The sects in the Church might be judged by a comparison of their favorite holidays. And so might eras in history be judged. It is matter of real interest, then, to see how all poets and prophets of all divisions of the Church unite on this day, to proclaim it the Sunday of Sundays, the High Holy Day of the year. For this is to say that poet and prophet, of every sect and those least sectarian, have found out at last that the Christian Religion stands for Life. Life instead of form; Life instead of Laws; Life instead of Grave-clothes; Life instead of Tombs; Life instead of Death ; — that is what Christianity means, and what it is for. You would be tempted to say that the Saviour had already enforced this completely in what he said to men; tempted to say that Easter morning was not needed either for illustration or enforcement. Certainly the gospel texts are full of the lesson. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." "This is Life Eternal — to believe on thee." And central text of all, the text we have chosen for the motto of this church, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If texts alone ever did anything, these and a thousand more would show what The Truth is, and The Way. But one is tempted, in bitter moods, to say that texts never do anything, that words never achieve or finish anything. One is tempted to remember how he said that any man who prepared God’s way is greater than any man who only proclaims it, how prophets and prophesying were done with, mere talk was over — praise the Lord! and energy, action, force had come in instead, praise the Lord! Yet, if anybody did still trust in talk, he might take a lesson from these Gospels.
Here are all these people, high and low, on tenter-hooks of excitement and curiosity. ” What has this man to teach? Where will that man take us? What is this Judas the Gaulonite after? What has that Edomite to
propose? What will Theudas promise?” John Baptist comes in. “Who is he? “Is he Elijah? Has he any plan? Has he any word? There is a Nazarene up at Capernaum. Nobody ever talked like him, and he has made a blind man
see. Let us go and find him.” They come swarming up around him, block the streets, block the roads, press over the houses where he is at meat, to ask him what he proposes.
What does he propose? Life! That those who are dead shall live. That people shall pray for themselves, who have been praying by proxy. That people shall pray where they are, who have been going to Jerusalem to worship. That people shall do themselves what they have been expecting others to do. That people shall enter heaven now, which they have been supposing should wait for them after ages of aeons. God is yours,
Heaven is yours, if you would only Live. Why, if you had as much life in you as this grain of mustard seed has, you would share God’s own power, and live in God’s own heaven! For God is Here, and God is Now.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Life! That is what he proposes.
These words, even dimly echoed, shake the ages. If words alone were worth much, you would say that they must have touched to the heart the men who heard them, the women and the children. I do not say, but in a
fashion, they did touch them. But what appeared on the surface was, that when he said some such words, this group of his hearers would say, “Can’t you show us a miracle, as you showed the people of Nain?” and
that set of people would say, ” Can’t you feed us here on the grass, as you fed us last week by the lake-side?” and these near friends would say, “Cannot you make me Senator and cannot you make me a Publican,
when you come into your kingdom, and have offices to fill?” ” Life! Yes,
that sounds all very well in sermons, and when one is making a platform, but, as between friends, other things are to be considered.” So that, so far as appears, the applause of the multitudes, and the crowded streets of Capernaum, of Tiberias and of Jericho, never advanced the real kingdom by the breadth of one hair.
I do not think it would be fanciful, as it certainly would not be difficult, to describe the different set of people among those who surrounded him, who, from one prejudice or other, or from one or another one-sidedness, missed the reality, Life, and took from him and his words something less which they could have taken from earthen vessels.
1. There were mere sentimentalists, who were so passionately in love with him, that they must be always kissing the hem of his garment, or sitting in his shadow. They were worthless when he was out of sight, they were useless when he-sent them on an errand. If he said firmly, “I must go away,” they were not simply in tears, they were prostrate and wretched; and when he went away, in truth, it proved that they had not found out what the word “Life” means. That type of people exists in the church to this hour.
2. Then there were the “Doctrinaires” shall I call them, the people with the ink-horns and note-books, the “scribes and lawyers.” They knew what he said on the second day of Nisan, and they could compare it with what he said on the ” second Sabbath after the First.” “I tell you he said, ‘He that is not against us is on our side.’ I have it written down here.” “I don’t care for that, he certainly said, ‘He that is not with me is against me.’ He said it, that day we ate our lunch by the tamarisk tree. Here are my notes.” “I am sure he said, ‘ A prophet is without honor except in his own country,’ here are the words.” “What do I care for your words? Perhaps you do not read your notes right. Now mine are perfectly plain. ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.’ He said it to Simon the Smith, when we met him at Bethany.” These are the people who lost sight of Life in the Letter. The same type of people exist in the church to-day. Jesus tried to silence them, but he did not silence them by what he said of jots and tittles. Paul tried to do the same, when he said, “The Letter killeth, and the Spirit giveth Life.” If words had been worth more we should never have heard of them again.
3. Then there was another set of people, whom I might call the imitative people, who were very precise about method. “Did you see John Baptist with him at the Jordan? Then you can tell us all about it? How deep did they go into the water? Did John take his hand, or did he take a shell, when he baptized him?” “You are quite sure that he did not wash his hands before he went into Matthew’s dinner party?” “Yes, quite sure.” “Remember that, Salome, he did not wash his hands, be sure you remember.” “Are you sure he ate quail on the Fast-day?” “I am perfectly sure, my sister saw him.” “You are sure it was not after sun-down?” “After sun-down? Oh, no! the sun was an hour high.” “Remember, Salome, could you not write it down? The sun was an hour high.” “You say they rubbed the corn in their hands?” “Certainly they rubbed it in their hands.” “Had they no linen cloth to rub it in?” “No. There was no cloth at all.” “Salome, write that down. Corn eaten on the Sabbath day is not to be rubbed in a linen cloth, it is to be rubbed in the hands.”
These are the people who lose Life in their anxiety for form. You see I do not exaggerate. Just that class of Christians, such as they are, exist to-day, and make up large sections of the church, if we could believe, as, thank God, we cannot, the technical classifications.
In the midst of all this folly, Jesus moved as simply and as omnipotently as Orion moves across a winter sky, careless of cloud, careless of gust of snow, careless of smoke or dust, careless of whirlwinds. If people see him, well; if they do not see him, so much the worse for them. No matter, he is the same. Let them take or make this lesson or that lesson, he is the same. Life and Eternal Life—that is what he stands for. God with Man. The Eternal Life of the Unchanging God in the Human Form and in the midst of Earth’s surroundings!
Yes, my friends, and so we ask naturally, ” Do we see him?” But even that is of no consequence, he tells us, in comparison with this. “Are we alive?” Nay, that question itself deceives us. Are we even sure that we know what the word Life means? There is a description, somewhere, of the new emotion, the new senses, the new joy, the wild, strange surprise, with which an imaginative man, new-made, saw sunrise and its glories, drank in the freshness of morning and the luxury of day for the first time, ready to sing as Adam sang,
“These are thy glorious gifts, Father of all.”
“How could it be for the first time?” says some Nicodemus. “Could he enter again into his mother’s womb and be born?” It was for the first time, because in the reckless habits of those days in Kentucky, where this man lived, he could not remember till now the night when he had not gone to sleep the worse for liquor, so that he could not remember till now the morning when he had waked fresh and pure and able to enjoy. Not till now, when some apostle of the Word of God had made him fling off that old bondage and enabled him in that one detail of life, to see, and feel, and hear, and understand. Now that man, till that miracle was wrought, did not know what the word morning meant. His definition of it was inadequate. His sense of it was all incomplete. If he had talked with a true artist about it, or a simple child, or a pure woman, he would not have known what the words meant which they used. He would have said they were talking rhetoric, that they were exaggerating, ” that they were lying to him.” He would always have said this, till the blessed moment when he was born again so that he could see for himself, and hear and know and understand. And that fatuity and ignorance is only a little type or illustration, in a single detail, of our inability from ignorance to use the word Life at all, in the sense in which Jesus used it, until and unless we have boldly entered into Life, as he said to the young gentleman of Edom. There is no “book of the opera” of Life which will tell you how charming it is to see it. There is no transparency in front of the show, which will answer the purpose for you to look upon. You must push the door open and go in. There is no way in which you can read the play, and feel it and understand it, as if you had been one of the actors. No! It is to no such sham or imitation that your Father invites you. “Here is my home,” he says, ” come into my house.” “Here is my feast,” he says, “come sit at my feast.” “Here is Life Eternal. Oh, my children, because you are my children, Live while you live.”
That is what God says to us, by every voice of his. It is what he says this day, of all days, by his son, Well Beloved. What we say, is of little consequence. But what we determine and do, is of great consequence to ourselves, if to nobody beside! It is as nothing to us whether we see the risen Saviour or not. Many who did see him did not profit by what they saw. It is as nothing to us, whether we believe he were Son of God, if all this time we are acting as if we were not God’s children. To state this in the familiar words of the Old Theology, one of the most distinguished Baptist preachers a few. weeks since described the incarnation of God in Christ, with intense earnestness, and therefore intense power. Then, to the great assembly, which followed him eagerly in his demonstration that God was in the flesh— speaking to the world by Christ Jesus — he said, “This is nothing to you unless you dare say this day that God is Incarnate in you.” Perfectly true! The Resurrection miracle is nothing to you and me, if it is only an event of eighteen centuries by-gone. Unless we can Live the Immortal Life, unless we can receive God to his own Home in these Hearts of ours, the texts are nothing to us unless these daily lives illustrate them. Parable is nothing unless the Good Samaritan bends in these streets over the bleeding traveller; unless in your home, the tender father can receive the returning prodigal! For all that wealth or miracle, of precept and of example was never lived out, merely that we might have one more frieze of old-time ornament to be sculptured on the upper walls of our temples. Miracle was wrought, parable invented, sermon preached, yes, and the cross was borne, that this world might be lifted from the groveling existence of brutes to the nobler life of men: that you and I, that he and she, that all men everywhere might truly Live! And the Festival of to-day, if it is anything but a tawdry lie, or the Great Marvel which it celebrates, if it is anything but an inexplicable curiosity of history, mean both alike, that you and I are pledged anew to-day, and covenant anew to-day, that for us we will live the life of the Living children of a Living God.
To cite another word from another of the great preachers, our neighbor Mr. John Weiss: “It is one thing to believe in immortality. It is quite another thing to live as an immortal.”
This pledge means for a church, that is for an organization of Christian men and women, that it will do what God has to do, in the place where he has planted it. To say it would do what Christ would have done, is only an effort to make the other statement more real. It is his representative. It claims to be God’s own beloved child. This church because its Easter Festival is real undertakes this day in the echoes of its music, and before its flowers have withered, to comfort those that mourn, to heal those that are broken-hearted, to open the eyes that are blind, and to speak God’s love to those who have not heard it, to proclaim glad tidings indeed, to the poor.
And each child of God here, immortal, never-dying, begins a new life to-day. It is to be a life which enjoys every blessing of God’s love.
It is to be a life which trusts in his infinite power.
It is to be a life which treads under foot and despises the rags of Cerement which the Earth has worn.
It is to be a life which spends and is spent, in the service of Truth, Holiness, and Love.
It is to be a life in which each man lives for each other man, because each man lives for the purpose of the Living God.
It is a life, therefore, which with every new day, is new born. From every night’s sleep it starts as from an Easter Sepulchre. With every new day’s opportunities, it steps forward as serene and cheerful as an archangel to his mission. Why worry one’s self about the past, about a tomb? Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here. He is Risen!