THE EASTER MESSAGE BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, D.D., D.C.L.

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. ST. JOH xx. 9. IT is very difficult for us to carry back our thoughts to that first Easter morning of which these words were written for us who day by day repeat our belief in the great fact that Christ was raised from the dead ; for us to whom the truths which that fact sets forth have, as it seems, become so common place that we hardly pause to think upon them ; for us whose weekly day of rest is but the memorial and reflection of the glory of Easter. And so it is that these words must fall strangely on our ears, and now most strangely when we have been engaged in celebrating our Easter festival. Whatever may have been their meaning once, we are tempted to believe that they can have no meaning for us now. ay, more, they appear to us to be very hard words. We cannot understand how they could have been once true. Can it be, we ask, that the apostles were ignorant of the central lesson of the Gospel when they had before them the signs of its reality ? Can it be that, standing by that empty tomb, they failed to grasp the substance of its teaching ? Can it be that they knew not at length the meaning of words 138

xvi VILLAGE SERMO S 139 which they had anxiously pondered in their hearts, questioning at an earlier time what the rising from the dead should mean ? ot even yet, when in the

twilight of the early dawn they hastened to prove the strange tidings which had broken their suspense of sorrow ? not even yet, when they had dared to enter into the lonely place where the Lord had been ? not even yet, when the first fear was dispelled that an enemy had taken away the dear remains of Him whom they had loved ? ot even yet ! so our thoughts run on and still they had had a testimony to the Resurrection which seems to us most clear and unmistakable. They had listened to the living words of Christ ; they had heard the confession of His adversaries that never man spake like that man ; they had followed the outlines which He had drawn of a glorious kingdom ; they had welcomed the promise which He had given them of future triumph ; they had witnessed afar off the claims which He made to royal majesty before the judgment seat of Pilate. And could they think that every hope was quenched and every deeper source of truth sealed for ever in the unreturning grave ? We, so we fancy, had we been with them, could not have thought so. They had seen the works of Christ : how His unfailing power had ever fulfilled the tender counsels of His unfailing love ; how His inviolable holiness o had conquered by open contact the evil in which it had no part ; how the brightness of His Presence had effaced by its abounding splendour the darkest stains of sin. And could they think that every energy of His quickening life was spent, and that

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He who had saved others was Himself doomed to corruption ? We could not have thought so. They had been present at the awful spectacle of Christ s death ; they had felt that ature sympathised with Him who had swayed her powers ; they had seen Him dispense to the penitent from His throne of shame and yet of glory the rewards of a life to come ; they had marked the confession of the cen turion who watched over His last agony, that truly this was the Son of God. And could they think that such an end v/as not to be the beginning of a nobler triumph ? Could they think that the cross was set for ever as a token of defeat, and not to be hereafter the emblem of surest strength ? We could not have thought so. They had studied the writings of the prophets ; they had found the key to their meaning in the Person of the Lord ; they had recognised in Him the sum of ancient promises ; they had known that this was He of whom men in old time had spoken ; they had felt each in the depths of their own hearts that it was for such a one that men in every time, burdened and bow r ed down with sin and grief, yearn with passionate desire. And could they think that a mission which had been heralded by a world-long line of witnesses, and confirmed by the instinct of devotion, was to issue in darkness and martyrdom ? We could not have thought so. So we fancy when we listen to the words, They knew not the scripture, tJiat He must rise again from the dead. To us all these separate lines of witness seem

so certainly to point to one conclusion that we marvel at the slowness of the apostles thoughts.

xvi VILLAGE SERMO S 141 To us the life and death of Christ seem only a pre lude and a preparation for His Resurrection. We cannot understand what other end they could have had than that. But, as we see, to the apostles the darkness over His grave was a thick veil through which no light was possible. They could patiently, wistfully, tremblingly wait and wonder, but at first they could not know. The lesson which they had to learn was one wholly new to them, and they were dull (as we judge) at learning it. But perhaps, if we look deeper, we may see that we all are still like them in this. It would surely be strange if it were not so. The Gospel does not really grow easier by time. If it was hard at first to understand the reality of the Resurrection, it is not less hard now to feel what its message is to each one of us ; to apprehend it as personal good tidings ; not only to record the memory of it every Sunday, but also to bear it about with us in our common work as the sure pledge of the transformation of all that is lowly and mean to highest uses. The likeness indeed between ourselves and the apostles in this respect is far closer than we are apt to suspect. We dare not flatter ourselves, as we practically do, that had we been in their place we should have felt the truth of Christ s Rising more readily. If we are in spirit faithless it is not from want of outward signs to arouse our faith. If we believe not now with the living voice of Christendom sounding in our ears, neither should we have believed if Christ had preached in our streets. The apostles had had, as we have seen, the testi

mony of Christ s words and works and death and

142 VILLAGE SERMO S xvi the full voice of Scripture to quicken their faith ; and we now in our own late age have no less. The apostles had heard Christ s words : we too acknowledge Him as our Teacher. There is no one here who does not treasure up sayings of Christ which seem like charms against the ills of life ; there is no one who does not remember with personal aspiration His promises of peace and rest ; there is no one \vho does not call Him " Lord." The apostles had seen Christ s works : w r e too acknowledge Him as our Healer. Whatever be our sorrow we hasten to lay that before Him, even if we keep our joys to ourselves. We look instinctively to Him for help in our distress, even if we do not venture to prescribe the mode of its application. He, we believe, knows our frailty and is merciful to forgive us our sin if we open it to Him. The apostles had seen Christ s death : we too have the cross ever before our eyes. The ex perience of ages has proved its virtue more surely than the darkness and the earthquake. ot one penitent, but thousands have known its efficacy. ot one stranger, but thousands have borne involuntary testimony to the sublime grandeur of its lesson. The apostles had read the Scriptures : we have added to the records of Scripture the broader lessons of Providence through eighteen Christian centuries. They saw the converging lines of old life meeting in Christ : we have seen the diverging lines of a new life springing out from and fulfilling in many

ways the varied purport of His will. They saw the end and the beginning : we see the variety of a rich and manifold growth.

xvi VILLAGE SERMO S 143 The fulness of testimony in old time failed to enlighten, and dare we assume that it will necessarily enlighten now ? Is there no danger that we may miss something of the message of this holy season ? The apostles, in spite of their knowledge, knew not even on the Easter morning that Christ must rise from the dead. And we with our wider knowledge, do we know know with any living power what the Resurrection is ? We habitually think of Christ as the Teacher, the Healer, the Sacrifice, but do we with equal trust think of Him as the Conqueror of death, the Transfigurer of daily duty, Himself the spring and Author of eternal life ? It is towards this that we must strive if we would learn what Christ is and what He has done ; it is in this conviction alone that we can find peace : to know this is really to know that Christ rose again from the dead. We must, in the words of Sunday s Epistle, set our affections our thoughts on things above that is, we must see heaven about us here, look through that which appears to that which is. The cross indeed is a sign of unutter able woe till the open sepulchre is seen beside it. The human life of Christ is a dim record till it is apprehended in that risen life by which it is brought near to every one of us. The burden of common work seems only earthly and ungodlike till we feel with a true assurance that Christ also bore it, and carried through the grave that body which had toiled and suffered, that soul which had been oppressed by sorrow and disappointment, to the

unspeakable fulness of divine glory. And do we then, all of us, in this sense know,

144 VILLAGE SERMO S xvi or strive to know strive to know with an effort real if not always prevailing that Christ has risen, and by rising given us a sure pledge of hope amidst the tumults of nations, the loss of friends, the failure of our best endeavours ? For this it is, and nothing less than this, if we think upon it, that the Resur rection teaches us. And it is to learn this that we must bend all our energies if we would take to ourselves the blessings which Christ offers. It may well appear that the lesson is for a lifetime, and that it is only learnt in part even to the end. Our own strength gives way even in proportion as we see the marvellous grandeur of the object to which our efforts are turned. But if our hearts fail us, if we feel that we have hitherto hardly pierced to the true meaning of the fact which we confess, if this Easter we humbly say " not even yet," God is greater than our hearts and bids us see what He has done for us and what He is waiting to do. Easter is a time not for regret but for hope. The question we ask and dare not answer is turned into a voice of encouragement. The apostles on that holy morning knew not that Christ must rise again, and yet the teaching of the opened tomb was not lost upon them. They returned home, but not as they came, doubting, lonely, desolate. They returned to gather strength from what they had seen, to ponder on the meaning of what they had heard, to wait for further mani festations of their Lord. And if, as our hearts bear witness, we are like them in their slowness to believe

the Easter news, may we not also be like them when we return home to common work from looking even as o

xvi VILLAGE SERMO S 145 now on Christ s sepulchre? The voice of angels which meets us is that same voice which met them. Christ is not here : He is risen. And we know that He is risen from the dead, if we can look to Him in the shaking of empires and churches, in the confusions of parties and classes, and faithfully doing what we find ready to do, leave the issue in His hands, trusting that He will guide to a perfect end all that seems most discordant now, and build up into some portion of the heavenly temple in which He will dwell for ever the fabric of our lives. We know that Christ is risen from the dead, if we commit to Him in faith those whom He calls from us to Himself, believing that in Him their life never ceaseth, but rather works on in nobler energy, more like to His life and nearer to our truest life because it is in closer dependence upon Him. We know that Christ is risen from the dead, if from day to day we reach forward to a higher standard of Christian labour ; if we make, as has been said, of our dead selves stepping-stones to higher things ; if we rise out of the years that are gone with transformed powers, and bear about in us their fruits as elements of a diviner being ; if each morning finds us stronger, braver, humbler than the night left us. We know that Christ is risen from the dead, if

the Sacraments which He has appointed for our great and endless comfort the bread of blessing in which we have this day shared, the water of sprinkling through which we have this day wel comed new children of God into Christ s army are L

146 VILLAGE SERMO S xvi to us sensible pledges of an assured promise and intelligible signs of a presence everywhere made known in the world by commonest things. We know that Christ is risen from the dead, if we look upon the earth as that which has been blessed by His coming, and which is destined to share the deliverance which He wrought ; if we look upon man as one whose image He has taken to the presence of God. And if in any degree we do know this, if Christ has been pleased to reveal to us the power of His Resurrection not as a confession of words only, but as a vital principle of thought and action may He in His great love increase this knowledge in vis to a fuller and riper growth ! If we know it not, may He in in His great mercy yet write upon our hearts the tidings of Easter, that we may all say, returning to our own homes, not only Christ hath risen indeed and appeared to Peter and the twelve, but each in our own souls and to our friends, Christ hath risen indeed and appeared by His Spirit unto me !

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