Jews who saw Jesus as a man and not God.
Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me” (Matthew 11:6). And to some a Divine Human is a scandal. The works that Jesus did and continues to do are one with His being and person. His Divine message and acts of love are who and what God is in His Being and Essence. Jesus is one with the Father, and as such, could do nothing but show the infinite love and compassion that God has for every nation, for all tribes, and peoples and tongues.
Feed My Sheep
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 18, 2010
Revelation 5:11-14 John 21:1-19 Psalm 30
Our two Bible readings this morning represent the two great commandments of Jesus: love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. In our reading from Revelation, we have a picture of all the angels and of every creature on earth and under the earth all worshipping the Lamb. This signifies love to the Lord. In our reading from John, Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. This refers to our relationships with other people. In its most specific meaning, this passage refers to the Apostles who went out and taught the world the Good News about Jesus. In its widest sense, it refers to every good that each of us do to others.
All good and evil have relation to these two great commands. And both of these commands are about relationships. Love to the Lord is about our connection with God. It is about the way we let God into our lives. It is about God’s Spirit finding a home in our heart, and even in our behavior. It is about doing good to the church, to society, and to every single person in our lives. Evil is defined as anything that blocks God’s influx into our lives. The second command is love for the neighbor. Love for the neighbor is about our relationships with other people. It is about how we treat others. It is about doing good to others and wishing well to others. Evil is defined as anything that blocks a loving relationship with other people.
Both of these commands are summed up in Jesus’ words to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” We can only give to others what we have in ourselves. We can’t give what we don’t have. We feed others, or do good to them, when we have a good relationship with God. When God’s Spirit is in us, we are able to let it shine in our relations with other people.
Having God’s Spirit in us, and letting it shine in our relationships with others are the fruits of regeneration. It is spiritual rebirth that gives us these Godly gifts. It is through the process of regeneration that we are able to live in God and for God to live in us. And when God is in us, we are able to love our neighbor from a heavenly disposition.
So how does regeneration happen? In a very real sense, regeneration happens to us. It happens to us slowly over a whole lifetime, “a person can only be regenerated gradually” (TCR 586). Swedenborg compares our spiritual rebirth, or regeneration, to the same process by which we are born biologically.
In a person there is a perpetual correspondence between those things that take place naturally and those which take place spiritually, or between what takes place in the body and what takes place in the spirit. This is because a person is born spiritual as to his soul, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his material body. When this body, therefore, is laid aside, his soul comes clothed with a spiritual body into a world where all things are spiritual, and is there associated with his like. Now since the spiritual body must be formed in the material, and is formed by means of truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world and which are received by a person inwardly in such things in him as are from the natural world which are called civil and moral, the character of the formation which takes place is manifest. And since, as before said, there is in a person a perpetual correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, it follows that this formation is like the conception, gestation, birth, and education (TCR 583).
This means that our regeneration is a long, gradual process. Another correspondence Swedenborg uses to describe regeneration is the growth of a tree. Beginning in the soil of our self-interest and desire for ego gratification, our soul progresses into an expansive openness to everyone in the world and worship of God. It is a radical transformation. It is a huge upheaval in our priorities, and in the things we value. And like the growth of a seed into a tree, our regeneration begins with a fragment of truth that suddenly has meaning for us, or a vague intuition, or a piece of conversation we pick up in our social lives. It begins with small changes in our direction in life, and as our direction shifts slightly, we find ourselves years later in a very different place than where we begun, we may find ourselves a very different person than we were in our early years. The passions that drive us in our early life must be “subdued, subjugated, and inverted” (TCR 574). Our priorities are in a very real sense turned upside down, as we grow out of self-interest into other-interest.
And our regeneration can be said to happen to us. In some ways it is an unconscious process. We don’t feel it as it is going on. “It is a law of divine providence that a person shall not perceive or feel any of the activity of divine providence, and yet he should acknowledge providence” (TCR 175). We may see our spiritual growth only when we reflect back on our lives and compare where we are now with where we were years ago. Swedenborg writes, “He who is regenerated, . . . if he reflects upon his past life, will then find that he was led by many things of his thought and by many of his affections” (AC 5364).
But there is an active aspect to regeneration also. There is that part of our spiritual growth where we choose good and flee from evil. At times this may be a struggle. As I said above, regeneration is a radical reversal of our priorities. Denying a negative aspect of our character and changing it into a positive one can be a conscious work. It can mean struggle. And it can mean, at times, despair.
In order to consciously work on ourselves, we need to know ourselves. We need to be aware of our dark side, which Carl Jung calls “the shadow.” Indeed, we need to befriend the shadow. Unless we walk aware of our shadow, and see it in clear light, it will manifest in unconscious ways. We will suddenly lash out at someone out of nowhere. Or we will follow our unhealthy enjoyments blindly. Swedenborg tells us that there is actually a use for the evil we feel. He is emphatic about freedom. And to be regenerated we must freely choose what is good. Evil feelings provide contrast with good feelings. When we know our shadow, and when we are conscious of its harmful nature, we can see, feel, and choose what is good. By means of the contrast between evil and good, we know what we want, and we freely choose what is good. In a remarkable passage about this, Swedenborg writes,
There is cognition of the quality of good only by relation to what is less good, and by its contrariety to evil. Hence comes all that gives perception and sensation, because from this is their quality; for thus every thing pleasing is perceived and felt from the less pleasing and by means of the unpleasant; every thing beautiful, from the less beautiful and by means of the unbeautiful; and likewise every good which is of love, from the less good and by means of evil (DP 24).
This is why we need to befriend our shadow. It is a good teacher.
Sometimes it can be scary to look at our shadow. Sometimes the task of looking at our dark side can be overwhelming. We need to approach our self-examination sensibly. We all have a core of holiness that remains from our early childhood. In our early infancy God and the angels were close to us. These feelings of innocence and love for our parents and teachers remain with us. So Swedenborg calls them remains. These states of mind are continually being added upon as we go through life. We can manifest these states by prayerful living. They can be clouded by our negative tendencies and behaviors, but they are still there in us. When we look at the negative aspects of our character, we need to be reasonable. We need only focus on one or two aspects of our shadow that we want to purge, or re-channel. We can’t take on everything all at once. To try to do so, would crush our spirits and we would want to give up altogether. We have our whole lives to grow toward God, and we have the whole of eternity to continue to bring God into our hearts.
One particular aspect of our shadow that is getting in the way of our relations with God and our fellows is enough. We can compare and contrast what life is like with that defect and without it. We will come to prefer life without it. We will come more and more to live without it. And we will soon find that God has lifted us up and out of this limiting feeling or behavior. Step by step, one by one. As the blocks are eliminated, God flows into our soul ever more deeply. And as God fills us with His Holy Spirit, we will turn to our neighbor and let God’s love flow into all our interpersonal relations. As we grow in our relationship with God, we will manifest God in our relations. We will feed His sheep.
The Breath of Life
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 11, 2010
Genesis 2: 4-7 John 20: 19-31 Psalm 139
In this morning’s reading from Genesis, we heard about the birth of Adam. And after God had formed Adam from the dust of the earth, He breathed into him the breath of life. So life is called the breath of God. Then, in our New testament passage, Jesus breathes on the Apostles and gives them the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is also the breath of God. When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, it occurred after the resurrection, so it is fitting to talk about the Holy Spirit after Easter.
Traditional Christians think of the Holy Spirit as a person. They think of it as one of the three persons of the trinity. I find this hard to understand, since the very word “spirit” doesn’t sound like a person. Swedenborg is at pains to dispel this concept of the Holy Spirit. He does so because he insists on there being only one God, in one person. So Swedenborg emphasizes the idea that the Holy Spirit is one with God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of divine truth, or the Word. John tells us that the Word became flesh in Jesus’ incarnation (1:14). And as divine truth personified, or as the Word made flesh, Jesus Himself is the Holy Spirit, which John calls the Spirit of Truth (14:17). So Jesus Himself is the Holy Spirit.
By the Holy Spirit is properly signified the Divine truth, thus also the Word, and in this sense the Lord Himself is also the Holy Spirit . . . and of this we speak for the reason also that the Divine operation is effected by Divine truth which proceeds out of the Lord; and that which proceeds is of one and the same essence with Him from whom it proceeds (TCR 139).
But the Holy Spirit flows out of God and into us. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us spiritual life. It is the Holy Spirit that enlightens us. It is the Holy Spirit that reforms and regenerates us. So although the Holy Spirit is the Lord as to truth, the Holy Spirit is also what proceeds out of God and into us. “The Holy Spirit, that it is not a God by itself, but that by it in the Word is meant the Divine operation proceeding from the one omnipresent God” (TCR 138). What proceeds out of God and what we receive of God is the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is what heaven is made of. In heaven, the heat and the light are God’s love and wisdom. When we think of the created universe, we often use thoughts that are based on science. We think of the chemical elements, or atoms, or sub-atomic particles, or in its most vague form, energy. But the substances of the spiritual world are actually love itself and wisdom itself. Those two qualities are the building blocks of everything in heaven. The love and wisdom that heaven is made of proceed from God, and actually are God. We are angels to the extent that we embody love and wisdom. And since that love and wisdom are from God and are God, we are angels to the extent that God is in us, as Jesus says in John, “Abide in me, and I in you” (15:4). Being in heaven means receiving God, and so heaven itself is God.
The Lord not only is in heaven, but also is heaven itself; for love and wisdom are what make an angel, and these two are the Lord’s in the angels; from which it follows that the Lord is heaven (DLW 114).
The love and wisdom that emanate from God and form heaven are also called God’s Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is what proceeds from God.
The heat and light that proceed from the Lord as a sun are what in an eminent sense are called the spiritual . . . From that spiritual it is that the whole of that world is called spiritual. . . . That heat and that light are called the spiritual, because God is called Spirit, and God as Spirit is the spiritual going forth. God, by virtue of His own very Essence, is called Jehovah; but by means of that going forth He vivifies and enlightens angels of heaven and persons of the church. Consequently, vivification and enlightenment are said to be effected by the Spirit of Jehovah (DLW 100).
In order to receive the love and wisdom of which heaven consists, a person needs to be reformed and regenerated. We need to be purified from character defects that block the reception of God. Swedenborg calls this purification from evil. And purification from evil is salvation. The power to do this comes from God. And God acting upon our personalities, purifying us from evil, is again the Holy Spirit.
By means of Divine truth from good, that is, by means of faith from charity, a person is reformed and regenerated; also renovated, vivified, sanctified, justified; and, according to the progress and increase of these, purified from evils, and purification from evils is remission of sins. . . . (TCR 142). The operation of these powers is the Holy Spirit that the Lord sends to those who believe in Him and who dispose themselves to receive Him (TCR 145).
God’s sanctifying love flows into us like the breath of life. In fact, the word “inspiration” comes from the Latin inspiro, which means to blow upon, or to breathe into. The Holy Spirit breathes spiritual life into us. And by the way, the word “spiritual” is also based on the same Latin root as inspiro, and means breath.
For us, the essential power of the Holy Spirit is sanctification, enlightenment, and reformation and regeneration. This is God acting in our souls to save us. It is through the work of reformation and regeneration that we are able to receive God’s breath of life, or the spiritual life of heavenly love and wisdom. So the act of salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit, which is nothing other than God flowing into us.
. . . the Lord operates those powers, which are meant by the sending of the Holy Spirit, in those who believe in Him, that is, He reforms, regenerates, renovates, vivifies, sanctifies, justifies, purifies from evils, and finally saves them . . . (TCR 149).
And God wills the salvation of everyone. God’s boundless love reaches out to the whole human race, and wants to bring everyone into a loving relationship with Himself.
It should be known that the Lord is continually operating those saving graces with every person, for they are steps to heaven, since the Lord wills the salvation of all, and therefore the salvation of all is His end (TCR 142).
Salvation for Swedenborg is not walking through a doorway into a glorious place. Rather, salvation is entering into a loving relationship with God. In order for there so be such a relationship, God gives us His own love as if it were our own. God’s love flows into us and remains in us to such an extent that it feels as if it were our own love. When we feel God’s love in us, as if it were our own love, we can return the love. Only when we feel love can we give it back. And so God gives us the feeling that we ourselves love. Then it is possible for love to be returned to God. And the circle of love that we all know can happen. We give and receive love. This happens in human life, and it also happens in relation to God.
Conjunction is of the Lord with the angel and of the angel with the Lord; conjunction, therefore, is reciprocal. . . . Nor can it be possible for the Lord to be in any angel or man, unless the one in whom the Lord is, with love and wisdom, has a perception and sense as if they were his. By this means the Lord is not only received, but also, when received, is retained, and likewise loved in return. . . . From all this it can be seen that there must be an ability to reciprocate that there be conjunction (DLW 115).
Being in this circle of love is what is meant by being filled with the Holy Spirit. We only feel this love when we have been purified from evils and we have been filled with love. This purification is called reformation, regeneration, sanctification, and justification and these are all the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is what proceeds from the Lord Jesus Christ and is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Divine Truth that purifies and sanctifies us, and Jesus is the Divine Truth itself, the Word made flesh.
There is only one loving God, from whom all that is good and true emanates. And to the extent that we receive that emanating good and truth we are in God. Since God is everything of which heaven is made, when we are in God, we are in heaven. Or when we are in heaven, we are in God. We are filled with the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.
The Greatest Miracle Ever
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 4, 2010
On Easter Sunday the greatest miracle in human history happened. Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus rose body and soul, as no human can. We leave our physical body behind when we transition to the next plane. But Jesus’ material body was so intimately joined with God that even His physical body came to life. The risen Christ was physical enough that He could eat a fish. He did so to show His apostles that He was not a ghost, which is what they thought at first. But Christ’s body was so spiritual that He could go through walls, which is what He did after eating a supper with the apostles.
But the greatest aspect of this miracle is that with the resurrection, God and Man became fully united. This means that the Creator of the universe, who existed before time, now has a human body. This means that God has all the levels of personality that we have. God has a soul, an internal person, a rational mind, a natural mind, a sensual degree, and a physical body.
Before His incarnation, God’s Humanity was the angelic heaven. He flowed down through the layers of heaven to the humans on the earthly plane. But by the time of His incarnation, the powers of darkness had clouded the connection between heaven and earth. God assumed a human form so that He could come to earth through His own Divine Humanity, and does so now. God’s Divine Humanity is a powerful channel through which God’s own life, love, and wisdom flow into our hearts, minds, and souls.
God came to earth to save the whole human race. His sole concern was that humans would let God into their hearts and know the joy of love. His sole concern was that humans would know the love that would give them eternal happiness in heaven with God. And His work on earth was tireless. He taught; He healed; He communed with humans; He comforted. And the risen Christ continues to do all these things for us in our hearts, minds, and souls.
Throughout His life on earth, God and Human were in a process. At times, Jesus’ consciousness was in the human he took on from Mary. During these times, He spoke to God as if to another person. This is illustrated most profoundly in His prayer at Gethsemane, where He prayed to the Father be released from His impending trial and crucifixion. And at other times He was fully united with the Father, as in the transfiguration on the mountain top when He shone like lightning. Or at other times, as when He was talking with His disciples. John records such a time, when Jesus says to Philip,
Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father?” Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? (John 14:9-10)
Likewise, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). On the cross, Jesus fully yielded to the human condition and knew death. On Easter Sunday He became fully Divine and rose from the dead.
Swedenborgian theology is very different from that of traditional Christianity. In traditional Christianity, there is some sort of difference between Jesus and God. In traditional Christianity, Jesus’s death on the cross is seen as a sacrifice that reconciles God to humans. For traditional Christians, then, the crucifixion is the main act of salvation. For them, Christ bore all our sins on the cross, and belief in His sacrifice is what saves a person. This belief system is called “the atonement.” So in atonement theology, the emphasis is on the crucifixion.
But for Swedenborgians, Christ’s full union with God the Father is the main point. This occurred on Easter Sunday, when everything merely human that God inherited from Mary was put off. And after putting off the humanity inherited from Mary, Jesus put on a Divine Humanity. This process of putting off the human from Mary and putting on the Divine Humanity is called “glorification.” And in the resurrection, Jesus became fully glorified–that is, united fully with God who is His soul. Swedenborg teaches that the power to come to us through the Divine Human is what saves us. We are saved to the extent that we embody God’s love and wisdom. And that love and wisdom comes to us from God’s Divine Human. So for Swedenborgians, it is not the crucifixion that is the main point, it is the glorification. We do not emphasize the passion of the cross, but the resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is why Swedenborgian churches do not display a crucifix–that is, a cross with Jesus hanging on it. We display the bare cross itself as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection and of our own ascension up into heaven. The vertical and horizontal crosspieces symbolize the love and wisdom we accept from God.
What could be more comforting than a God who knows the human condition? A God who has gone through all the stages that we go through. A God who knew birth and family. A God who knew friendship and love. A God who knew sorrow and disappointment. A God who knew betrayal and abandonment.
And yet this is a God who triumphed over all that life can give us. Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And earlier in John’s Gospel we are told, “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave the power to become the children of God” (John1:12). In Christ’s Divine Humanity, we can bear any trouble we confront. And in Christ’s Divine Humanity, we can rejoice in all the good things that come to us.
Just as Jesus was born into the world 2,000 years ago, so today we need to ask the risen Christ into our world. We need to ask Christ to live in our hearts and minds. We need to invite the power of Christ’s love into our hearts, and we need to ask Christ’s wisdom to inspire our thinking. At Christmas we sing about the advent of Immanuel. In Hebrew, Immanuel means, “God with us.” And with the resurrection, God is with us in an intimate and powerful way. Swedenborg tells us that God appears in heaven as a sun in the sky. He tells us further that with the resurrection, the spiritual sun grew seven times brighter. Through His Divine Humanity, God’s power over darkness is ours to call upon in our own struggles. And through His Divine Humanity, God can fill us with His own love, joy, and innocence so that we can live with Him in heavenly happiness forever. It is all ours for the asking.
The miracle of the resurrection takes place in each of us in a figurative way. Just as Jesus fought against the hells, put off the humanity inherited from Mary, and put on the glorified Divine Humanity, so the Christ works a miracle in our souls. When we call upon Him, Christ’s power enters us with its’ cleansing love and drives out our negative tendencies and actual actions. As the Humanity of Jesus was elevated into union with the Father, so our souls are elevated into union with the Christ. It is only through God’s power, acting through His Divine Humanity, that we are borne upward into heaven. It is only through God’s power, acting through His Divine Humanity, that we do good works. So Christ says,
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
So as Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday, we have the promise of resurrection upon our passing from this world. Christ has cleared the way for us and makes a place for us. He came to earth to be with humans, and He rose from the dead to be with all humans through all time. So Jesus says,
In my Father’s house are many room; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).
The Horrors of Mob Violence
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 2, 2010
The story of the crucifixion shows how horrible humans can be under certain conditions. What we are dealing with in the crucifixion is mob violence. People will do things in a mob situation that they wouldn’t dream of doing on their own. In the story of the crucifixion we are not dealing with premeditated, conscious evil. No, we are dealing with the whims of a mob mentality.
Just one week before the crucifixion, the same mob that celled for Jesus’ death had welcomed him with joy and singing. How could the tide have turned so drastically so soon? Jesus must have felt a horrible bewilderment. Had all his efforts to enlighten humanity fallen on deaf ears? One of His own apostles had betrayed him to the chief priests. Another had denied Him to a bystander to save his own skin. Swedenborg tells us that Jesus’ sole concern was the salvation of the human race, so that we could all enjoy the delights of heaven and live to eternity with God. It must have appeared to Jesus that His sole concern had failed. I have no doubt that when Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He was crying out for the wellbeing of the human race, not His own life.
When we consider the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion, we need to be clear that it was not the Jews who are guilty. Mark does not say that it was the Jews who called for Jesus’ death, it was the crowd. As Jerusalem had many different nationalities living there, we can envision a mob of Greeks, Romans, Jews, and other peoples who had gathered there before Pilate. Mark does tell us that the chief priests stirred up the crowd, but it was the mob itself that Pilate dealt with. Pilate’s question to the mob is significant. He asks, “Why, what evil has he done?” Pilate himself found no grounds for condemning Jesus. Nor does the crowd give him an answer as to what offence Jesus had committed. Jesus had done nothing to offend the crowd. Jesus was innocent. He was an innocent victim to a bloodthirsty mob. It was senseless mob violence that cried out for His death. And it was to satisfy the mob that Pilate released Jesus to be crucified.
We see this kind of human behavior everywhere. People will band together and gossip against someone. When they get together, everyone has something to add against the victim, and their feelings of enmity grow in their little group. We see this in neighbors who unite across a fence. Or we see it in the workplace, where a supervisor or a co-worker becomes the enemy to the group. We see this in an institutional form, when political parties are formed. Then one party unites against its opposition. Often, the party itself becomes the important thing, and the issues they propound, or the welfare of the state become second place. We see this in even more drastic form in riots that erupt from time to time in large cities. I recall the Los Angeles riots of, I believe, 1992. I recall a truck driver who drove into the middle of the riots. He had done nothing to the mob. But he was dragged from his truck. I remember a teen aged boy smashing him in the head with a fire extinguisher and then doing a victory dance. Had the same two people met under different circumstances, there would have been no incentive to violence. They would probably have passed each other as strangers and not even have noticed each other. We see mob violence in street gangs. Where drive-by murders occur over rivalries for dominance, vengeance, or territory disputes. Whether it is co-workers gossiping about a supervisor, or a gangland slaying, the dynamics are the same: The safety in numbers that allow for atrocities that an individual would not commit on their own.
Jesus’ crucifixion was the worst event in human history. But I wouldn’t say that it shows humanity at its worst. The mob violence that cried for Jesus’ crucifixion was not premeditated evil from a person committed to evil. It was not committed by people who wanted to destroy God and God’s message. This makes it all the more senseless. This makes it all the more meaningless.
And yet in the crucifixion, we have Godliness in its highest form. There, on the cross, innocently sentenced to a horrible death, we have the message of Divine forgiveness. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus utters the famous words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (23:34). In his final horrible moments, Jesus’ sole concern was for the human race for whom He had come to earth. This tells us God’s true nature. God does not judge. God does not condemn. God is not vengeful. As Jesus lived out the full human condition, even to death, He forgave even his murderers. And in so doing, Jesus shows us the was to be Godly in our own lives. If we call ourselves by His name, then we, too, are to embody Christ’s love and forgiveness. From petty slights, to outright malice, we need to remember Christ’s words and forgive. Indeed, there are times to defend ourselves. Indeed, there are times when we may try to amend hurtful behaviors. But as Christians, we are called to do this in the spirit of love and forgiveness. And if the crucifixion teaches us anything, isn’t it what the ancient Jewish lawgiver tells us, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23:2). We need the strength of character to act according to our own conscience. In this fractured world, it may seem as if we are standing alone at times. But the risen Christ is always with us. And in Christ, we will never stand alone.