Ministers and others can now archive their sermons for all to see to give a flavour of the local church. Ray Walder's collection caught my eye. He is a Unitarian minister at Blackpool and one enjoying a rapidly growing congregation. One of his on resurrection was of particular interest in May 2004 after I had finished a webpage on the resurrection. The sermon was spoken on 20th April 2003.
So I was looking at
entitled Easter: the Triumph of the Christ. It is also reproduced below.
He starts with the earliest religious individualist literalist's view that the Trinity is not in the Bible (16th Century), though in congregational terms this preaching only took root among liberals in the 18th century. It is on this basis that Ray Walder states that he cannot be a Christian. Phew: that's it then! So we have a Christ triumph still to explain.
He asks if he is being unfaithful (duplitious would be the charge if it could stick). No, he states, the celebration of Christian festivals came before Christianity.
This normally refers to Paganism, and when this is implied then do it. Celebrate the Jack in the Green of Beltane and the renewal of energy. Take on the dangers of Yule by being deliberately merry supported by the hope of changes ahead.
But this minister, not a Christian, does seem to still want to handle Christianity.
John's summarised cosmic theology, of deity sacrifice to put the world to right, is pronounced by Ray Walder as "disgusting", and yet has been used for 2000 years. It has divine child-abuse. So he wants to be distant from orthodox Christianity.
A but or a however was obviously coming. Christianity's nasty thought foundation does not negate the sublime teachings within biblical truths. And much can be recovered.
I was interested in this because, as far as I have ever read, the whole of the New Testament is written from the stance and viewpoint of belief in Christ died and risen. There isn't a sort of comfortable area of neutral extraction. A lot of it makes little sense without the central dominant narrative in every gospel, every string of events, every letter and every speculation. Every speech and story is the drama that is said to have begun in the scriptures (Hebrew) and are being continued.
So I looked forward to, basically, extractions. Not according to Ray Walder:
The quintessential significance of the Easter Story is, as we all know, that death can be overcome.
It is about a central meaning, then. But we have to look elsewhere for it...
I am not at all sure that this interpretation of the scriptures is correct, and I would ask, 'Where do we look in order to discover the meaning of the idea that death can be overcome?'
It is screaming at everyone, because that Easter Story IS the ongoing narrative, so we are going to go for extractions from this.
Ah, it is the Last Supper, or Passover, which "form the introduction to the account of the crucifixion and resurrection". This is correct. They point, yet again, to the main narrative. All the other references are not pointing to the Passover and Last Supper.
As part of the preparation for the meal, two disciples are instructed to meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. There would have been so many men carrying pitchers, that they would hardly have found the right one, says Ray Walder. I can think up this image now of lots of water on the move with much holy headscratching in the streets.
The explanation, we are told, is that this is a reference to the astrological sign Aquarius. So we are dealing with heavenly matters.
Well, I've been trying equate Jesus the Jew, the Last Days, or at least the Kingdom of God drawing near, and the relevance of Aquarius. Ray Walder's interpretation is:
'Look,' says the scripture, 'the following story has opened with an astrological reference in order that you are clear that it is not an historical account of happenings which occurred to an earthly man, but of great movements in the heavens working themselves out through humanity'.
Oh dear. I doubt that the writers of the gospels spent too much time worrying about the basis of history and the dangers of historical literalism. This is definitely not what the scripture is saying. It is saying the disciples, obviously, would find the right man, because they were sent by the Lord. And that is the end of that part. On to preparing the room to facilitate the drama where it really matters.
The stuff about the age of Aries caused my eyes to glaze over somewhat. It is not intolerance but weariness. No, Mark and Paul weren't doing anything regarding astrology: they were aware of it, they might have made the odd reference out, but it was not needed or necessary. Anything else was trifling compared with the real meat.
Anyway, just as a matter of astrological tradition, this period was not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. This is the period dawning now, according to astrological believers. Then was the dawning of the Age of Pisces. So that not only rather diminishes the essential message but in fact makes the reference to pitchers a complete nonsense.
As a matter of report, the fish (Pisces) as a symbol was not chosen by the Christian community for astrological reasons at all but because some disciples were fishermen, because the community was to become "fishers of men", and because of Iesous (Jesus) CHristos (Christ) THeou (of God) Uiou (the Son) Soter (the Saviour) is the acrostic of the Greek word for fish, ichthus. One Christian person meeting another did so with the sign of drawing an arc and this was returned by the other with a reverse arc, producing something like a fish. There is the likelihood that Christians took the fish symbol from Roman use and disassociated its design connections with the female vulva and fertility. That is one Pagan connection, as well as acquiring the habit of eating fish on Fridays.
Aries the Ram gets us to Lamb of God, Ray Walder states. No, it does not; there is the usual direct route, steeped in the deep meaning all the way from the depths of the Hebrew Bible.
Anyway, via this alternative bendy route, we end up with the statement:
The Christ is not a person: it is a divine principle.
Gosh, I hope not. I want to refer in a historical narrative to a person who lived and made decisions. The narrative shows test, agony, wishing it was otherwise, faithfulness. Some cosmic happening has little moral impact. It is requiring supernaturalism with no benefits.
Christ is the highest form of consciousness which can be achieved by a human being.
That, presumably, is predecided by astrology, but we are not told how this measure is made. And then there is the Christ birth outside the world of business, revelry and feasting, in the dark place. More mileage is there, certainly, as one intention of the authorial birth. But Ray Walder wants to add that for us it means the spark of individual consciousness going into the place of base animal instincts. Did Matthew and Luke also include the crossover between this sort of psychology and religion?
And all this divine consciousness means becoming mindful; it means nurturing mind consciousness. Jesus possessed a raised consciousness. (Why? What for? This is again looking like divine intervention into history, yet ignoring the history in local culture and scriptural understanding.) In fact so raised was this consciousness that Jesus could do miracles. Interesting: I never thought the ability to perform miracles was a product of training the consciousness. Ray Walder states that the ego should die (Jesus' never did) as in death but it does not have to be physical. From this, "consciousness can win the day".
So we are told:
Within this interpretation we have, then, a new way of understanding what the scriptural stories are concerned with. And it is clear from the Bible that this was essentially the understanding that the Apostle Paul had obtained.
It is definitely new, and is defintely not essential. In fact is is wrong. Yes, it is possible, in religion and the worlds of handling symbolism, to use a word like "wrong".
This sermon could draw to a conclusion but it goes on to make a claim that:
...I showed you how a symbolic understanding of the Palm-Sunday Story leads to the idea that the word 'Temple' refers not to the building of stone and mortar, but is a symbol of the centre of our consciousness.
...The symbolism [of the splitting of the veil of the Temple] is obvious: at the moment of the death of the ego the spiritual seeker enters into the very centre of consciousness and the Christ is released to act within his or her being.
Nowhere near obvious: rather it is nowhere. The veil is the curtain between this world and the Kingdom of God, probably, and the splitting was rather more obviously symbolism of the start of the general resurrection. In other words, it had begun, he was risen. The reference to the Temple is about the Temple (it is its own symbolism).
We've got a looking for symbolism where it is not needed, and finding some strange (New Age?) pseudo consciousness stuff when other symbolism is more consistent.
So Ray Walder concluded that we take:
the inner journey of self-knowledge and thereby release within ourselves the Christ...
The danger is it is likely to release precisely nothing. Buddhists and Hindus have all done this much the better.
Where we started is the big give away. I cannot understand a number of Unitarians who apply a clapped out literalism test to others and often themselves about a definition of Christianity. It is an early historicism and scientism applied to the minutiae of words. Yet the same people then go on to be happily metaphoric.
This is where the duplicity lies. He may be misinformed on his own terms (unless his astrology is the correct one) and the result amount to so much cosmic space, but Ray Walder can tell his congregation anything he likes. Perhaps he is motivated in part by not wanting to be seen as too unchristian, just as a liberal Anglican tweaks up the orthodoxy a bit, but in his case the result is horrid, bizarre and misleading. The Christian myth is the Deutero-Isaiah suffering servant and the Davidic King into a New Covenant of a Messiah who paid the supreme price and then appeared to some authoritative followers and a gathering after his death. It's bloody because it centres around events in bloody Roman occupation, including of the first communities. If John gets carried away and some liturgies do, criticise them.
The narrative is written about and possessed by a community, transmitted and worked over by interpretation down the ages. The Unitarians also have narratives that nip, tuck, lose elements and acquires others. One narrative is partly this and then there is the Enlightenment, but mainly its stream is from the unintended consequences of Presbyterians relying on the Bible alone for doctrine and the importation of Unitarian ideological liberals before some opponents became lofty and liturgical.
As for the biblical narrative, detached cosmic principles are for elsewhere. The Christian tradition centres on The Triumph of the Christ, and it is there to be read. Yes it is red in tooth and claw, rather like life itself.
Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful
Easter: the Triumph of the Christ
|I am not a Christian. Very often I make that statement for its shock value, but today I am saying it in order to explain my position on religion in general, and on the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter in particular.|
|Back in the sixteenth century, Unitarian religion had its origins in certain people questioning the doctrine of the Trinity. In particular, they became aware that the doctrine that God consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost was not contained in the Bible. One implication of the rejection of this doctrine of Trinity was that Jesus could no longer be considered as the only Son of God. One alternative to this is that Jesus, and all of us, are all the sons and daughters of God - with Jesus clearly being special. This is a view with which I would agree. It is not, however, a view which is in agreement with Christianity, the central Christian doctrine being that Jesus is the only Son of God. It is because I take a different view that I find it impossible to call myself a Christian.|
|I am, however, a Minister, and the centre from which I work is a church. How, then, if I am not a Christian, can I justify my position? In particular, how can I justify being responsible for the work of this Church when that work includes the celebration of the Christmas and Easter festivals? In short, am I, in leading the celebration of these festivals, being unfaithful to my own beliefs?|
|The answer to that question is a resounding 'No!'. Celebration of the Christmas and Easter festivals is vital to life - as is evident from the fact that these festivals were celebrated, in different forms, long before Christianity came on the scene. But the question is 'How can one celebrate them without taking the orthodox Christian view?'. In this age, when Christianity is dying and the churches are emptying out, this is a crucial question. If we examine the nature of the orthodox Christian view then we will see what is wrong.|
|Orthodox Christianity is based especially on a verse in the third chapter of the Gospel According to John:|
|'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'|
|If these words are taken, as they usually are, to mean that God sacrificed his only Son then they contain a thought which is nothing less than disgusting. And yet that thought has, for two-thousand years, formed the basis of one of the world's leading religions. I have to say that, despite having been brought up in the Christian religion, I now find the idea of subscribing to a religion which has as its basis divine child-abuse utterly repulsive, and the idea of worshipping a God Who sacrifices his child thoroughly obnoxious. These are not the only reasons why I assert that I am not a Christian, but these thoughts alone would be sufficient to make me distance myself from orthodox Christianity.|
|However, the fact that Christianity has based itself upon a nasty thought does not negate the fact that within the biblical teachings there is a sublime truth which is vital for our lives now. But it does mean that we have to do some hard work in order to recover that truth. Let us try to do that through considering the Easter Story.|
|The quintessential significance of the Easter Story is, as we all know, that death can be overcome. The orthodox Christian explanation of this idea is that one man Jesus - has shown this to us through his dying and resurrection. But I am not at all sure that this interpretation of the scriptures is correct, and I would ask 'Where do we look in order to discover the meaning of the idea that death can be overcome?'.|
|The biblical scriptures themselves tell us where to look. I opened this service with some words which, because they concern the preparation for the Last Supper, form the introduction to the account of the crucifixion and resurrection - and instruct us as to where to look for the meaning of what follows. These were the words:|
|And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?|
|And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.|
|'...there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water'. What does that mean? It is not a statement that can easily be taken literally, for that would imply that Jesus instructed his disciples to go into a city where there would have been all sorts of people carrying water in pitchers and to follow one of them. One has to ask, therefore, if it is likely that the disciples would have picked the right person to follow. Is it likely?: of course not. But that does not mean that the words can be dismissed, for the instruction which the gospel writer has put into the mouth of Jesus is not concerned with earthly things like people wandering about with pitchers of water, but is concerned with heavenly things.|
|Where do you find 'a man bearing a pitcher of water'? I'll guarantee that you've all seen that image at some time - probably in a newspaper or magazine: for it is the symbol of the astrological sign Aquarius. In other words, we are being directed, as it were, to the heavens, and the scripture is clearly pointing out that the story that it is about to tell is concerned with heavenly matters.|
|'Look,' says the scripture, 'the following story has opened with an astrological reference in order that you are clear that it is not an historical account of happenings which occurred to an earthly man, but of great movements in the heavens working themselves out through humanity'. And what was happening, astrologically speaking, around the time that writers like Mark and Paul the Apostle were making themselves responsible for the scriptures? That time was of absolutely huge astrological importance, for the Age of Aries - which had lasted for the previous two-thousand years - was giving way to the Age of Pisces which has lasted until this modern time when we are, as the song says, at the 'dawning of the Age of Aquarius'. And as, two-thousand years ago, the Age of Aries the Ram was coming to an end, there was produced the next generation, as it were: the offspring of the Ram, which is, of course, a lamb. And as all this refers to what is happening 'in the heavens', so the lamb is the 'lamb of God'. Our choir sang about that just now: 'All in the April Evening' is set in that month two-thirds of which occurs in the sign of Aries and the song is about the lamb of God. It is from these astrology that we get ideas like 'the lamb of God going meekly to die'. But it is confusing that these astrological thoughts have, in the teachings of the orthodox Church, been mixed up with the historical accounts of the works and teachings of the man Jesus.|
|So, what is the scripture saying? Through accounts involving mortals - the man Jesus, the rulers of the Jews, the occupying Roman forces, etc. - it is instructing us in what we may call the ways of heaven, and especially in the ways of something called 'the Christ'.|
|The Christ is not a person: it is a divine principle. But divine principles are not separate from us mortals, and the principle that is the Christ is the highest form of consciousness which can be achieved by a human being. Those of you who were here at Christmas heard me indicate how the Christmas festival is a recognition that the Christ, the spark of individual consciousness, is born in the darkness of our animal instincts - what, in the symbolism of the Christmas Story, is referred to as 'the stable of the inn'. The inn symbolises the place of worldly business and of revelry and feasting. Because worldly business and revelry mean that there is no room for the Christ, it is born 'outside' in that dark place where we keep our animal instincts.|
|The Christmas festival, then, is a celebration of the fact that we, as humans, have born within us a spark of individual consciousness - a celebration of the fact that the Christ is born in us. And it is the nurture of this divine spark of consciousness that is marked, symbolically, by the passage from Christmas to Easter. But what does the nurture of the spark of consciousness mean? It means - as the esoteric traditions of all the major religions tell us - becoming mindful, becoming fully aware of oneself, knowing oneself. Indeed, what else could the idea 'nurture of consciousness' imply?|
|It is the effects that follow from the nurture of consciousness that are the primary concern of the Gospels. These scriptures speak of a man - Jesus - who so nurtured the spark of the Christ within himself that he was able to do wonderful things - things that we call 'miracles'. Jesus' consciousness was of the highest possible form and it is the knowledge of this that renders explicable not only the events of his life but also his teachings. When, for example, he uses the words 'I am' - as he frequently does - he is not referring to the little ego to which we habitually refer when we say 'I am'. He is speaking from the elevated consciousness that is the Christ within him - and, potentially, within all of us. And he clearly recognises that this elevated consciousness cannot emerge in a person until the ordinary ego is overcome. Thus, according to the Gospel of John, he says:|
|'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.'.|
|The teaching is that we can be like the 'corn of wheat': if we allow the ego to die then the higher consciousness - which is the Christ - can emerge. We heard the apostle Paul say something very similar in the passage I read from his First Epistle to the Corinthians: 'that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die'. And it is with this thought that we can form a satisfying understanding of the words we have just sung 'Jesus died, but Christ has triumphed / Broken now the chains of death'. But please note - and this is vital - that the death referred to is not necessarily physical death, but is the death of the ego. And this is something that can be achieved at any time, and not merely at physical death.|
|However, the Easter Story conveys its central idea through the description of a physical death - the crucifixion. But the scriptures have made it clear that the Story concerns, not happenings which occurred to an earthly man, but of great movements in the heavens working themselves out through humanity. In the account of the crucifixion, then, we encounter the death of the ego and the liberation of that highest form of consciousness which we call 'the Christ'. The fact that this might also occur at physical death is secondary to the fact that newness of life is available to us all at every moment.|
|The death of the ego is achieved through the practice of mindfulness - what we call meditation or contemplative prayer. But such practice also contains the means whereby we can face the death which comes to us all via physical means, and this teaching is also given in the Easter Story. The Story points out, in a symbolic way, that there are two basic types of physical means which bring about the death of the body. First there are those physical aspects which are internal to our bodies - the ones which are, as it were, 'of our own kind'. (The natural ageing process is one of them, for example.) These forces are symbolised in the Story by the ruling council of the Jews - those who were of Jesus' own kind. Secondly, there are the forces that come from outside of one's body and take up occupation - symbolised in the Story by the occupying Roman forces. (An example might be diseases.)|
|Here, then, is some of the detail of the symbolism of the Easter Story. But now we can see what happens when the Christmas and Easter Stories are put together. Combined, they say that there is born within the human a spark of divine consciousness which one may, if one is so disposed, nurture such that, although human factors both internal and external conspire to bring about the death of the body, consciousness can win the day - 'triumph over death', as it is said. But it is also saying that the nurture of consciousness through prayer and meditation can liberate the Christ within us and allow us to overcome death at any time in our lives.|
|Within this interpretation we have, then, a new way of understanding what the scriptural stories are concerned with. And it is clear from the Bible that this was essentially the understanding that the Apostle Paul had obtained. Let us hear again what he said:|
|For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. ...|
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die ...
So ... is the resurrection of the dead. ...
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
|Paul's words seem to be referring to physical death, but when he speaks of 'the dead' he is referring to both the physically dead and to the loss of ego. And, either way, he is saying that the result is the 'raising' of a spiritual body. This, then, is a new understanding - an understanding which avoids the necessity to ask silly questions like 'Who rolled away the stone?'. If the 'body' that is 'raised' is a spiritual body there is no need to question how that 'body' escaped from the tomb.|
|In this understanding we also have a satisfactory explanation of the statement that, at the moment of Jesus' death, 'the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom'. Last week I showed you how a symbolic understanding of the Palm-Sunday Story leads to the idea that the word 'Temple' refers not to the building of stone and mortar, but is a symbol of the centre of our consciousness. I also indicated how the passage from Christmas to Easter is symbolic of the journey into oneself, with the Temple of one's being - the centre of consciousness - as the point reached 'on Palm Sunday' according to the symbolism. Now, at Easter, the symbolism penetrates further: beyond the veil, that which separates the public area of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, the centre of the centre. The symbolism is obvious: at the moment of the death of the ego the spiritual seeker enters into the very centre of consciousness and the Christ is released to act within his or her being.|
|Here, in the full Story, is the triumph over death. The full Story begins at Christmas which is symbolic of the fact that there is born within the human the spark of divine consciousness; it continues with the passage between Christmas and Easter which is symbolic of the nurture of this spark of consciousness, which nurture necessarily implies the negation of the ego; and it culminates at Easter which is symbolic of the death of the ego and the emergence of the consciousness which is the Christ. The Christ emerges triumphant over death: 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'.|
|Be not deceived: the new understanding that we now have is the basis for a new religion. No longer the religion of the child-abusive God, no longer the religion which confuses man and God, but a religion which encourages us all to undertake the inner journey of self-knowledge and thereby release within ourselves the Christ - such that we may say:|
'Henceforth the soul is free,
And through the heights of being
Ascends, O God, to Thee!'