1 Cor. xv. 49. "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
This season of Easter is the most joyful of all the year. It is the most comfortable time, in the true old sense of that word; for it is the season which ought to comfort us most--that is, it gives us strength; strength to live like men, and strength to die like men, when our time comes. Strength to live like men. Strength to fight against the temptation which Solomon felt when he said: "I have seen all the works which are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit. For what has a man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he has laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrow, and his travail grief. Yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This also is vanity. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts: as the one dieth, so dieth the other: yea, they have all one breath: so that a man has no pre-eminence over a beast; for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that it goeth downward to the earth?" So thought Solomon in his temptation, and made up his mind that there was nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labour.
So thought Solomon, in spite of all his wisdom, because he had not heard the good news of Easter day. And so think many now, who are called wise men and philosophers; because they, alas! for them, will not believe the good news of Easter day.
But what says Easter day? Easter day says, Man has pre-eminence over a beast. The man is redeemed from the death of the beasts by Christ, who rose on Easter day. Easter day says, Wherever the spirit of the beast goes, wherever the spirit of the brutal and the wicked man goes, the spirit of the true Christian goes upward, to Christ, who bought it with His precious blood. Easter day says, The body may turn to the dust from which it was taken, but the spirit lives for ever before God, who shall give it another body, as it shall please Him, as He gives to every seed its own body. And, therefore, Easter day says, There is something better for a man than to eat and drink and enjoy himself, for to-morrow he may die, and all be over; and that something is, to labour not merely for the meat which perishes with the perishing body, but to labour after the fruits of the spirit--love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. These the life of the body does not give us; and these the death of the body not take away from us; for they are spiritual and heavenly, eternal and divine; and he who has them cannot die for ever. And therefore, we may comfort ourselves in all our labour, if only we labour at the one useful work on earth, to be good, and to do good, and to make others good likewise.
True it is, as St. Paul says, that if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable. For we do not care to be of the earth, earthy: we long to be of the heaven, heavenly. We do not care to spend our time in eating and drinking, mean covetousness, ambition, and the base pleasures of the flesh: we long after high and noble things, which we cannot get on earth, or at best only in fragments, and at rare moments; after the holiness and the blessedness of ourselves and our fellow-creatures. But we have hope in Christ for the next life as well as for this. Hope that in the next life He will give us power to succeed, where we failed here; that He will enable us to be good and to do good, and, if not to make others good (for there, we trust, all will be good together), to enjoy the fulness of that pleasure for which we have been longing on earth--the pleasure of seeing others good, as Christ is good and perfect, as their Father in heaven is perfect.
To be good ourselves, and to live for ever in good company--ah my friends, that is true bliss. If we cannot reach that after death, it were better for us that death should make an end of us, and that when our body decays in the grave we should be annihilated, and become nothing for ever.
But Easter day says to us, If you labour to create good company in this life, by trying to make other people round you good, you shall enjoy for ever in the next world the good company which you have helped to make. If you labour to make yourself good in this life, you shall enjoy the fruit of your labour in the next life by being good, and, therefore, blessed for ever. Easter day says, Your labour is not vanity and vexation of spirit. It is solid work, which shall receive solid pay from God hereafter. Easter day is a pledge--I may say a sacrament--from God to us, that He will righteously reward all righteous work; and that, therefore, it is worth any man's while to labour, to suffer, if need be even to die, in trying to be good, noble, useful, self-sacrificing, as Christ toiled and suffered and died and sacrificed Himself to do good. For then he will share Christ's reward, as he has shared Christ's labour, and be rewarded, as Christ was, by resurrection to eternal life.
And so Easter day should give us strength to live like men--the only truly manly, truly human life; the life of being good and doing good.
And strength to die. Men are afraid of dying, principally, I believe, because they fear the unknown. It is not that they are afraid of the pain of dying. It is not that they are afraid of going to hell; for in all my experience, at least, I have met with but one person who thought that he was going to hell. Neither is it that they are afraid of not going to heaven. Their expectation almost always is, that they are going thither. But they do not care much to go to heaven. They are willing enough to go there, because they know that they must go somewhere. But their notions of what heaven will be like are by no means clear. They have sung rapturous hymns in church or chapel about the heavenly Jerusalem, and passing Jordan safe to Canaan's shore, with no very clear notion of what the words meant--and small blame to them.
But when they think of actually dying, they feel as if to go into the next world was to be turned out into the dark night, into an unknown land, away from house and home, and all they have known, and all they have loved; and they are ready to say with the good old heathen emperor, when he lay a-dying--
"Little soul of mine, wandering, kindly, Companion and guest of my body; Into what place art thou now departing, Shivering, naked, and pale?"
And so they shrink from death. They must shrink from death, unless they will believe with their whole hearts the good news of Easter day. The more thoughtful and clever they are, the more they will shrink from death, and dread the thought of losing their bodies. They have always had bodies here on earth. They only know themselves as souls embodied, living in bodies; and they cannot think of themselves in the next world with any comfort, if they may not think of themselves as having bodies.
And the more loving and affectionate they are, the more they will shrink from death, unless they believe with their whole hearts the good news of Easter day. For those whom they have loved on earth have bodies. Through their bodies--through their voices, their looks, their actions, they have known them, and thus they have loved them; and if their beloved ones are to have no bodies in the world to come, how shall they see them? how shall they know them? how shall they converse with them? It seems to them in that case neither they, nor those they love, would be the same persons in the world to come they are here; and that thought is lonely and dreadful, till they accept the good news of Easter day, the thrice blessed words of St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, which they hear at the burial of those whom they love and lose. Oh, blessed news for us, and for those we love; those without whose company the world to come would be lonely and cheerless to us. For now we can say, Tell me not that as the beast dies, so dies the man. Tell me not that as Adam died because of sin, so must I die, and all I love. Tell me not that it is the universal law of nature that all things born in time must die in time; and that every human being, animal, and plant carries in itself from its beginning to its end a law of death, the seed of its own destruction. I know all that; but I care little for it, because I know more than that. I know that the man's body dies as the beast's body dies; but I know that the body is not the man, but only the husk, the shell of the man; that the true man, the true woman, lives on after the loss of his mortal body; and that there is an eternal law of life, which conquers the law of death; and by that law a fresh body will grow up round the true man, the immortal spirit, and will be as fit--ay, far fitter--to do his work, than this poor mortal body which has turned to death on earth. Tell me not that because I am descended from a mortal and sinful old Adam, of whom it is written that he was of the earth, earthly, therefore my soul is a part of my body, and dies when my body dies. I belong not to the old Adam, but to the new Adam--the new Head of men, who is the Lord from heaven, the author of eternal life to all who obey Him. Do not tell me that I have nothing in me but the likeness of the old Adam, for that seems to me and to St. Paul nothing but the likeness of the fallen savage and the brute in human form. I know I have more in me--infinitely more--than that. What may be in store for the savage, the brutal, the wicked, is God's concern, not mine. But what is in store for me I know--that as I have borne the image of the earthly, so shall I bear the image of the heavenly, if only the Spirit of Christ, the new Adam, be in me. For if Christ be in us, "the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." And if the Spirit of Him which raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in us, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us. How He will do it I know not; neither do I care to know. When He will do it I know not; but it will be when it ought to be; and that is enough for me. That He can do it I know, for He is the Maker of the universe, and to Him all power is given in heaven and earth; and as for its being strange, wonderful, past understanding, that matters little to me. That will be but one wonder more in a world where all is wonderful--one more mystery in an utterly mysterious universe.
And so, as Easter day has given us strength to live, let Easter day, too, give us strength to die.