St. Luke xxiv. 5, 6. "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen."
This is a very solemn day; for on this day the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. The question for us is, how ought we to keep it? that is, what sort of thoughts ought to be in our minds upon this day? Now, many most excellent and pious persons, and most pious books, seem to think that we ought to-day to think as much as possible of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord; and because we cannot, of course, understand or imagine the sufferings of His Spirit, to think of what we can, that is, His bodily sufferings. They, therefore, seem to wish to fill our minds with the most painful pictures of agony, and shame, and death, and sorrow; and not only with our Lord's sorrows, but with those of His Blessed Mother, and of the disciples, and the holy women who stood by His cross; they wish to stir us up to pity and horror, and to bring before us the saddest parts of Holy Scripture, such as the Lamentations of Jeremiah; as well as dwell at great length upon very painful details, which may be all quite true, but of which Scripture says nothing; as so to make this day a day of darkness, and sorrow, and horror, just such as it would have been to us if we had stood by Christ's cross, like these holy women, without expecting Him to rise again, and believing that all was over--that all hope of Israel's being redeemed was gone, and that the wicked Jews had really conquered that perfectly good, and admirable Saviour, and put Him out of the world for ever.
Now, I judge no man; to his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, and he shall stand, for God is able to make him stand. But it does seem to me that these good people are seeking the living among the dead, and forgetting that Christ is neither on the cross nor in the tomb, but that He is risen; and it seems to me better to bid you follow to-day the Bible and the Church Service, and to think of what they tell you to think of.
Now the Bible, it is most remarkable, never enlarges anywhere upon even the bodily sufferings of our dear and blessed Lord. The evangelists keep a silence on that point which is most lofty, dignified, and delicate. What sad and dreadful things might not St. John, the beloved apostle as he was, have said, if he had chosen, about what he saw and what he felt, as he stood by that cross on Calvary--words which would have stirred to pity the most cruel, and drawn tears from a heart of stone? And yet all he says is, "They crucified Him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst." He passes it over, as it were, as a thing which he ought not to dwell on; and why should we put words into St. John's mouth which he did not think fit to put into his own? He wrote by the Spirit of God; and therefore he knew best what to say, and what not to say. Why should we try and say anything more for him? Scripture is perfect. Let us be content with it. The apostles, too, in their Epistles, never dwell on Christ's sufferings. I entreat you to remark this. They never mention His death except in words of cheerfulness and triumph. They seem so full of the glorious fruits of His death, that they have, as it were, no time to speak of the death itself. "Who, for the joy which was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." That is the apostles' key-note. For God's sake let it be ours too, unless we fancy that we can improve on Scripture, or that we can feel more for our Lord than St. Paul did. In the Lessons, the Psalms, the Epistle, and Gospel for this day, you find just the same spirit. All except one Psalm are songs of hope, joy, deliverance, triumph. The Collects for this day, which are particularly remarkable, being three in number, and evidently meant to teach us the key-note of Good Friday, make no mention of our Lord's sufferings, save to say that He was CONTENTED, "contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross," but are full of prayers that the glorious fruits of His death may be fulfilled, not only in us and all Christians, but in the very heathen who have not known Him; drawing us away, as it were, from looking too closely upon the cross itself, lest we should forget what the cross meant, what the cross conquered, what the cross gained, for us and mankind.
Surely, this was not done without a reason. And I cannot but think the reason was to keep us from seeking the living among the dead; to keep us from knowing Christ any longer after the flesh, and spending tears and emotions over His bodily sufferings; to keep us from thinking and sorrowing too much over the dead Christ, lest we should forget, as some do, that He is alive for evermore; and while they weep over the dead Christ or the crucifix, go to the blessed Virgin and the saints to do for them all that the living Christ is longing to do for them, if they would but go straight to Him to whom all power is given in heaven and earth; whom St John saw, no longer hanging on the accursed tree, but with His hair as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire, and His voice like the sound of many waters, and His countenance as the sun when he shineth in his strength, saying unto him, "Fear not, I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." This is what Christ is now. In this shape He is looking at us now. In this shape He is hearing me speak. In this shape He is watching every feeling of your hearts, discerning your most secret intents, seeing through and through the thoughts which you would confess to no human being, hardly even to yourselves. This is He, a living Christ, an almighty Christ, an all-seeing Christ, and yet a most patient and loving Christ. He needs not our pity; but our gratitude, our obedience, our worship. Why seek Him among the dead? He is not there, He is risen! He is not there, He is here! Bow yourselves before Him now; for He is in the midst of you; and those eyes of His, more piercing than the mid-day sunbeams, are upon you, and your hearts, and your thoughts, and upon mine also. God have mercy upon me a sinner.
Yes, my friends, why seek the living among the dead? He is not there, but here. We may try to put ourselves in the place of the disciples and the Virgin Mary, as they stood by Jesus' cross; but we cannot do it, for they saw Him on the cross, and thought that He was lost to them for ever; they saw Him die, and gave up all hope of His rising again. And we know that Christ is not lost to us for ever. We know Christ is not on the cross, but at the right hand of God in bliss and glory unspeakable. We may be told to watch with the three Maries at the tomb of Christ: but we cannot do as they did, for they thought that all was over, and brought sweet spices to embalm His body, which they thought was in the tomb; and we know that all was not over, that His body is not in the tomb, that the grave could not hold Him, that His body is ascended into heaven; that instead of His body needing spices to embalm it, it is His body which embalms all heaven and earth, and is the very life of the world, and food which preserves our souls and bodies to everlasting life. We are not in the place of those blessed women; God has not put us in their place, and we cannot put ourselves into their place; and if we could and did, by any imaginations of our own, we should only tell ourselves a lie. Good Friday was to them indeed a day of darkness, horror, disappointment, all but despair; because Easter Day had not yet come, and Christ had not yet risen. But Good Friday cannot be a day of darkness to us, because Christ has risen, and we know it, and cannot forget it; we cannot forget that Easter dawn, when the Sun of Righteousness arose, never to set again. Has not the light of that Resurrection morning filled with glory the cross and the grave, yea the very agony in the Garden, and hell itself, which Christ harrowed for us? Has it not risen a light to lighten the Gentiles, a joy to angels and archangels, and saints, and all the elect of God; ay, to the whole universe of God, so that the very stars in their courses, the trees as they bud each spring, yea, the very birds upon the bough, are singing for ever, in the ears of those who have ears to hear, "Christ is risen?" And shall we, under pretence of honouring Christ and of bestowing on Him a pity which He needs least of all, try to spend Good Friday and Passion Week in forgetting Easter Day; try to think of Christ's death as we should if He had not risen, and try to make out ourselves and the world infinitely worse off than we really know that we are? Christ has died, but He has risen again; and we must not think of one without the other. Heavenly things are too important, too true, too real--Christ is too near us, and too loving to us, too earnest about our salvation, for us to spend our thoughts on any such attempts (however reverently meant) at imaginative play-acting in our own minds about His hanging on His cross, while we know that He is not on His cross; and about watching by His tomb, when we know that He is not in His tomb. Let us thank Him, bless Him, serve Him, die for Him, if need be, in return for all He endured for us: but let us keep our sorrow and our pity, and our tears, for our own daily sins--we have enough of them to employ all our sorrow, and more;--and not in voluntary humility and will-worship, against which St Paul warns us, lose sight of our real Christ, of Him who was dead and is alive for evermore, and dwells in us by faith; now and for ever, amen; and hath the keys of death and hell, and has opened them for us, and for our fathers before us, and for our children after us, and for nations yet unborn.
True, this is a solemn day, for on it the Son of God fought such a fight, that He could only win it at the price of His own life's blood; and a humiliating day, for our sins helped to nail Him on the cross--and therefore a day of humiliation and of humility. Proud, self-willed thoughts are surely out of place to-day (and what day are they in place?) On this day God agonised for man: but it is a day of triumph and deliverance; and we must go home as men who have stood by and seen a fearful fight--a fight which makes the blood of him who watches it run cold; but we have seen, too, a glorious victory--such a victory as never was won on earth before or since; and we therefore must think cheerfully of the battle, for the sake of the victory that was won; and remember that on this day death was indeed swallowed up in victory--because death was the victory itself.
The question on which the fate of the whole world depended was, whether Christ dare die; and He dared die. Whether Christ would endure to the end; and He did endure. Whether He would utterly drink the cup which His Father had given Him; and He drank it to the dregs; and so by His very agony He showed Himself noble, beautiful, glorious, adorable, beyond all that words can express. And so the cross was His throne of glory; the prints of the nails in His hands and feet were the very tokens of His triumph; His very sorrows were His bliss; and those last words, "It is finished," were no cry of despair, but a trumpet-call of triumph, which rang from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, proclaiming to all created things, that the very fountain of life, by dying, had conquered death, that good had conquered evil, love had conquered selfishness, God had conquered man, and all the enemies of man; and that He who died was the first begotten from the dead, and the King of all the princes of the earth, who was going to fulfil, more and more, as the years and the ages rolled on, the glorious prayer which we have prayed this day, graciously to behold that family for whom He had been contented to die; and wisely and orderly to call each man to a vocation and a ministry, in which he might duly serve God and be a blessing to all around him, by the inspiration of Christ's Holy Spirit; and to have mercy, in His own good time, upon all Jews, Turks, heathens, and infidels, and bring them home to His flock, that they may be saved, and made one fold under one Shepherd--Him who was dead and is alive for evermore.
Therefore, my dear friends, if we wish to keep Good Friday in spirit and in truth, we cannot do so better than by trying to carry out the very end for which Christ died on this day; and doing our part, small though it be, toward bringing those poor heathens home into Christ's fold, and teaching them the gospel and good news that for them, too, Christ died, and over them, too, Christ reigns alive for evermore; and bringing them home into His flock, that they, too, may find a place in His great family, and have their calling and ministry appointed to them among the nations of those who are saved and walk in the light of God and of the Lamb.
I have refrained till now from speaking to you much about missionaries, and the duty which lies on us all of helping missions. It seemed to me that I must first teach you to understand these first and second collects before I went on. to the third; that I must first teach you that you belonged to Christ's family, and that He had called each of you, and appointed each of you to some order and degree in His Holy Church. But now, if indeed you have learnt that--if my preaching here for fourteen years has had any effect to teach you who and what you are, and what your duty is, let me entreat you to go on, and take the lesson of that third collect, and think of those poor Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics, who still--many a million of them--sit, or rather wander, and fall, and lie, miserably wallowing in darkness and the shadow of death, and think whether you cannot do something toward helping them. What you can do, and how it is to be done, I will tell you hereafter; and, by God's grace, I hope to see men of God in this pulpit, who having been missionaries themselves, can tell you better than I, what remains to be done, and how you can help to do it. But take home this one thought with you, this Good Friday,--Christ, who liveth and was dead, and behold He is alive for evermore, if He be indeed precious to you, if you indeed feel for His sufferings, if you indeed believe that what He bought by those sufferings was a right to all the souls on earth, then do what you can toward repaying Him for His sufferings, by seeing of the travail of His soul, and being satisfied. All the reward He asks, or ever asked, is the hearts of sinners, that He may convert them; the souls of sinners, that He may save them; and they belong to Him already, for He bought them this day with His own most precious blood. Do something, then, toward helping Christ to His own.