The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, 3th April 1831
Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” Luke 24:5, 6.
Such is the triumphant question with which the Holy Angels put to flight the sadness of the women on the morning of Christ’s resurrection. “O ye of little faith,” less faith than love, more dutiful than understanding, why come ye to anoint His Body on the third day? Why seek ye the Living Saviour in the tomb? The time of sorrow is run out; victory has come, according to His Word, and ye recollect it not. “He is not here, but is risen!”
These were deeds done and words spoken eighteen hundred years since; so long ago, that in the world’s thought they are as though they never had been; yet they hold good to this day. Christ is to us now, just what He was in all His glorious Attributes on the morning of the Resurrection; and we are blessed in knowing it, even more than the women to whom the Angels spoke, according to His own assurance, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
On this highest of Festivals, I will attempt to set before you one out of the many comfortable subjects of reflection which it suggests.
1. First, then, observe how Christ’s resurrection harmonizes with the history of His birth. David had foretold that His “soul should not be left in hell” (that is, the unseen state), neither should “the Holy One of God see corruption.” And with a reference to this prophecy, St. Peter says, that it “was not possible that He should be holden of death;” (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:24, 27) as if there were some hidden inherent vigour in Him, which secured His manhood from dissolution. The greatest infliction of pain and violence could only destroy its powers for a season; but nothing could make it decay. “Thou wilt not suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption;” so says the Scripture, and elsewhere calls him the “Holy child Jesus.” (Acts 4:27). These expressions carry our minds back to the Angels’ announcement of His birth, in which His incorruptible and immortal nature is implied. “That Holy Thing” which was born of Mary, was “the Son,” not of man, but “of God.” Others have all been born in sin, “after Adam’s own likeness, in His image,” (Gen. 5:3) and, being born in sin, they are heirs to corruption. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death,” and all its consequences, “by sin.” Not one human being comes into existence without God’s discerning evidences of sin attendant on his birth. But when the Word of Life was manifested in our flesh, the Holy Ghost displayed that creative hand by which, in the beginning, Eve was formed; and the Holy Child, thus conceived by the power of the Highest, was (as the history shows) immortal even in His mortal nature, clear from all infection of the forbidden fruit, so far as to be sinless and incorruptible. Therefore, though He was liable to death, “it was impossible He should be holden” of it. Death might overpower, but it could not keep possession; “it had no dominion over Him.” (Rom. 6:9) He was, in the words of the text, “the Living among the dead.”
And hence His rising from the dead may be said to have evinced His divine original. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness;” that is, His essential Godhead, “by the resurrection of the dead.” (Rom. 1:4). He had been condemned as a blasphemer by the Jewish rulers, “because He made Himself the Son of God;” and He was brought to the death of the Cross, not only as a punishment, but as a practical refutation of His claim. He was challenged by His enemies on this score: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Thus His crucifixion was as though a trial, a new experiment on the part of Satan, who had before tempted Him, whether he was like other men, or the Son of God. Observe the event. He was obedient unto death, fulfilling the law of that disinherited nature which He had assumed; and in order, by undergoing it, to atone for our sins. So far was permitted by God’s “determinate counsel and fore-knowledge;” but there the triumph of His enemies, so to account it, ended,-ended with what was necessary for our redemption. He said, “It is finished;” for His humiliation was at its lowest depth when He expired. Immediately some incipient tokens showed themselves, that the real victory was with Him; first, the earthquake and other wonders in heaven and earth. These even were enough to justify His claim in the judgment of the heathen centurion; who said at once, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Then followed His descent into hell, and triumph in the unseen world, whatever that was. Lastly, that glorious deed of power on the third morning which we now commemorate. The dead arose. The grave could not detain Him who “had life in Himself.” He rose as a man awakes in the morning, when sleep flies from him as a thing of course. Corruption had no power over that Sacred Body, the fruit of a miraculous conception. The bonds of death were broken as “green withes,” witnessing by their feebleness that He was the Son of God.
Such is the connexion between Christ’s birth and resurrection; and more than this might be ventured concerning His incorrupt nature, were it not better to avoid all risk of trespassing upon that reverence with which we are bound to regard it. Something might be said concerning His personal appearance, which seems to have borne the marks of one who was not tainted with birth-sin. Men could scarce keep from worshipping Him. When the Pharisees sent to seize Him, all the officers, on His merely acknowledging Himself to be Him whom they sought, fell backwards from His presence to the ground. They were scared as brutes are said to be by the voice of man. Thus, being created in God’s image, He was the second Adam; and much more than Adam in His secret nature, which beamed through His tabernacle of flesh with awful purity and brightness even in the days of His humiliation. “The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man was the Lord from heaven.” (1 Cor. 15:47).
2. And if such was His visible Majesty, while He yet was subject to temptation, infirmity, and pain, much more abundant was the manifestation of His Godhead, when He was risen from the dead. Then the Divine Essence streamed forth (so to say) on every side, and environed His Manhood, as in a cloud of glory. So transfigured was His Sacred Body, that He who had deigned to be born of a woman, and to hang upon the cross, had subtle virtue in Him, like a spirit, to pass through the closed doors to His assembled followers; while, by condescending to the trial of their senses, He showed that it was no mere spirit, but He Himself, as before, with wounded hands and pierced side, who spoke to them. He manifested Himself to them, in this His exalted state, that they might be His witnesses to the people; witnesses of those separate truths which man’s reason cannot combine, that He had a real human body, that it was partaker in the properties of His Soul, and that it was inhabited by the Eternal Word. They handled Him,-they saw Him come and go, when the doors were shut,-they felt, what they could not see, but could witness even unto death, that He was “their Lord and their God;”-a triple evidence, first, of His Atonement; next of their own Resurrection unto glory; lastly, of His Divine Power to conduct them safely to it. Thus manifested as perfect God and perfect man, in the fulness of His sovereignty, and the immortality of His holiness, He ascended up on high to take possession of His kingdom. There He remains till the last day, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Ever-lasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).
3. He ascended into heaven, that He might plead our cause with the Father; as it is said, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” (Heb. 7:25). Yet we must not suppose, that in leaving us He closed the gracious economy of His Incarnation, and withdrew the ministration of His incorruptible Manhood from His work of loving mercy towards us. “The Holy One of God” was ordained, not only to die for us, but also to be “the beginning” of a new “creation” unto holiness, in our sinful race; to refashion soul and body after His own likeness, that they might be “raised up together, and sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Blessed for ever be His Holy Name! before He went away, He remembered our necessity, and completed His work, bequeathing to us a special mode of approaching Him, a Holy Mystery, in which we receive (we know not how) the virtue of that Heavenly Body, which is the life of all that believe. This is the blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which “Christ is evidently set forth crucified among us;” that we, feasting upon the Sacrifice, may be “partakers of the Divine Nature.” Let us give heed lest we be in the number of those who “discern not the Lord’s Body,” and the “exceeding great and precious promises” which are made to those who partake it. And since there is some danger of this, I will here make some brief remarks concerning this great gift; and, pray God that our words and thoughts may accord to its unspeakable sacredness.
Christ says, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given also to the Son to have life in Himself;” and afterwards He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 5: 26; 14:10). It would seem then, that as Adam is the author of death to the whole race of men, so is Christ the Origin of immortality. When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, it was as a poison spreading through his whole nature, soul and body; and thence through every one of his descendants. It was said to him, when he was placed in the garden, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die;” and we are told expressly, “in Adam all die.” We all are born heirs to that infection of nature which followed upon his fall. But we are also told, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive;” and the same law of God’s providence is maintained in both cases. Adam spreads poison; Christ diffuses life eternal. Christ communicates life to us, one by one, by means of that holy and incorrupt nature which He assumed for our redemption; how, we know not; still, though by an unseen, surely by a real communication of Himself. Therefore St. Paul says, that “the last Adam was made” not merely “a living soul,” but “a quickening” or life-giving “Spirit,” as being “the Lord from heaven.” (Gen. 2:17; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45, 47). Again, in His own gracious words, He is “the Bread of life.” “The Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world;” or, as He says more plainly, “I am the Bread which came down from heaven;” “I am that Bread of life;” “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” And again, still more clearly, “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6: 33-54). Why should this communion with Him be thought incredible, mysterious and sacred as it is, when we know from the Gospel how marvellously He wrought, in the days of His humiliation, towards those who approached Him? We are told on one occasion, “the whole multitude sought to touch Him; for there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all.” Again, when the woman with the issue of blood touched Him, He “immediately knew that virtue had gone out of Him.” (Luke 6:19. Mark 5:30). Such grace was invisible, known only by the cure it effected, as in the case of the woman. Let us not doubt, though we do not sensibly approach Him, that He can still give us the virtue of His purity and incorruption, as He has promised, and in a more heavenly and spiritual manner, than “in the days of His flesh;” in a way which does not remove the mere ailments of this temporal state, but sews the seed of eternal life in body and soul. Let us not deny Him the glory of His life-giving holiness, that diffusive grace which is the renovation of our whole race, a spirit quick and powerful and piercing, so as to leaven the whole mass of human corruption, and make it live. He is the first-fruits of the Resurrection: we follow Him each in his own order, as we are hallowed by His inward presence. And in this sense, among others, Christ, in the Scripture phrase, is “formed in us;” that is, the communication is made to us of His new nature, which sanctifies the soul, and makes the body immortal. In like manner we pray in the Service of the Communion that “our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood; and that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us.”
Such then is our risen Saviour in Himself and towards us:-conceived by the Holy Ghost; holy from the womb; dying, but abhorring corruption; rising again the third day by His own inherent life; exalted as the Son of God and Son of man, to raise us after Him; and filling us incomprehensibly with His immortal nature, till we become like Him; filling us with a spiritual life which may expel the poison of the tree of knowledge, and restore us to God. How wonderful a work of grace! Strange it was that Adam should be our death, but stranger still and very gracious, that God Himself should be our life, by means of that human tabernacle which He has taken on Himself.
O blessed day of the Resurrection, which of old time was called the Queen of Festivals, and raised among Christians an anxious, nay contentious diligence duly to honour it! Blessed day, once only passed in sorrow, when the Lord actually rose, and the disciples believed not; but ever since a day of joy to the faith and love of the Church! In ancient times, Christians all over the world began it with a morning salutation. Each man said to his neighbour, “Christ is risen;” and his neighbour answered him, “Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon.” Even to Simon, the coward disciple who denied Him thrice, Christ is risen; even to us, who long ago vowed to obey Him, and have yet so often denied Him before men, so often taken part with sin, and followed the world, when Christ called us another way. “Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!” to Simon Peter the favoured Apostle, on whom the Church is built, Christ has appeared. He has appeared to His Holy Church first of all, and in the Church He dispenses blessings, such as the world knows not of. Blessed are they if they knew their blessedness, who are allowed, as we are, week after week, and Festival after Festival, to seek and find in that Holy Church the Saviour of their souls! Blessed are they beyond language or thought, to whom it is vouchsafed to receive those tokens of His love, which cannot otherwise be gained by man, the pledges and means of His special presence, in the Sacrament of His Supper; who are allowed to eat and drink the food of immortality, and receive life from the bleeding side of the Son of God! Alas! by what strange coldness of heart, or perverse superstition is it, that any one called Christian keeps away from that heavenly ordinance? Is it not very grievous that there should be any one who fears to share in the greatest conceivable blessing which could come upon sinful men? What in truth is that fear, but unbelief, a slavish sin-loving obstinacy, if it leads a man to go year after year without the spiritual sustenance which God has provided for him? Is it wonderful that, as time goes on, he should learn deliberately to doubt of the grace therein given? that he should no longer look upon the Lord’s Supper as a heavenly feast, or the Lord’s Minister who consecrates it as a chosen vessel, or that Holy Church in which he ministers as a Divine Ordinance, to be cherished as the parting legacy of Christ to a sinful world? Is it wonderful that seeing he sees not, and hearing he hears not; and that, lightly regarding all the gifts of Christ, he feels no reverence for the treasure-house wherein they are stored?
But we, who trust that so far we are doing God’s will, inasmuch as we are keeping to those ordinances and rules which His Son has left us, we may humbly rejoice in this day, with a joy the world cannot take away, any more than it can understand. Truly, in this time of rebuke and blasphemy, we cannot but be sober and subdued in our rejoicing; yet our peace and joy may be deeper and fuller even for that very seriousness. For nothing can harm those who bear Christ within them. Trial or temptation, time of tribulation, time of wealth, pain, bereavement, anxiety, sorrow, the insults of the enemy, the loss of worldly goods, nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:39). This the Apostle told us long since; but we, in this age of the world, over and above his word, have the experience of many centuries for our comfort. We have his own history to show us how Christ within us is stronger than the world around us, and will prevail. We have the history of all his fellow-sufferers, of all the Confessors and Martyrs of early times and since, to show us that Christ’s arm “is not shortened, that it cannot save;” that faith and love have a real abiding-place on earth; that, come what will, His grace is sufficient for His Church, and His strength made perfect in weakness; that, “even to old age, and to hoar hairs, He will carry and deliver” her; that, in whatever time the powers of evil give challenge, Martyrs and Saints will start forth again, and rise from the dead, as plentiful as though they had never been before, even “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands.” (Rev. 20:4).
Meantime, while Satan only threatens, let us possess our hearts in patience; try to keep quiet; aim at obeying God, in all things, little as well as great; do the duties of our calling which lie before us, day by day; and “take no thought for the morrow, for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6: 34).
Blessed John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol II, 13, pp. 139-150.