The Tomb of Christ, The School of Comfort
by Rev. Francis A. Baker

Easter Sunday

 

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“Jesus said to her: Woman why do you weep?  Whom do you seek?”  (John 20:15)

 

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How full of tenderness are these words!  They were spoken on the first Easter Day.  This weeping woman was Mary Magdalene, she that had been a great sinner, and was converted, and loved our Lord so much.  She had been at His Cross: she is now at His Tomb, with her spices and ointments to anoint His body.  But our Lord’s body was not in the grave. 

 

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The stone is rolled away.  The tomb is open, and He is not there.  And yet He is not far away.  Risen from the dead to a new and mysterious life, He hovers about the garden, and draws near to her as she approaches the sepulcher.  At the outburst of her grief on finding the sepulcher empty, He breaks silence.  “Woman why do you weep?  Whom do you seek?”  

 

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These are the first words our Lord spoke after His Resurrection.  They are the same words that were used by the angel a little before.  They seem to be the antiphon, the key-note which Heaven has given us to guide our Easter thoughts.  No tears on Easter Day.  Nay, no tears any more of the bitter, hopeless kind, for Christ is Risen.  St. Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Christ represents Humanity sitting in the region and shadow of death. 

 

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Now, today, Christ comes forward, and speaks comfortable words to the human race.  “Why do you weep?  Whom do you seek?”  He challenges us, “I, your risen Savior,” He seems to say, “am your consoler.  What grief is there that I have not removed?”  And is it so?  Are all our real sorrows removed or alleviated by the resurrection of Christ? 

 

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Yes; heavenly messengers have appeared bringing good tidings.  Christ is risen.  “The stroke of our wound” is healed.  “To them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up.”  “The Day-Spring from on high has visited us.”  The earth feels herself to be lightened of her darkness, and in every church in Christendom the cry is again and again repeated: “Alleluia: Praise the Lord

 

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It would be too long to attempt to show how every human sorrow can gather consolation from the Resurrection of Christ.  All I can hope to do this morning is to show how the three heaviest troubles of our race – doubt, guilt, and bereavement – find their relief in that event.

 

II

 

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I call doubt, guilt, and bereavement the heaviest woes of man.  In regard to the first, religious doubt, many of you have had no experience.  Brought up in the Catholic Church, with her teaching always sounding in your ears, you have never known what it was to have real doubts about religious truth.  But there are others who have known that anguish by experience. 

 

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The soul of man thirsts for truth.  Deep in every man’s soul is a desire for God.  It may be stifled, it may be silenced for a time by passion, but there it is, that stretching forth to the Fountain of Goodness and Beauty, that longing to know Him and His will.  In generous souls, in souls that are conscious of their dignity, the finding of truth is an indispensable necessity. 

 

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The search for truth is an occupation that must be pursued with whatever pain and trouble, and until it be found life is really insupportable.  O my brethren, I do believe that there are souls around us who hunger for truth as a famishing man hungers for food.  They labor and toil harder than any day-laborer. 

 

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They are like men exploring a dark and many-chambered mine.  They go with stooping head, and the sweat rolls off their foreheads, and their feet stumble, and with their dim light they can see but a little way before them, and they are in danger of losing their way.  No doubt they learn something; for God is everywhere; God is in our hearts, and in Nature, and in men, and in books, and in the past, and we cannot look for Him anywhere without finding His footprints; but we want more than this. 

 

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We want God to speak to us.  We sigh for the lost happiness of Eden, where God walked with our first parents in “the cool of the day.”  This is what men need.  They need God to reveal Himself to them, to give them certainty in religious truth, at least on the most important points.  Everywhere men have been seeking this.  “Oh that God would rend the heavens and come down!”  (Isaiah 64:1)  

 

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This is the cry of humanity, that God would speak to us and make us hear His voice.  And they have sought for this voice.  They have strained their ears to listen to it.  They have sought it of the moon and stars as they moved through the heavens by night; they have sought it in the whispers of the grove; they have sought it at the lips of men of science and pretended religious teachers.  But they have met in such sources only with disappointment or deceit. 

 

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And yet that voice has always been in the world.  It spoke at first feeble and low, but louder and louder as time went on, until Jesus Christ came and “Spoke as never man spoke.”  He claimed to be the Son of God, taught us clearly about God and our destiny, promised His unfailing protection to His Church in transmitting His doctrine to all generations, and confirmed the truth, both of this Teaching and Promises, by rising from the dead according to His Word. 

 

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To Him, therefore, belongs the glorious title: “The Faithful and True Witness, the First-Begotten of the Dead.”  (Revelation 1:5)   Eighteen hundred years have passed away, but His Word has lost none of its authority, and now this morning we can say, as to every point of the Catholic creed, with as much certainty as on the morning of the Resurrection the Apostles felt in regard to all the words of Christ – “I believe.”  O glorious privilege of a Catholic!  “Rejoice,” says the prophet, “and be glad in the Lord, O children of Zion, because He has given to you a Teacher of Justice.”  (Joel 2:23) 

 

I

 

Obedient to this inspired injunction, the Church requires the Creed to be sung at her great solemnities.  It is not enough to recite it.  No; it must be sung, sung in full chorus, accompanied with instruments of music.  And fitting it is and right.  Worship would be incomplete without it.  Litanies and hymns are the means by which the heart does homage to God; but Credo, “I believe,” that is the intellect’s cry of joy at its emancipation from the bondage of doubt.  

 

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Oh, how mistaken are those who imagine that the articles of the Creed are like fetters on the mind.  On the contrary, they are to us the evidences of that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.  We reject temptations against faith, as attacks on our happiness.  We feel that to doubt the doctrine of faith would be to doubt the Son of God, and to doubt Him would be to discredit our own soul. 

 

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Be firm, then, my brethren in faith.  Remember that faith is part of your birthright and privilege as Christians.  The Sepulcher of Christ is the gate to the Palace of Truth.  See, the door is open.  The stone is rolled away.  Oh, enter and be blest. 

 

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With Thomas look as His wounded side and say, “My Lord and my God!”  With Magdalene fall at His feet and call Him “Master.”  Listen to His words and doubt no more.  “Bring no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but holding the truth in charity, in all things grow up in Him who is the Head, Christ.” (Eph 4:14)

 

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III

 

A

 

Again, as doubt is the bondage of the intellect, so guilt is the burden of the conscience.  Who can give peace to a soul that has sinned?  The prophet Micah well describes the anxiety of such a soul.  “What shall I offer to the Lord that is worthy?  With what shall I kneel before the High God?  Shall I offer holocausts unto Him, and year old calves?  Will He be appeased with thousands of rams?  Shall I give my first-born for my wickedness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  (Micah 6:6) 

 

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Now, must we forever go on in this uncertainty?  Shall we never, after we have sinned, have again the assurance that we are pardoned?  Must we go trembling all our days, and be terror-stricken at the hour of death?  Are we left to our own fancies and feelings to decide whether we are pardoned or not?  Shall we never hear that consoling word: “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven?” 

 

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Yes, Christ is risen.  He is come from the grave “with healing in His wings.”  He is come as a conqueror, with the trophies of victory.  Hear what He says of Himself: “I am He that lived and was dead, and behold I live forever, and have the keys of Hell and Death.”  (Revelation1:18)   He has come back from the grave with the keys of Hell in His hand. 

 

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While He was yet among men He had promised to give those keys to St. Peter and the Apostles, but it was only after His death, by which He had merited our pardon, and after His Resurrection, by which His Father had attested His acceptance of the Ransom, that He proceeded solemnly to deliver them. 

 

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“Now when it was late,” says St. John, “that same day” (Easter Day) “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: Peace be to you.  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.  When He had said this, He breathed on them: and He said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:22) 

 

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Do you hear this, O sinner?  He offers you pardon, and He assures you of it.  All He asks of you is a true sorrow; all He asks is a fervent and true purpose to offend Him no more.  Come, confessing your sins; come, forsaking them, and He has promised that His priest shall declare to you, in His name: “I absolve you from your sins.” 

 

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He has promised to ratify the sentence in heaven.  Can you doubt His power?  Can you doubt His truth?  No: He has risen for our justification.  “What shall we say then to these things?  If God be for us, who shall be against us?  Who shall lay anything to the charge of the elect of God?  It is God who has justified, Who is he that shall condemn?  It is Christ who has died, also He who is risen again.” (Romans 8:28-33)   

 

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Do not look on us, the ministers of His grace, weak and frail as we are.  Look at the Savior.  Look at Him dying on the cross, a ransom for our sins.  Look at Him, rising from the dead on the third day, having accomplished a complete victory over our spiritual enemies, and bringing to us life and pardon. 

 

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See Him in His divine power, instituting sacraments by which that life and pardon might be communicated to us.  Believe His word, trust His merits, have recourse to His sacraments, and thus, “being justified by faith have once more peace with God, and rejoice again in hope of the Glory of God.”  (Romans 5:1-5) 

 

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Come, forgiven sinner, lift up your head, for God has cleansed you.  Be happy: be a Christian: be a man once more, for you are clothed again in the garments of innocence and sanctity.  It is no incomplete and grudging pardon He has given you.  Though your sins “were as scarlet,” they are now as “white as snow;” though they were “red like crimson,” they are “as white as wool.”  “He has cast your sins into the bottom of the sea.” 

 

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They shall never be mentioned to you again.  He has even restored to you again the merits you had acquired in days of innocence, and lost again by sin.  He has “restored to you the years which the locust and the caterpillar and the mildew and the palmer-worm has eaten.”  (Joel 2:25)  Let, then, gratitude fill your heart, let joy be written on your face, and let holy resolves for the future correspond to the mercy you have received.

 

IV

 

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Yes, my brethren, Christ at His Sepulcher satisfies the intellect and heals the conscience – and He also silences another cry of human woe.  It is that of which the prophet spoke when he said: “A voice was heard of lamentation, of mourning and weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refused to be comforted, because they are not.” (Jeremiah 31:15)  Oh! it is hard to see one we love die, but is it not harder to our sensitive nature to bury them?  That makes us feel what we have lost. 

 

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Reason tells us that the soul is immortal, but we need something more for our comfort.  The heart asks, “What is to become of the body that I loved so much?”  Talk of the lifeless and speechless corpse.  It is not lifeless and speechless to me.  Those cold lips smile the old smile on me, and whisper in my ear a thousand words of kindness.  And oh, to part with that!  To lose even that sad comfort!  To have the body of the death taken away from us, is not that a grief? 

 

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Such was Mary Magdalene’s sorrow.  “They have taken away my Lord out of the Sepulcher, and I know not where they have laid Him.”  (John 20:2)  She could bear anything but that.  She had borne up at our Lord’s death.  It was a bitter thing, but then she stood at the foot of the cross on which He hung, and she could look up at Him and see Him.  She had borne up on Friday evening, for then she was busy preparing her spices and ointments.  She had borne up on Saturday, for she was thinking all day of her visit to the grave next morning. 

 

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But on Sunday, to go and find His body gone – never again to look upon those lips that had spoken peace to her soul; never again to kiss with affection those sacred feet, - oh, this was too much.  And Mary stood at the Sepulcher weeping.  But lo! What voice is that which speaks: “Woman, why do you weep?”  It is the voice of Jesus himself of Jesus whom she mourns.  Himself, flesh and blood, the very Jesus whom she had known and loved. 

 

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So, my brethren, as you weep at the graves of your friends, those very friends stand near you and say, “Why do you weep?”  Weep not for me. Weep not for me, childless mother!  Weep not for me, my orphan child!  Weep not for me, my sorrowing friend!  Leave my body awhile in the grave. 

 

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It is not dead but sleeps.  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall arise out of the earth.  And I shall be clothed again with my skin and in my flesh I shall see my God: Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’s.”  (Job 19:25) 

 

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Touch me not yet: wait awhile, and you shall see my hands and feet, that it is I myself.  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.  But everyone in his own order; the first fruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in His coming.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22)

 

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V

 

A

 

Strange it is that our comfort and joy should come out of the grave.  But so it is.  By the resurrection of Christ all our woes are healed.  Our new life springs from the sepulcher of Christ.  Christ is risen; we believe.  Christ is risen; we are pardoned.  Christ is risen; death loses its power to separate Christians. 

 

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Mourn then no longer, my brethren, it is Easter.  Believe, and rejoice.  Forsake your sins, and rejoice.  Bury your dead in Christ, and rejoice in hope.  The former things are passed away; all things are become new.  “The winter is now passed; the rain is over and gone.  The flowers have appeared; the time of pruning is come; the voice of the dove is heard in our land.”  (Canticle 2:11-12)  It is Easter. 

 

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This is that day “which the Lord has made.”  This is the Lord’s Passover.  The Red Sea is crossed we are delivered out of Egypt, and are marching to the promised land.  It is Easter.  Mary has been at the sepulcher early this morning and has seen the Savior.  Jesus has appeared in the midst of the disciples, saying, “Peace be with you.” 

 

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Some have known Him in breaking of bread.  To some He has drawn near as they walked along and discoursed together.  Some that were sad He has comforted.  How has it been with each of you?  Has this day been a day of joy to you?  Has it awakened you to new life, new hopes, new aspirations?  Or does it find you cold, dead to spiritual things, perhaps not even in the grace of God, and in love with your sins! 

 

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Oh, at least now awake to the hopes and desires of a Christian.  “The day is far spent; it draws toward evening.”  Let not this glorious feast depart and leave you as you are.  While angels and the Son of God are abroad on the earth, scattering grace and consolation, do not you alone remain unblessed.  Claim your privileges as a Christian, and, risen with Christ in baptism, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

 

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And you, faithful souls who have done your duty, who have found in this Feast a joy and comfort that passes understanding, know that the gladness of Easter is but an earnest of another day, the great day of eternity, which will open on the morning of resurrection, and which knows no evening; which has no need of the sun, for God is the light thereof; when God shall wipe away all tears, and death shall be no more; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

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