On this day, my friends, was offered up upon the cross the Lamb of God,--slain in eternity and heaven before the foundation of the world, but slain in time and space upon this day. All the old sacrifices, the lambs which were daily offered up to God in the Jewish Temple, the lambs which Abel, and after him the patriarchs offered up, the Paschal Lamb slain at the Passover, our Eastertide, all these were but figures of Christ--tokens of the awful and yet loving law of God, that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. But the blood of dumb animals could not take away sin. All mankind had sinned, and it was, therefore, necessary that all mankind should suffer. Therefore He suffered, the new Adam, the Man of all men, in whom all mankind were, as it were, collected into one and put on a new footing with God; that henceforward to be a man might mean to be a holy being, a forgiven being, a being joined to God, wearing the likeness of the Son of God--the human soul and body in which He offered up all human souls and bodies on the cross. For man was originally made in Christ's likeness; He was the Word of God who walked in the garden of Eden, who spoke to Adam with a human voice; He was the Lord who appeared to the patriarchs in a man's figure, and ate and drank in Abraham's tent, and spoke to him with a human voice; He was the God of Israel, whom the Jewish elders saw with their bodily eyes upon Mount Sinai, and under His feet a pavement as of a sapphire stone. From Him all man's powers came-- man's speech, man's understanding. All that is truly noble in man was a dim pattern of Him in whose likeness man was originally made. And when man had fallen and sinned, and Christ's image was fading more and more out of him, and the likeness of the brutes growing more and more in him year by year, then came Christ, the head and the original pattern of all men, to claim them for His own again, to do in their name what they could never do for themselves, to offer Himself up a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: so that He is the real sacrifice, the real lamb; as St. John said when he pointed Him out to his disciples, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
Oh, think of that strong and patient Lamb, who on this day shewed Himself perfect in fortitude and nobleness, perfect in meekness and resignation. Think of Him who, in His utter love to us, endured the cross, despising the shame. And what a cross! Truly said the prophet, "His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men:" in hunger and thirst, in tears and sighs, bruised and bleeding, His forehead crowned with thorns, His sides torn with scourges, His hands and feet gored with nails, His limbs stretched from their sockets, naked upon the shameful cross, the Son of God hung, lingering slowly towards the last gasp, in the death of the felon and the slave! The most shameful sight that this earth ever saw, and yet the most glorious sight. The most shameful sight, at which the sun in heaven veiled his face, as if ashamed, and the skies grew black, as if to hide those bleeding limbs from the foul eyes of men; and yet the noblest sight, for in that death upon the cross shone out the utter fullness of all holiness, the utter fullness of all fortitude, the utter fullness of that self- sacrificing love, which had said, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost;" the utter fullness of obedient patience, which could say, "Father, not My will but Thine be done;" the utter fullness of generous forgiveness, which could pray, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;" the utter fullness of noble fortitude and endurance, which could say at the very moment when a fearful death stared Him in the face, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to the Father, and He will send me at once more than twelve armies of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?"
Oh, my friends, look to Him, the author and perfecter of all faith, all trust, all loyal daring for the sake of duty and of God! Look at His patience. See how He endured the cross, despising the shame. See how He endured--how patience had her perfect work in Him--how in all things He was more than conqueror. What gentleness, what calmness, what silence, what infinite depths of Divine love within Him! A heart which neither shame, nor torture, nor insult, could stir from its Godlike resolution. When looking down from that cross He beheld none almost but enemies, heard no word but mockery; when those who passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads and saying, "He saved others, Himself He cannot save;" His only answer was a prayer for forgiveness for that besotted mob who were yelling beneath Him like hounds about their game. Consider Him, and then consider ourselves, ruffled and put out of temper by the slightest cross accident, the slightest harsh word, too often by the slightest pain-- not to mention insults, for we pride ourselves in not bearing them. Try, my friends, if you can, even in the dimmest way, fancy yourselves for one instant in His place this day 1815 years. Fancy yourselves hanging on that cross--fancy that mocking mob below-- fancy--but I dare not go on with the picture. Only think--think what would have been YOUR temper there, and then you may get some slight notion of the boundless love and the boundless endurance of the Saviour whom WE love so little, for whose sake most of us will not endure the trouble of giving up a single sin.
And then consider that it was all of His own free will; that at any moment, even while He was hanging upon the cross, He might have called to earth and sun, to heaven and to hell, "Stop! thus far, but no further," and they would have obeyed Him; and all that cross, and agony, and the fierce faces of those furious Jews, would have vanished away like a hideous dream when one awakes. For they lied in their mockery. Any moment He might have been free, triumphant, again in His eternal bliss, but He would not. He Himself kept Himself on that cross till His Father's will was fulfilled, and the sacrifice was finished, and we were saved. And then at last, when there was no more human nobleness, no more agony left for Him to fulfil, no gem in the crown of holiness which He had not won as His own, no drop in the cup of misery which He had not drained as His own; when at last He was made perfect through suffering, and His strength had been made perfect in weakness, then He bowed that bleeding, thorn-crowned head, and said, "It is finished. Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." And so He died.
How can our poor words, our poor deeds, thank Him? How mean and paltry our deepest gratitude, our highest loyalty, when compared with Him to whom it is due--that adorable victim, that perfect sin- offering, who this day offered up Himself upon the altar of the cross, in the fire of His own boundless zeal for the kingdom of God, His Father, and of His boundless love for us, His sinful brothers! "Oh, thou blessed Jesus! Saviour, agonising for us! God Almighty, who did make Thyself weak for the love of us! oh, write that love upon our hearts so deeply that neither pleasure nor sorrow, life nor death, may wipe it away! Thou hast sacrificed Thyself for us, oh, give us the hearts to sacrifice ourselves for Thee! Thou art the Vine, we are the branches. Let Thy priceless blood shed for us on this day flow like life-giving sap through all our hearts and minds, and fill us with Thy righteousness, that we may be sacrifices fit for Thee. Stir us up to offer to Thee, O Lord, our bodies, our souls, our spirits, in all we love and all we learn, in all we plan and all we do, to offer our labours, our pleasures, our sorrows, to Thee; to work for Thy kingdom through them, to live as those who are not their own, but bought with Thy blood, fed with Thy body; and enable us now, in Thy most holy Sacrament, to offer to Thee our repentance, our faith, our prayers, our praises, living, reasonable, and spiritual sacrifices,--Thine from our birth-hour, Thine now, and Thine for ever!"