Checkmate! God wins
Easter Sunday Sermon
Rev. Kit Billings
April 16, 2006
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Mtt. 27: 57-61; 28: 1-8
Mark 16: 9-11
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, He opened His Word anew; for a stone signifies Divine truth, which the [religious authorities] had falsified by their tradition….
~ Apocalypse Explained #400.14
…the Lord's resurrection on the third morning embodies in the particular and the specific senses the truth that He rises daily, indeed every single moment, in the minds of regenerate persons.
~Heavenly Secrets #2405.8
Martin Luther once spent three days in a black depression over something that had gone wrong. On the third day his wife came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. “Who's dead?” he asked her. “God,” she replied. Luther rebuked her, saying, “What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.” “Well,” she replied, “the way you've been acting I was sure He had!”
Many of us have been caught in that trap, that tough but important spiritual and mental trap, which tries to convince us that the hope-inspiring truths of God, the truths of Judaeo-Christianity (and most of all, the living truths of Easter), are false. This is also what had happened to Mary and the rest of Jesus’ disciples, and it’s important that we open our eyes to what is really going on within us and around us, and “stay awake!” as the Lord warned us. For indeed, all of us, in my experience, are going through the same kind of life-and-death struggle over truth and falsity, just as the Lord’s disciples were back then.
If we take the time in our lives to slow down enough to look honestly at what kinds of thoughts are occupying our minds each day, then I believe we shall find the same kinds of forces revealing themselves within us, the ones represented by the struggle that went on between Christ and the ruling religious elite of His time. Notice, if you will, that not only were the Scribes and Pharisees resolute about trying to shame and kill Jesus while He was alive before the crucifixion, but then see what they did to Him after His natural death: they posted guards around the tomb that held Jesus’ body, and made sure that a huge stone had sealed it up. In other words, they wanted every trace of Christ dead, humiliated and buried.
If we look at the Gospel story as more than literal truth, which I personally believe in with my whole heart, but also as powerful and vital inner (or symbolic) truth, then we find within it an awesome reflection of the every-day kinds of spiritual, emotional, and mental battles and wars going on inside of us. Martin Luther, the great spiritual warrior who defied the all-powerful Catholic Church of his day, who believed deeply and lovingly in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, found himself one day in the throws of a black depression. Depression is the antithesis of a living, breathing faith in God, in the Lord’s love and care for us. It also, in my understanding, is a great and obvious signal that there may well be enormous hurts and pain from long ago that need to be brought forth and out into the light of day. Luther’s struggle for those three days was holding him inside of an internal, mental “tomb” you might say, where until his wife helped him to wake up to the truth again, his perception of the power of the Lord’s truth and love risen from the grave was being held captive!
What about you? Are you encountering similar dark forces in your life journey, within your own heart and mind? Have the same evil forces that held the Jewish authorities by the throat (which led them to drown out God’s Word and light with so many man-made ideas and rituals) got their proverbial hands on you? Do they often have you convinced that it’s a waste of time to read and reflect upon God’s Word, and perhaps that the Lord’s loving and caring presence is more like a myth than a living reality to trust your very life to?
How often are you at peace in the love and truth of the Lord, in His mighty yet gentle presence of mercy and strength for all time? This morning, I want to talk with you about these three great-big boulders of falsity that I find most of us are struggling with, ones that the Lord’s Easter morning message does well to remove: 1) the stone of falsity that tries to make us think that the Lord is not living powerfully with and within us each day of life; 2) the stone of falsity that peace and wholeness can only be found through shallow, materialistic things; and 3) the stone of falsity that teaches that it is better to ignore and deny the serious emotional hurts and wounds from our early stages of life, rather than face them, feel them and heal them through integration and depth.
A large stone represents an unchanging truth, a fact, or what is believed to be a fact and asserted as a fact. Simon Peter’s declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living god,” was said by the Lord to be the living truth, the ROCK, upon which His church would be built. The huge stone or boulder that sealed up Christ’s tomb, which was sealed by the Scribes and priests to prevent its being moved, stood for denial of the Lord and the false belief that Jesus was dead. The Easter angel, that awesome cameo character of Matthew’s experience of Easter morning, was the messenger of the glad and joyful truth that indeed the Lord still lived. That angel dispelled the false belief purported by the priests, and at the same time rolled away the huge stone stamping this divine truth into life for all time!
Today, in my own experience, the same hellish forces are working hard to convince us that peace and contentment will only be found through materialistic pursuits, as well as through many means of satisfying our own desires over and beyond those of others. Those demonic spirits also are working their wiles by leading many of us to believe that the real and damaging dysfunctional patterns of our early family life, which most of us seem to have in my experience (in some way or another), are nothing vital for us to deal with. Evil spirits try to falsely convince me that my own psychological and spiritual issues, which have their roots in my own family system, are something that the other guy needs to worry about, but not me. The hells want us to turn a blind eye toward our own family systems and where they produced deep disorder and pain. They try to convince us that it’s better to take up the adage: “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil no; we’re the goodie, goodie monkeys that nobody knows.” Hell wants us to go in any direction other than the direction of the plain and simple truth of what we grew up in that was good and what was unhealthy, wrong, and emotionally devastating. The fine book by Merle Jordan titled, Taking On The Gods, illustrates well this basic dimension of the hells, that want to bury every form of light and truth in life, especially the dysfunctional and neurotic realities that lie underneath many of our unhealthy leanings toward Hell. M. Scott Peck’s book, The People of The Lie, also lifts up this huge issue of how spiritual evil weaves its way into our lives by means of the denial of psychological wounds, dysfunctional patterns and unhealthy ways of living.
A spiritual or mental stone gets rolled in front of the sepulcher for each one of us when during or after any serious natural disappointment there comes disbelief and denial of the Lord’s loving, healing presence and care. Furthermore, those large, internal stones are ROLLED AWAY by angel hands when the truth is heard, felt and internalized of Christ’s continuing Divine presence and love and care for us—of the reality that indeed the entire natural and spiritual universes are being constantly held by the hands of God—and, when we are open to facing and dealing with the disorderliness of those seriously painful and dysfunctional aspects of our childhoods that get in the way of God’s loving goodness, beauty and wholeness TODAY…right now in my personal journey of life! You know, those stubborn and willful forms of disorderliness and pain that can plague us and prevent us from feeling the spiritual truth that a loving and caring God stands with us every moment of the day—who lives and breathes peace, love and goodness within our inward hearts just because we exist as God’s beloved.
On display in the magnificent Louvre Museum in Paris, France, is that dramatic painting of Goethe's Faust. Faust is seated at a table engaged in a competitive game of chess. And at first glance, it looks like Faust is losing. His opponent in the chess game is Satan. The devil sits there grinning smugly (which in our church we take to mean that “the devil” stands for all of the hellish spirits that work within and around us to move away from love and mercy, and to leave the light of truth in favor of the darkness of falsity). At any rate, in this painting the devil thinks he has the victory in hand. He is pointing at the chessboard with an evil leer and he is gloating. As you look at the painting, you can almost hear the devil shouting: “Checkmate! Game’s over! I win!” However, a person with a keen eye who knows the game of chess can see that the match is not over at all. As a matter of fact, just a few years ago, an internationally famous chess player was admiring the painting when all of a sudden he lunged forward and exclaimed: “Wait a minute! Look! Faust has another move and that move will give him the victory!”
The painting is something of a parable for us Christians, because here we see symbolized the good news of Easter. Think of it. When we look at the Cross on Good Friday, it looks (at first glance) like evil has won. It looks like the defeat of righteousness. It looks like goodness is dead and buried forever. It looks like Christ has been silenced and conquered. But then, Easter Sunday morning reveals God's move, the greatest checkmate move of all time. Christ comes out of the grave and into our lives with power and victory. Checkmate! God wins! God-in-Jesus is actually more present and more powerful with us every day than He was while walking on earth in His natural, finite body beheld by His disciples. And, as the Gospels show, the Lord is not ashamed of showing and revealing His own terrible woundedness, which He showed to His disciples by letting them see and feel the wholes in His hands and feet and in the large gash on His side, put their from the spear of the Roman auxiliary after He died on the cross.
The Gospel account of Easter helps me to remember the three fundamental ways or paths by which we can feel and perceive Jesus’ presence with us—which is the same thing as saying that we can see and feel Divine Love moving through us on an emotional depth of our being.
The four Gospels show poignantly that gleaming angels figured prominently in each account of the Lord’s resurrection on Easter. Notice that each time they are described as shining brilliantly in white light, or are wearing clothing that is whiter than snow on a sunny day. Our theology helps us to see here that these angels are, in part, representations of God’s Word or Light, given that they often serve in the literal story as messengers of some vital and rejuvenating spiritual truth. These angels, like the one from Matthew’s account that rolled away and then sat upon the stone that had sealed up Christ’s tomb, signify the literal sense of the truth of the Lord’s holy Word since their messages were very succinct, easy to understand, and powerful. Their presence in the Easter story teaches that one of the easiest ways we can feel and sense the loving, guiding presence of the Lord in our lives is by reading God’s Word with faith. For as our theology reminds us, the Lord is actually living within the pages of the Bible—His loving countenance and wise truth is beaming powerfully in marvelous Divine Light inside the pages of the greatest book ever written.
Another significant lesson in the Gospel accounts of Easter that teach of how often the Lord will reveal Himself to us comes through the inner meaning of when Jesus told His followers that they should go up again into Galilee (the northern region of the Holy Land) and wait for Him there. The Holy Land represents heaven and a heavenly state of life. Judea corresponds to the heart and soul aspects of what we are, while Galilee represents our outer lives, or practical working out of heavenly principles in faithful, useful living. This is why the years of the Lord’s labor and ministry were largely spent in Galilee. When Christ arose on Easter, and charged His disciples to go back up into Galilee so that He could meet them there, it meant that we can know the Lord’s presence with us more in doing faithfully our daily work, in our daily cares and pleasures, rather than in constant states of worship. As our theology puts it, the greatest form of worshipping God is in a faithful and useful life. This, however, does not diminish the immense importance of still having a regular, weekly worship life, where our “inner cup” can be filled up again through reflection, praying, fellowship and singing.
The third major lesson for me at least is in understanding that the Lord’s resurrection stands for the blessings that come to us when we honor love, healing and truth in all its forms, particularly those that happen through the serious engagement with and growth through finding healing from those old, deeply rooted internal hurts and disappointments from long ago—the “big ones” that crushed our hearts and feelings so much so that they had to be shunted away from conscious awareness, but which play major havoc in our daily lives in adulthood. The fact that Jesus openly showed His deepest physical wounds on his body in the midst of His disciples tells me that He is revealing to us symbolically that we’d better not play mind-games about the dysfunctional and neurotic issues that most of us in some way suffered through in our vulnerable years of babyhood, toddlerhood and childhood. Instead, I find the Lord saying, “Don’t be afraid of looking at and dealing truthfully with your own deepest woundedness. For I have overcome the forces of evil, and will heal and transform your life as you courageously face and integrate your greatest wounds from your own life.”
In every aspect of life that really matters the most, I keep on finding the Lord rising again in new ways within my mind saying, “Don’t be afraid. Trust, and believe.”
In summary, to be sure, the two greatest spiritual lessons for me on Easter Day are to learn from the story that the Lord did not leave this natural world at His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension, but instead is with us always…and, that natural death is nothing to fear. For indeed, I can trust and have faith that the Lord will resurrect me into full and abundant life in the life of my spiritual body after my natural one has been laid aside.
But after these two prominent truths come others, which I am lifting up with you this morning: that one, I can trust in the Lord’s CHECKMATE over the evil promptings from Hell. As Faust’s final checkmate over the devil reminds me, I can believe in Christ’s full and complete victory over the demons that try to twist my mind away from life-uplifting truths. Evil wants us to believe that it is the most powerful force in life—it wants to roll any huge boulder of falsity into our minds. Their huge stones of falsity want us to deny the core, basic feeling of the Lord’s loving and caring presence, and to deny that all I have to do is let God bless and speak to me softly through the pages of His holy Word. They also want to convince us that it is useless to seek God’s presence within the daily application of His principles for life in my work and relationships. For the Lord lives in His Holy Word, and He will also joyfully meet up with us in “Galilee.” He shall find us again and again in the actual application of His commandments and principles within my daily life. As the angel did say, “He (the Lord) is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
The dark forces that once tried to kill Christ forever, have their third major fallback technique, which is to prompt us away from seeing their influence as they hide deep inside of the particular weaknesses and dysfunctions we each grow up in. Their way is that of denial. Their path is one of dis-integration, of falsity, and shallowness. Whereas God’s way is always one of spiritual, emotional, and doctrinal truth and of feeling for Him within His holy Word. I have found that the bright future of our kind depends in part upon our willingness and ability to face the truth of our early years of life, doing so with the gentle faith that a loving and present Lord of goodness and holiness always sits inside of us.
Easter means so many things to so many diverse and different people. May this message for you this morning bring you (or help you to find) deep and lasting internal peace, wholeness, and love, centered in this sublime revelation from long ago—“Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” Amen.