FROM THE SERPENT TO THE LAMB - THE NEW FORM OF THE ETHERIC
John the Baptist from Chartres Cathedral
by Rev. Michaël Merle
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature God has made. He said to the woman …” (Genesis Chapter 3)
So begins one of the best-known stories in the world. By what happened the human race is affected in its very depth, not one of us is not concerned in it. The writer of Genesis only gives it six verses, under two hundred words.
The tempter is represented in the form of a serpent. Serpents did figure in many early myths, legends and religions. Babylon’s god, Ea, was often pictures with a serpent’s head. Egypt’s Atum (in one story) was to become a serpent at the end when all else had gone out of existence.
In Canaan, a serpent was the symbol of the healing god; his healing implement was a rod with a serpent turned round it. In early myths and religious legends serpents did not act as tempters, but as defenders of things or places which were especially sacred or gave power beyond the human measure. The temptation of Eve in the Genesis story was to seek satisfaction in an experience outside of her essential self, to taste the fruit that would take her out of her inner experience and one that would disturb human relationships from then onwards. With this story the serpent tempts Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In this way humanity grabs the power of discernment prematurely. The proper evolution of humanity is disturbed. All these images of serpents seem to aptly apply to the apparently harsh words of John the Baptist (‘Brood of Vipers’) addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to where he baptized people. John’s message: “Change your ways, the Kingdom of heaven is near”, heralded a new and unusually powerful symbol: the Lamb. In St John’s Gospel we read, “John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. I came baptising to prepare for him’.”
In pointing to Christ as the Lamb of God, John was identifying the self-offering and sacrificial nature of Christ’s essential self. The gift of Christ to us is for us also to be like the lamb – able to give of ourselves and oppose the self-centeredness of the serpent. This Christian quality of empathy and concern for others is the practical demonstration of love.
As part of lectures Steiner gave in November 1909 which were collected into a small booklet –Deeper Secrets of Human History in the Light of the Gospel of St Matthew, he explains how before the baptisms of John in the River Jordan the formation of the etheric body of human beings looked serpent-like. This could be correlated to the image of the rising kundalini in the practice of yoga: two intertwining ‘serpents’ of rising energy. In John’s Baptism of Jesus the etheric body could now be seen by initiates under the image of the Lamb. This formation of the etheric body as the Lamb could not arise out of man’s old serpent-like etheric body. It was to be the gift of Christ made manifest in Jesus.
The fundamental feature of the etheric world is the inter-relationship of all its parts, and the capacity of the soul to experience itself in other souls and to receive them into its own experience. This is the etheric expression of man’s true nature. In the physical world, it is realised in sacrifice and self-offering of which the Lamb is the symbol.
Report-Back on the Community Forum of Sunday 20 May 2018
A good number gathered after the service on Sunday 20 May to hear about and to contribute to some immediate plans leading forward.
Michael was presented with a gift of the book ‘The Isenheim Altarpiece’ in appreciation of his sending to our community, and we received his gift to us of a beautiful amethyst crystal, which we have on display now in the community room.
He explained new changes planned for the chapel, such as a properly designed altar which is currently being made by Ken Lehman, as well as the new backdrop cloth which will be hung when we receive the altar. The altar pictures will also be reframed in keeping with other Christian Community chapels around the world.
It will be necessary to do some maintenance work on the flat, our new name for the Holman family’s home, before we can let that space out. It is our intention to fit a dry wall in the passage, dividing the two sections, and including the third bedroom on the church side which can be used as a library and space for the children on Sundays. That would leave a two-bedroom flat, both en suite, with a lounge, kitchen and entrance foyer for a tenant or tenants. The income received from this would contribute greatly towards our running costs, particularly maintenance.
On the matter of finances, Michael explained that as he has been sent to two communities, the Johannesburg community have agreed to pay him a modest stipend, and he proposes that we will pay for his airfares back and forth and to synods. Our monthly costs have gone down in some areas with the departure of Peter, but other costs will be incurred. There will be an amount to pay Sharon as church secretary, and we will also need to improve the security of the property; we will need, too, to become more conscientious regarding the maintenance of the building and garden.
Michael will be available for planned sacraments such as Baptisms and Weddings and for appointments during the week when he is not scheduled to be at The Roseway Waldorf School, and the Community Gatherings will continue on the Sundays that he is out of town. He also wishes to suggest to the next confirmation class that they learn the server’s duties immediately upon confirmation, thereby increasing our base of servers.
Fiona offered to take the Music portfolio, and looks forward to developing group singing among the community. She also volunteered to restring the lyre. Sincere appreciation is extended to all as we go towards a promising future.
May 2018 Articles
Rev. Peter Holman in the garden of the church shortly before leaving to take up his new Sending.
by Rev. Peter Holman There is a beautiful image of the difference between the butterfly and the petal, or blossom. The butterfly is a blossom released by the cosmos; the blossom is a butterfly held by the earth. The butterfly, fluttering in airy, sunlit realms, may wonder why the blossoms do not join her in her joyful dance. Rooted in the earth, the flowers know no other existence.
The Christ, in leaving the cosmic realms of the sun, gave up much of His power and infinitely expanded light-being, and entered into earthly incarnation. His was a long journey from ages past. At the Baptism He took on flesh; He entered an earthly body. The Gospels tell us that He repeatedly “set His face towards Jerusalem”, towards the event of the Deed of Golgotha.
And with the Transfiguration Christ again committed to His purpose of entering into full earthly incarnation. Three of the disciples witnessed His sun-like countenance and cosmic being. In Raphael`s well-known painting, with its blue and white, light-filled upper part and the dark earth-valley of human suffering below, there is a real point of decision. The skill of the painter depicts a moment when it is open as to whether the hovering Christ is ascending from the earth or descending onto it. It is a Buddha moment. The Christ could have said He had achieved enlightenment; there was no necessity or compulsion for Him to dwell further on the earth. But at this decisive moment He re-committed to full earthly incarnation. And in doing so, He was looking beyond Easter to the time of Ascension, when He would “transfigure earthly being with heavenly being”.
This time of Ascension is twofold: it was the culmination two millennia ago of Christ`s process of connecting deeply with the earth: His deed 40 days after Easter was to forever root the centre of His working in the earth, while at the same time expanding once again in the fullness of His being into the wide, sunlit realms of the cosmos. And, secondly, each year at Asceniontide we look to the sphere of His immanence, His presence-with-us, the sphere of Revelation, of His revealing Himself ever more to us from where He now dwells. He is, and we are, spiritual beings who are rooted in the earth for our working. It is our place to “be, grow and become”. If we consider again the Transfiguration on the mountain, we see how Christ performs the truly Christian gesture of embracing the suffering and pain of the earth, of setting His face to transform it, out of freedom and in love. He touched His disciples to awaken them, and together they descended to the plane of earth, the place of turmoil and darkness. He brought healing and balance to what was being pulled apart.
We have all stepped into incarnation on this earth. It requires courage, especially nowadays. Rudolf Steiner spoke of how the existence of butterflies on earth can inspire courage in human souls as they journey down. It requires something quite extraordinary to step from cosmic widths and heights into being rooted on earth.
We often face challenging thresholds and dark abysses, pain and great need. Often the way through is to recognise that when we leave something behind, sacrifice it, give it up, as Christ did, we have new possibilities to step into a new place, to go though transformation to new wholeness. We can do this through the power and with the help of the Christ in us: the One who carries us up to places of inspiration, spiritual enlightenment and nourishment, who touches us to bring consciousness and who walks with us down into the valley of suffering in this world to bring about healing through courage and love. This is possible because Christ “dwells with us, in that He dwells with” the Father. He holds us in this grace-filled balance of being rooted in the earth, and yet living in, and nourished by, the sunlit realms of cosmic weaving. (Matthew 17)
Reflections on the Farewell
by Rev. Peter Holman My family and I were feted on Sunday 22 April! For once I had no idea what to expect, so I just did what I was told to do after the Act of Consecration of Man had finished. That was basically to sit in the front row of chairs that had been placed to face the piano, along with Judy, Mark, Johnathan, Matthew and his girlfriend, Gabi .
It truly was a farewell fit for a king! A number of community members spoke, all saying very kind things about me and what has taken place in this decade, and giving due mention to Judy and the children and how they had been such a big part of the last 10 years. In particular Judy`s piano playing was lauded and one of the pupils who had been in the class Judy led from class 3 to 7 paid tribute to her teaching. Indeed a number of youngsters were there that morning, all of them whom I had confirmed, and several primary school children.
I had neither the words nor the opportunity (as Judy was agitating for cake and tea as the speeches drew to a close!) to respond to all that had been said. It was maybe just as well, as I was close to tears at moments and deeply moved and grateful for the whole of the farewell session. It is not just that kind words were spoken, and that things were said that are sometimes reserved for the eulogy at a person`s funeral (!), but it was the heart-warming realisation that all the ups and downs of the past 10 years had somehow been worth it. More than worth it. Together we have built and achieved much and the whole congregation has moved forward in wonderful ways. I have had a role in all that, and, yes, I have usually given of my best, but others have played their roles in very big ways as well. This community is now well ready to enter a new phase, where individuals will be stepping up and taking more ownership. Indeed everyone has a role to play. I could have done more to allocate more people a task, for that leads to empowerment and ownership. Of course individuals have come forward to take tasks on. This will need to happen more at the Community Forum on Whit Sunday. It can lead to a stronger community, as Michaël will not be resident as I was and he will not be here every day or every Sunday. It doesn`t mean less will happen. But in other ways, more and new things can happen. I urge and encourage you all to support Michaël as he serves, guides and inspires the KZN congregation.
I am certainly grateful for the years here and all that I was part of. I have grown, as we perhaps all have. I shall never forget the connections here, nor cease to be grateful that my children could live here for important years of their childhood. Many in the congregation have taken a loving interest in my family, and that means more to me than words can say. The friendships as well as working relationships I have established here are precious, and to have been your priest for these years has been an honour!
We shall remain united in one way or another. Farewell is never Goodbye forever!
The Great Novena
by Rev. Michaël Merle
The Great Novena refers to the nine days between Ascension Thursday and Whit-Sunday (Pentecost). What great and wonderous fulfilment and culmination took place in this contemplative time between Ascension and Whitsun? How are these two great festivals joined in the Great Mystery of Easter?
The deep significance of the Ascension is that in the spiritual vision of the disciples who see the Christ rising heavenwards, the essence of the experience is, in fact, that Christ remains in union with the earth. Thus the Christ impulse holds man securely on the earth. "In this picture of the Ascension, something more is manifest to the disciples.… Through the Mystery of Golgotha Christ brought to pass within earth-evolution a cosmic event. Christ came down from the heights of spirit, linked Himself with humanity in the man Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha, united His evolution with that of the earth. It was a cosmic Deed accomplished for the whole of humanity." [Rudolf Steiner, 7th May 1923] In the vision of the disciples, with their inner eye of soul that sees the resurrected Christ ascend into the heavenly sphere, the true depth of this event was understood by the soul-spirit of the disciples. The Ascension is a uniting of Christ with the earth experience so that the physical-etheric nature of man could continue its development. Our place as man is not just in the heavenly spheres, but also, and very importantly, here on the earth.
After the spiritual vision of the Ascension, the disciples withdraw in deep contemplation. "For in their awakened souls is the knowledge that through the Mystery of Golgotha complete provision was made for the physical-etheric nature of mankind as a whole. But what happens, they wonder, to the being of spirit-and-soul? Whence does man acquire the power to receive the Christ Impulse into his nature of spirit-and-soul, into his ego and astral body? The answer is found in the Whitsun festival. Through the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ Impulse has taken effect on the earth as a reality which is within the comprehension of spiritual cognition alone. No materialistic knowledge, no materialistic science can understand the Mystery of Golgotha. Hence the soul must acquire the power of spiritual cognition, of spiritual perception, of spiritual feeling, in order to be able to understand how, on Golgotha, the Christ Impulse was united with the impulses of the earth.
Christ Jesus fulfilled His Deed on Golgotha to the end that this union might take effect, fulfilled it in such a way that ten days after the event of the Ascension He sent man the possibility of imbuing also his inner nature of spirit-and-soul, his ego and astral body, with the Christ Impulse. The permeation of the human spirit-and-soul with the power to understand the Mystery of Golgotha is the sending of the Holy Spirit. This is the picture of the Whitsun festival, the festival of Pentecost. Christ fulfilled His Deed for all mankind. But to each human individual, in order that he may be able to understand this Deed, Christ sent the Spirit, in order that the individual being of spirit-and-soul may have access to the effects of the Deed that was accomplished for all men in common. Through the Spirit man must learn to experience the Christ Mystery inwardly, in spirit and in soul.
Thus these two pictures stand side by side in the history of the evolution of humanity. That of the Ascension tells us: The Deed on Golgotha was fulfilled for the physical body and the etheric body in the universal human sense. That of Whitsun tells us: The single human being must make this Deed bear fruit in himself by receiving the Holy Spirit. Thereby the Christ Impulse becomes individual in each human being.
And now something else can be added to the picture of the Ascension. Spiritual visions such as came to the disciples on the day of the Ascension always have a bearing upon what man actually experiences in one or another state of consciousness. After death, as you know, the etheric body leaves the human being. He lays aside the physical body at death, retains the etheric body for a few days, and then the etheric body dissolves…. Since the Mystery of Golgotha, man beholds, together with this departing etheric body, the Christ Who has rescued it for earthly existence through the ages of time to come. So that, since the Mystery of Golgotha there stands before the soul of every human being who passes through death the Ascension picture which the disciples were able to behold that day in a particular condition of their soul-life.
But for one who makes the Whitsun Mystery, too, part of his being, who allows the Holy Spirit to draw near to him – for such a one this picture after death becomes the source of the greatest consolation he can possibly experience: for now he beholds the Mystery of Golgotha in all its truth and reality….
The Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled for mankind as a whole, in respect of the physical body and etheric body only. The sending of the Holy Spirit, the Whitsun mystery, signifies that the soul and spirit of man can partake of the fruits of the Deed on Golgotha only if he finds wings to bear him to actual understanding of the essence and meaning of that Deed.
But because this essence and meaning can be fully grasped by spiritual knowledge alone, not by material knowledge, it follows that the truth of the Whitsun festival can be grasped only when men realise that the sending of the Holy Spirit is the challenge to humanity more and more to achieve Spirit-knowledge, through which alone the Mystery of Golgotha can be understood.
That it must be understood – this is the challenge of the Whitsun Mystery. That it came to pass for all mankind – this is the revelation given in the Ascension." [Rudolf Steiner, 7th May 1923]
Confirmation - 5th April 2018
From lt to rt: Rev. Peter Holman, Olivia (Lilli) Christensen, Gary Dunsdon and Rev. Reingard Knausenberger (Lenker)
The confirmands Olivia (Lilli) Christensen and Gary Dunsdon
New Sending for Rev. Peter Holman
Confirmation of our youth on Sunday, 7th May 2017
The confirmands from lt to rt are James Siepker, Daniel Hale, Emily Howard, Leah Schroeder and Cameron Macfarlane with Rev. Reingard Knausenberger (Lenker) and Rev. Peter Holman behind