But a little while ago, the eyes of the Church were filled with tears, and fixed upon the figure of the dead Christ; but today her tears are tears of joy and she is glad of heart because He has arisen from the dead. But a little while ago, and sin had done its worst. It had arisen against God and as far as men could see, had conquered, and He that was sinless lay dead amongst the people. But to our Blessed Lord the hour that seemed to be the hour of defeat was the hour of victory; death, whose fateful hand beckons men silently away from the paths of their ambition, was to Him the occasion of His greatest glory; and the grave that hides away the hopes and the designs of men, was to Him the beginning of everlasting honor. When the dreadful scenes of the Passion had been enacted; when Jesus stood bruised and pale before the people; when they saw upon His sacred flesh the cruel disfigurement which the scourge had left, and traced upon his pallid brow the bloody pressure of the thorny crown; when they saw His hands and feet dug with rough nails, and His wounded body stretched upon the gibbet; when they wagged their heads in scorn, and bent the knee in mockery before the expiring Savior, well might they have imagined that His history was closed for ever. But no; the end was not yet, His disciples laid Him in the tomb, but on the tomb they wrote no epitaph. Go into some burial place reserved for the illustrious dead; tread lightly and with awe, above the dust of buried greatness, read upon the tombs the record of the names that shall live through many an age upon the lips of men, but read, too, at the beginning of every record, the inevitable words, “here lies the body,” and then you will know that the stone, on which their deeds of greatness are inscribed, covers the moldering dust of the hearts that prompted their designs, and of the hands that achieved their greatness.
But go on the Easter morning to the tomb of Jesus, behold the stone rolled back, and hear the angel speak his epitaph, “He is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him.”
And, now, let us lift up our hearts to celebrate this glorious mystery, and may God Whose glory and impotence are revealed in the Resurrection, touch our lips with fire from the altar, that we may proclaim His praise, and open our hearts to receive the lessons which are taught by this, the greatest of Christian mysteries.
But in what spirit shall we come to celebrate this glorious festival? Surely, in the spirit of Christian joy and Christian gladness. But in all our joy, let us not forget that spirit that must ever mingle largely, with even the holiest gladness of the soldiers of Christ, the spirit of heartfelt penitence and deep contrition. We must go the tomb of the risen Jesus in company with Magdalene the penitent. We should remember that, if Jesus rose from the dead, it was because of our sins He died. Listen to the angel’s words, “Behold the place where they laid him.” Look back to Calvary reddened with His sacred blood, to the hall of Pilate where He stood crowned with thorns, to the lonely garden where He lay amid the olives, crushed to the blood-stained earth by the sins of men. Yes, all this our sins have done. Behold the place where they laid Him, and, with tears of sorrow mingling with our joy, let the cry go u, even on to-day, from each penitent heart, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Looking now to the resurrection of our Savior, I find that in this glorious mystery are contained two pledges: (1) the pledge of the Church’s triumph, and (2) the pledge of the fulfilment of the Christian’s hopes, the foundation of the power by which the followers of Christ conquered an unbelieving world; and the foundation of the blessed hope that in the last day we, too, shall arise, and in our flesh shall see God.
1-The resurrection was the pledge of the triumph of the Church. It proves that Christ is God; that He whom they crucified was the son of the Most High; that the fire which He came to cast upon the earth was fire from heaven; that the doctrines which He announced, bore upon them the stamp and seal of divine authority. Many a wonderful miracle had Jesus wrought in the course of His public ministry. Healing went out from the very hem of His garment, and His voice had power over the devils who tormented the possessed. He had made the blind to see, and the dumb to speak, nay, He had broken down the barrier that sunders the living and the dead, and brought back souls, who had gone upon that journey whence none return save by the high command of God. But great though these miracles were, though each was of itself sufficient to prove the divinity of His mission, yet not upon these did He choose to ret the proof. He appealed once and again to the fact that He would arise from the dead; and on this was He content to rest the assertion of His divinity.
Here, then, is the hinge on which turns
the Christian’s faith, the foundation on which rests the doctrine of the Church;
and so true is this, that St. Paul does not hesitate to say, “If Christ be not
risen, then is our preaching vain.” Nor is it wonderful that it should be so.
Surely, in the stupendous fact of resurrection from the dead all must recognize
the hand of Him Who is Omnipotent. Great is the power of man, wonderful his
skill; but they have their clearly ascertained limits. Men have power upon the
earth, and have used it with wonderful results; they have drawn her cherished
secrets from nature, and have forced the unstable elements to reveal the laws by
which they are governed; but one thing man cannot do, he cannot lift his dead
hand amid the grave clothes, nor bring back the tide of blood to the pulseless
heart that has gone silent to the touch of death. Only God can do this.
Christ, then, by raising Himself from the dead, proved Himself God, vindicated
His claim to the divinity, put upon His mission the stamp and seal of Divine
Omnipotence, and supplied His apostles with a guarantee which none might
question, of the truth of the message they announced.
Armed with this sacred truth, the followers of the risen Jesus went forth to bear His name to the limits of the habitable earth. It was a wonderful thing to see. Twelve poor men, destitute of the world’s riches, unskilled in the world’s learning, go forth to conquer the world. They preached a crucified Savior, but they preached, too, a Savior Who had arisen from the dead, and Who sits forever at the right hand of the Eternal God. And the power of God went with them, supplying the want of learning and of wealth, and the sound of their voices went forth to the ends of the earth. Men began to feel that there was abroad a mysterious influence which they could not understand, but which mastered the keen intellect, and bent the stubborn will. The new doctrines, strong with the strength of truth, and attractive by their intrinsic beauty, won upon the hearts of men. They stole upon the world like strains of half-forgotten music, and hearts that had been steeped in worldliness recognized their teaching as divine, and so the banner of the risen Jesus was borne through the world. But not in peace. Our Blessed Lord had predicted: “The world will hate you even as it hated Me,” and His words began to be fulfilled. The banner was borne in triumph, but the song of victory was a cry of battle, and the feet of those who marched in that procession were red with the blood of martyrs. And so it has been since, a story of conflict and a story of victory. The religion of the risen Jesus his gone onward through the world, conquering and to conquer. The Church took up what civilization she found, and left a mark on it, which even her deadliest enemies must acknowledge to be ineffaceable. She took the rude barbarians who were laying Europe desolate, and she molded them into a Christian people, with a strong hand and determined purpose. North and South, East and West, her footstep passed with a music-like the tramp of armies, and a success that could only come from the God of Battles. She has seen kingdoms rise and rule and perish, and yet she grows not old; she has seen histories begun and finished, and yet she has not failed. Many a relentless foe has she encountered; she has survived their fall. She has carried the name of Jesus to every land. Yes, Jesus has triumphed; go now, after eighteen hundred years to the grave, where his enemies imagined that they had buried His influence and His power; lo! He is risen, He is not there, He has gone forth through the world, His power has passed upon every nation, His influence on every heart, His cross is high above a thousand altars, and to-day His followers, counted by millions, celebrate the glories of His resurrection.
2- But the resurrection is not alone the pledge of the triumph of the Church, it is also a pledge of the triumph of the individual Christian. For, as Jesus died to save us from sin and death, so has He arisen that we, too, may share the glory of His resurrection. It is the cause and the model of the resurrection of His saints; the cause, inasmuch as it is the same omnipotence by which He raised Himself from the dead, that shall draw the bodies of His saints from the dust into which they have returned; the model, because, as He rose from the dead glorious and immortal, and, being risen, will die now no more, so shall we, if we comply with the conditions which He established, rise clothed again with our bodies, and in our flesh we shall see God. And oh what miserable, your path through life many lead through many sorrows, the hard world may press heavily on your weary hearts. But the world and the things of the world pass very quickly away; life is but a troubled dream of which death will be the awakening. Your souls will go into the house of their eternity, your bodies will mould in the grave; but if you pass from life in the friendship of God, as surely as Jesus has arisen from the tomb, so surely God will guard your moldering dust; and when the angel’s trump of doom shall quicken the dead world, you will rise like Jesus, glorious and immortal, and in your flesh you shall see God.
But if you would have part in the glory of the resurrection, two things must first be done. You must rise from the death of sin to the life of grace, and being risen, you must die no more, but persevere to the end.
There are times when the voice of gladness is simply unbearable. When sorrow has fallen upon us, when death has visited our homes and made them desolate; oh! Then, we fain would shut our ears against the sound of gladness. In the midst of our affliction we think it strange that others can rejoice; we have no part in their rejoicing, nay, we almost wonder how the sun can shine, and how the earth can look so beautiful, while we sit alone with the sorrow that has come upon us. But oh! Is there anyone here still buried in the grave of sin? Is there one amongst you on this Ester day, sitting apart under the shadow of iniquity, listening as from a long distance, to the voice of exultation that the Church is sending up to heaven? Oh! Poor miserable soul, how can he have any part in such rejoicing? For him there is no joy, no peace, no rest, no gladness. He is bound by the chain of sin, he is wrapped in the shroud of death, step by step he is coming nearer to an unholy grave; hour hands him= on to hour in his fatal march upon the road to hell. The world may go well with him, all his schemes succeed, he may have plenty in his house and comfort at his hearth; he may have wealth and friends and honor; he may be looked up to as a useful member of society, a careful father, a kind husband, a generous, large-hearted friend. But what of all these things if sin be there? It eats like a canker into the generous heart, and spoils the merit of the open hand. He is but a whited sepulcher, whiteness without, but rottenness and corruption within, and when he dies, when the large heart goes silent, when the open hand lies motionless in the coffin, while men speak his praise who knew not the secret of his sinful heart, while the care of sorrow falls on his dead face, even at that hour his soul is buried in hell. Oh! do not deceive yourselves; for him who remains in mortal sin Christ has not risen. He may deceive himself, and strive to fill his empty heart with the paltry pleasures that the world offers. He may shut his ears to the voice of God, he may purchase the delusive peace that comes from the forcible stifling of the voice of conscience, but oh! at what a price! at the fearful cost of his immortal soul. He may sleep for a time, but one day there must come an awakening, and there shall be peace no more. The sinner, too, must die, and the vices of his youth shall go down with him to the grave, and they shall sleep with him in the dust. Clothed with his iniquity, as with a garment, he must one day stand before his Judge, and hear the dreadful sentence. Oh! Be wise in time, rise from the death of sin, and then you may celebrate with heartfelt joy, the resurrection of your Savior.
But it is not enough to place ourselves in the state of grace; one other thing is necessary – must persevere to the end. Only to him who perseveres has the crown been promised; and at this hour there is many a soul in hell that often knelt before God’s altar in deep contrition, that often whispered its tale of guilt into the ear of the minister of God, and departed, giving joy over sin forgiven, to the angels of heaven. But oh! They did not persevere. The time came when they turned aside and gave the battle up. And now, ruined and lost for ever, they look back in despair to the days when salvation was in their hands, and they cast it from them.
Oh! Persevere. What avails it to have fought through the long day, if night closes on disaster and defeat? What matters it to the soldier to have fought through the battle, if, in the end, he is ruined and overthrown? When he lies stiff and stark with his dead face turned to the silent stars, what boots it that he went forth at morning high-hearted and hopeful? But in the world’s battles defeat does not necessarily imply disgrace, nor need defeat bring with it aught of dishonor. We may honor the dead soldier through his cause be lost, and recognize his bravery even through the shadows of defeat. But in the fight for eternal salvation the case is far otherwise; there defeat means everlasting misery, there ruin is ruin irreparable, and he who in that great battle loses at the last shall lie for ever in flames of hell, looking up in vain to the heaven he shall never enter, and blaspheming the God Whose face he shall never, never see.
But with us, please God, it shall not be so. We shall run in the race so as to win, and fight the battle so as to be crowned with victory. To do so, we have the highest motive, and the most powerful means. What motive can be more inspiring than the thought that we have been called to participate in the glory of our Blessed Lord’s resurrection; that, no matter what may be our condition here, a crown has been prepared for us in heaven; that, though we shall soon pass away from earth, though our place shall know us no more, though our bodies shall return to the dust from whence they came, yet, if we be faithful to the end, as surely as Jesus sits at this hour at the right hand of God, so surely shall we share His everlasting glory? And the means are ready t our hand. Jesus has died for us. He has placed at our disposal the chalice of His sacred blood to purchase our salvation. His ear is open to our prayers; His sacraments are ready to supply our every want and to heal our every wound; He has given His own beloved Mother to be our Mother also. Oh! If we but use these means, death shall find us ready. We shall rise with Jesus, and, like Him, we shall die no more, and when the silent finger of death shall beckon us way from the ranks of the living, we, too, may cry out with the patriarch of old: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the last day I am to rise out of the earth, and in my flesh I shall see my God.”