"I delivered unto you, among the first things, that . . . He was buried." -- I COR. XV.3, 4.
St. Paul lays extraordinary and, at first sight, inexplicable stress, on the fact of our Lord's Burial. It is certainly strange that, in the second of these two texts, he mentions it as constituting, along with the Death of Jesus Christ for our sins, and His Resurrection on the third day according to the Scriptures, the foundation truths of the apostolic gospel, as being one of those "first things" of the Christian religion which, as he had "received," so had he "delivered" to the Corinthians.
This extreme importance attached by St. Paul to the Burial of Christ, can only be explained by the mysticism of the great apostle. To him the outward facts, however wonderful and striking in themselves, are of value only as "signs," as representing great moral and spiritual realities. To him, as to every man who thinks soberly and steadily, the internal is "real" in a sense in which the external is not: thought has a reality denied to "things."
The real meaning of Christ's Burial is the mystical meaning, that meaning which was brought home to the minds of the early Christians by the picturesque and symbolic ritual of baptism. The man who had, by faith, accepted Christ as his Lord and Master, was baptised into His Death; that is, in Him he died to the old life. His submergence beneath the baptismal waters, the very likeness of the Burial, was the assurance and the sealing of that death. As truly as the man who is dead and buried is cut off for ever from the life of this world, so was the baptised separated, once and for all, from the old heathen life with all its associations. As clearly did his emergence from those waters show forth his actual participation in the Lord's Resurrection. He had not merely left the old life behind, he had from that moment entered upon the new life, the "life of God"; that is, the life which henceforth had God for its foundation, its centre, and its goal; the life of moral health and sanity; the life which was to be, in all its relations, open and clear and undismayed; the life "in the Light."
1. The first thought, then, of Easter Eve must surely be one of profound sorrow and humiliation. We ought to be bowed to the very earth with self- abasement by the thought that we have been, so many times in the past, untrue to our baptism.
Soldiers of Christ, we have denied our Lord. More, ours has been the guilt, not of Peter only, but of Judas. Too often we have betrayed Him for the veriest pittance of this world's good.
We have missed the glory of the Risen Life. All the magnificent language of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the quickening with Christ, the raising together with Him from the dead, the enthronement in Him in the heavenly places -- all this was written of Christians in this life. All this might have been true of us, and is not; for, worse than Esau, we have bartered away an incomparably more magnificent heritage.
What remains for us to do on this Easter Eve but, with truest penitence, with utter loathing of self, and utter longing for Him Who is our true self, to cast ourselves at the Feet of Christ?
2. But the second thought of Easter Eve is one of boundless hope. But remember, hope can only begin at the Feet of Christ. For Christian hope has evermore its beginning and its ground in humility. We only find safety, comfort, joy, encouragement, as we lie, prostrate in penitence, before our Redeemer. It is clear, is it not, what we mean by all this? We are, simply and naturally, to kneel before our Lord, and acknowledge to Him all our untruth, all our disloyalty, all the manifold failures of our service. And the very fact that we can do this sincerely and honestly, is the earnest of all good things to come in us. If only we can make this genuine and heartfelt confession, there is no degree of moral recovery beyond our reach.
For on Easter Eve we try to realise once more that greatest of Christian truths, the power of Christ's Resurrection. The power which was manifested in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the power which is universally present in nature and in mind, which is the reality behind all forces of nature, which all forces reveal. It has been finely said, that "the opening of a rose-bud and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are facts of the same order, for they are equally manifestations of the one force which is the motive power of all phenomena."
We see that power in the glories of the opening spring; we are conscious of it in ourselves, in every good resolve, every upward aspiration. There comes to us the inspiring thought, that the physical and the moral Resurrection alike, in nature, in ourselves, in Jesus Christ, are different manifestations of one and the same power. Was the Resurrection of the Lord a mighty fact, the greatest of all the facts of history, a transcendent and astonishing miracle? The power which wrought it is in me; the same wondrous fact, the same stupendous miracle, if I will, may be accomplished in me.
That was the very meaning of my Christian calling -- that "as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father," so I, by the self-same power, might be raised from the death of sin, and enabled "to walk in newness of life." The Death, the Burial, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are not merely historical facts, external to me: they are meant to be spiritual facts in my own experience, in the experience of all Christians. And spiritual facts are beyond measure greater in value and meaning and influence than those historical facts which happened in space and time, in order to serve as signs and symbols of the inward and eternal realities.
So let us come to our Easter Communion, not only in the spirit of penitence, but in the spirit of undying and unconquerable hope. There is no limit to that which the power of God, symbolised, embodied externally, in the Resurrection, may effect within us, in the region of our moral and spiritual life. Or rather, there is no limit to the exercise of the Divine power, save that which we ourselves impose upon it, by our failure to correspond with it. Now as ever it is true, true of the work of God's grace upon our souls, as of the healing power of Christ over the bodies of men, that "according to our faith" it shall be done to us.
WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD.