After a hectic but very enjoyable Lambing Day on March 19th, with hundreds of visitors at Tablehurst Farm, we went in the evening to Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, for an inspiring performance of Bach’s St John Passion. To go from little lambs to the Lamb of God is a wonderful way to get into the Easter mood; and it also got me reflecting on Easter as the festival of death and resurrection, the death of Jesus Christ and his subsequent rebirth into a new life.
When I was a child and indeed for many years afterwards, I could never understand what was meant when teachers and priests said things like “Christ died to save our sins” and “Christ died that we may live”. And actually, I’m not sure that those teachers and priests knew what they meant, either. How could someone dying a horrible death 2000 years ago have had any practical effect on our lives today? And how did that death redeem my small sins or help me to live? There is a mystery here and I didn’t receive any explanation that made sense to me while I was growing up.
As I got older and particularly as I began to enquire more widely into esoteric matters, I started to get a glimmer of understanding into these questions. Rudolf Steiner’s works have been particularly helpful in this respect.
From his youth, Steiner possessed complete clairvoyance so that the spiritual worlds were as open to him as the material world is to us. Having developed this power of exploring higher worlds he set about his investigations and was able to research back to the dim past of human and planetary evolution. To his astonishment, he discovered that the descent of the Christ into physical existence was the absolutely central event of evolution, what he sometimes called “the turning point of time”. Of this period in his life Steiner writes in his autobiography: “I stood before the Mystery of Golgotha in a most profound inward festival of knowledge” and it is a fact that from about 1910 onwards Steiner’s entire teaching is Christo-centric.
Naturally this teaching does not always conform to church dogma, for Steiner’s spiritual research enabled him to arrive at esoteric truths and then express them without the need to pay lip service to what was taught by the churches. Some of you may remember David Jenkins, who was Bishop of Durham from 1984 to 1994. He enraged newspapers like the Daily Mail and the more thick-headed rent-a-quote type of MP by saying that the resurrection was not of a physical body, an idea which he described as “conjuring tricks with bones.” The poor bishop was trying to give out information from esoteric Christianity rather than the fairy story that the Church hitherto had thought was all we could understand – but clearly there were still some people who didn’t want to take off their baby shoes.
It’s also disappointing to have to spell out the following but if I don’t do so, there are people who will try to drive sectarian wedges between Steiner and others. So let it be understood that behind everything Steiner says is the concept that life is a divine oneness and that humankind is one great family. The Christ impulse illumines every race, creed and nation, and there is nothing sectarian about it – Truth and Love are there for every human being, of whatever race and whether atheist or believer.
Esoteric Christianity sees the man Jesus as the human vehicle for the cosmic being of the Christ. What do we mean by the Christ and why did this cosmic being need a human vehicle? The name “Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos” and it refers to an exalted being of the spiritual Sun. We need to re-think materialistic science’s view that the celestial bodies are just balls of gas or types of nuclear reactor in the skies – the solar system as seen with Steiner’s spiritual knowledge is a huge living organism filled with living thought. Here we have to try to encompass the concept of a solar system filled with spirit and being. This is not the time to go into Steiner’s picture of the evolution of the solar system and the way in which the celestial bodies became related to each other but those who are interested can read more in Steiner’s book, An Outline of Esoteric Science. If we can nevertheless hold on to this picture of the celestial bodies as spheres of activity for spiritual beings, then we might also see that evolution has both a spiritual and a physical aspect.
Steiner says that the overlighting of Jesus of Nazareth by the Cosmic Christ took place at the time when the 30-year old Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This was when the Christ incarnated into the body of Jesus. In the Gospel of St Matthew we read: “and lo, the heavens were opened unto him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.” For three years after the Baptism, the Christ lived in this body of Jesus until his death on the cross.
Turning now to Steiner’s comments on Easter, he says here something about the true significance of the Festival for us:
“When a mighty individuality like that of the Christ Jesus comes to the aid of entire humanity, it is his sacrifice in death which permeates the karma of mankind. He helped to carry the karma of the whole of humanity, and we may be quite sure that redemption through Christ Jesus was absorbed and assimilated by the totality of human karma.”
An amazing thought, and one which to me helps to make sense of the saying that Christ died to save us from our sins. What Steiner is conveying here is that when Christ died on the cross he took on a huge part of the karma of humanity, which had it not been redeemed in this way, would have led us into more and more darkness and materiality. Instead, Christ’s deed began the slow but sure upward ascent away from materialism in which we are now engaged. Now, this materialism still has a long way to run, apparently for another 2,500 years or so, and indeed it has not yet reached the peak of its intensity – but we are all now on an upward path.
Unusual and startling as some may find Steiner’s insights, personally I find them very helpful in understanding the true meaning of Easter. Steiner goes on to talk about the enormous significance of Easter for human evolution:
“Christ Jesus experiences death, as commemorated by Good Friday. He remains in the grave for the period of three days, this representing His coalescence with earthly existence. This period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is celebrated in Christendom as a festival of mourning. Finally, Easter Sunday is the day on which the central being of Christianity arises from the grave. It is the memorial day of this event. That is the essential substance of Easter: the death, the interval in the grave, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.”
“The essential point is that in the thirtieth year of His life… the primal Being of the Sun, the Christ Himself…took up His abode in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what underlies the Mystery of Golgotha as the primal fruit of the whole life of the Earth.”
“It is, however, characteristic of the modern evolution of Christianity that the thought of Good Friday (i.e. the Crucifixion)…has come ever more to the fore, and the thought of the Resurrection — the true Easter thought — has gradually retired. Thoughts on Easter must point especially to a time in which man must experience the resurrection of his being through the Spirit. We have need of Easter thoughts, and of a full understanding of such thoughts…It is the Christ we have need of, however, the Christ Whom we can seek in our own inner beings, and Who at once appears when we do seek Him…We have need of the vivid consciousness of the eternity of the Spirit.”
Notice there that Steiner has said that the true thought of Easter is Resurrection and not the concentration on the Crucifixion. In other words, the more important aspect of Easter is not death and mourning but the possibility of new life and the return of awareness of the spirit to human consciousness. He says:
“We will never be able to grasp the true thought of Easter unless we realise that in speaking of the Christ we must look upwards from what is merely earthly to what is cosmic….Christ came down among men in order to unite the souls of men with the Cosmic Spirit. Only a true expounder of the Gospel of Christ points out that what we see in the physical sun is the outward expression of the Spirit of our universe — the resurrecting Spirit of our universe.”
And in fact Steiner gives us the most tremendous thought, one which I find changes my conception of what it is to walk this Earth. He says that since Christ’s descent into hell and resurrection, Christ has lived in the etheric body of the Earth and can be experienced by those who have developed the necessary supersensible perception. Steiner says that there will be no Second Coming of Christ in a physical body. There is no need for the Christ to incarnate again and live through a physical body and so pass through death. That was done once and for all and will not be repeated.
So if the Christ really is in the etheric body of the Earth, what does that mean for us? Well, it certainly can make a difference to how you walk on the earth itself. If the Christ is there, then you are literally treading on holy ground every time you take a step, wherever you may be. And if He is indeed present invisibly throughout the whole etheric field of the Earth, then He is truly within the etheric body of every form, every tree and plant, every animal. Christ came for the benefit of all creation, not just human beings. But with our normal intellectual processes we cannot consciously experience this. If we can raise our thinking and awareness, however, there we shall find Him.
Now, here’s another thought – what would it mean for the world if instead of dashing about heedlessly, we walked with the awareness that we are treading on the etheric body of Christ, and that by doing this with loving consciousness, we are helping to release the spiritual substance locked up in matter and thereby transforming it – what might that do to the world? What might that do to our selves?