• Holy Week: Chapter 9: The Angels at the Tomb

    by  • 10 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 3 Comments

    Here at Floris Books, we want to do all we can to support our community during these difficult times. To that end, we’re sharing a new chapter of Emil Bock’s Holy Week: A Spiritual Guide from Palm Sunday to Easter for every day of the 2020 Easter Holy Week. Check back each day for the latest entry.

    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

    As a special thank you for joining us throughout the week, we are also offering 20% discount on copies of the book when you order from our website. Simply enter special offer code HW0420 at checkout.


    Please note that we’ve split the material on Easter Sunday across two posts for ease of navigation. Click here for Sunday Part 1: Easter Joy & The Fourfold Gospel, which includes the relevant bible extracts.


    The Angels at the Tomb

    Most Bible readers take it that the Easter stories in all four gospels agree in describing first the meeting with the angels at the tomb. But this is not so.

    The Gospel of Matthew says that the women come to the grave and in the early light of dawn receive a severe shock, for the earthquake, which seemed to have subsided for a whole day, breaks out afresh. They have to make their way among trembling rocks. Then a flash of lightning tears away the curtain, as it were, from the world of the senses. When they reach the grave, a spirit-form shines before them in overwhelming brilliance. ‘When the Sabbath was over, in the early morning light of the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary came to see to the tomb. And see, there was a great earthquake, the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came and rolled the stone away and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his garment was shining white like snow.’ (Matt.28:1). When the lightning has struck the watchers to the ground, the angel speaks to the women. The first premonition of Easter is given them, and they receive a message enjoining the disciples to go to Galilee.

    In the light of the supersensory conception of the world which is the basis of the gospels, the earthquake is described, not as a natural process, but as the activity of supersensory powers and beings. Through the souls of the women we, too, see a powerful being from the angelic hierarchies taking part. An angel who resembles the powers of lightning and of snow descends from heaven to roll away the stone. It is important to note that the women perceive the angel while they are still outside the tomb. The vision that overtakes them is mingled with the physical perception that the entry to the tomb is exposed by the rolling away of the stone which has covered it. The supersensory experiences which the gospels recount are never arbitrary, but have a firm psychological basis. Even in the gospels people do not have supersensory experiences without some cause. In every case a specific emotion is active in the soul which releases the vision. According to the description in the Gospel of Matthew an overwhelming shock brought it about that suddenly, as the rock split, not only the outer event but also the supersensory being, the angel of the earthquake, was perceived.

    In the Gospel of Mark the account of the meeting of the women with the angel is different, both in its inner aspect, and in the circumstances of its place and time. On their way to the tomb the women are full of anxiety as to how they will be able to get into the closed sepulchre. But as they reach the end of their journey they are greatly surprised to find that the stone has been rolled away, and that the entrance to the tomb is open. The problem that has worried them has been solved, but such a solution must prepare them for still further and perhaps greater surprises. Mark’s comment, ‘for the stone was very large,’ makes us share in the women’s breathless astonishment. They go inside the tomb, and there a bright light streams towards them out of the darkness. On their right they see an angelic form in a long white garment. The angel, who is described as a young man, speaks to them of the Resurrection, and gives them the message for the disciples about Galilee.

    This experience of the angel does not occur as in the Gospel of Matthew, before they enter the tomb, but inside it, and it happens also at a somewhat later point of time. While Matthew describes the angelic being as ‘the angel of the Lord,’ which in Hebrew would read ‘the angel of Yahweh,’ Mark speaks of the ‘young man’ who sits to the right of the tomb. This is an entirely different situation and it is also a different condition which releases the vision. This time it is not fear but astonishment. Here is a first apparent contradiction between the two gospels.

    In the Gospel of Luke things progress still further before the experience occurs that leads out of the sphere of sense-perception into the supersensory. The description of the external situation is carried to the point to which it had been taken by St Mark. The women come to the grave; they find the stone rolled away from the entrance and go inside. They search for the dead body of Jesus. And the longer they search, the more anxious and disturbed they become because they cannot find him. Only when their anxiety has reached its climax are their eyes opened to the spiritual beings who are there. ‘And while they stood there, completely at a loss, suddenly two men were standing before them in raiment which shone like continuous lightning. They were overcome by terror and they bowed their faces to the ground.’ (Luke 24:4f).

    In this case the women have penetrated many paces deeper into the tomb than in the account given by Mark, and have already been there for some time. Now it is not fear of the earthquake, nor astonishment over the open tomb, but their anxiety over the empty grave which releases the vision. The feeling which goes beyond sense-perception is quite different and belongs to a more advanced consciousness. This time, surprisingly, it is two angel beings who reveal themselves to the women, and instead of being called ‘angel of the Lord’ or ‘young man,’ they are now called ‘two men in white raiment.’

    By this time it is obvious that there is nothing haphazard in these discrepancies between the several gospels, but that the advance from one gospel to the next follows a specific law. The meetings with the angels undergo such an orderly transformation, a metamorphosis so significant, that the differences in the gospels, taken as a whole, draw attention to a special secret.

    This becomes specially clear when we come to the Gospel of John. Here, Mary Magdalene comes alone to the tomb. She enters and finds it empty. Thus the external course of events is once more taken up at the point reached in the preceding gospel. The feelings that had been stirred in the soul of Mary Magdalene by the earthquake, the open tomb and the empty grave are not described. The Fourth Gospel is concerned with experiences which take place later. Mary Magdalene leaves the tomb without having met with an angel. She goes all the way back through the city to the disciples. Now Peter and John run to the tomb, and with her they peer into the empty grave. Although there is no direct mention of this in the gospel, it is in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel of John to suppose that the disciples saw something of the cosmic aspect of the empty grave. On the site of the tomb the earthquake had reopened a deep cleft which formed part of the ancient chasm in the ground of Jerusalem which had been levelled by Solomon.* Thus the disciples not only look into the empty grave, they look into a gloomy chasm. They have a unique experience of the mystical stage called ‘standing before the abyss.’ Bewildered, they go away again, and Mary Magdalene remains there alone. Some time elapses. Then Mary Magdalene weeps. The tears that she now sheds are due neither to fright, nor to astonishment or anxiety. She weeps because she is wholly absorbed in love for him who has been torn away from her. Much more has happened than that Jesus has died. All the miraculous and inexplicable events since midday on Good Friday awaken dreamlike perceptions, whereby the greatness of him who has passed through death stands before the soul of Mary Magdalene as never before. The more she feels his greatness, the greater is her love. This love opens the eyes of her soul. While her physical sight is blinded with tears, her weeping awakens spiritual sight, and she perceives two figures. But these are not the same as those described by Luke. She sees two angels in white garments, one at the head and one at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been laid. Although there is still no trace of the beloved body, yet now, through her spiritual experience, she is conscious of the exact spot where he had lain. The two angels say to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ In that moment, as she collects herself to answer them, the experience moves forward to a new stage. She turns round, and there, in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden, she sees a figure facing the tomb. She does not recognize him as Jesus. He who stands outside appears to her in the form of a gardener. And her first impulse is to ask him if he can tell her whither the body of Jesus has vanished. Then Jesus speaks to her in the very same words which earlier the angels had used, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

    We should not think that either the angel or the Risen One speaks in human language. What is heard inwardly by the soul is reproduced by the gospel in human words. It is only by silencing the human words that we can hope to enter into the inner hearing from which they come. In the Gospel of John it is out of the inner hearing of the question put by the angels that the new spiritual meeting arises whereby Mary Magdalene becomes the first bearer of the real Easter perception. The figure out there facing the tomb takes, as it were, the words from the angels’ mouths.

    Again, the figure that Mary Magdalene sees as a continuation of her perception of the angels is clearly that of a man. When the gospel says that she thought it was the gardener, this does not mean that she was deceived. Jesus does appear to her as a gardener. The medieval painters, by representing the Risen Christ as a gardener, have adequately reproduced the imagination which passed before Mary Magdalene’s soul. The Risen One is really the gardener of a new garden, the planter and cultivator of a new life on earth.

    The sight of the gardener brings new hope to her loving soul. Perhaps he who appears before her can restore to her the lost one. Only a few moments ago, love of Christ had caused her tears to flow. Now that same love lights up her soul. At that moment she feels herself called by name, and at last understands that it is Christ who stands before her in the Easter garden. She has really found again him who had been wrested from her. She puts out her hands to embrace him. But the stern warning meets her ‘Do not touch me!’ The Easter mystery is not yet consummated. What happens at the tomb takes place only in the forecourt. The complete manifestation of the Risen One in his spirit-body is first experienced only when the outdoor scenes have come to an end, and the indoor scenes within the circle of the disciples have begun.

    The Gospel of John carries further the metamorphosis of the Easter prelude at the tomb. The significant transformations and amplifications in the meetings with the angels of the first three gospels here reach their climax. After the terror of the earthquake, the amazement at the open tomb, the anxiety over the empty grave, it is now tears of love which open the eye of Mary Magdalene’s soul for the angels. Then the meeting with the gardener forms the transition from the angelic forecourt to the actual temple of Easter.


    Thank you for joining us on this journey through Emil Bock’s Holy Week. We hope these extracts have proved useful to you through this Easter time. 


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