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when the loving and long parted meet again on earth, how cold and dreary the reunions of the grave, these silent meetings of the dead!
But Christ's descent into the tomb roused death from its deepest apathy. That awoke those who are heedless of the shock of earthquakes. The dead were moved at his coming. The graves were opened. The inspired poet's fancy became a literal fact. And, waiting for him to lead the way, many dead saints left the tomb on the morning of his resurrection; in them he led captivity captive, and was followed by the strangest train that ever graced the triumph of a returning conqueror. If we should certainly conclude that the jailer has been beaten and bound, when we see the captives pouring from the open prison, how plainly do those yawning tombs, untouched by mortal hand, and these dead men, who return alive to Jerusalem, show that the long reign of death is drawing to a close, and the oldest of earth's kingdoms tottering to its fall. Their escape plainly proved that death had received from Christ's hand, what no other hand could deal, a mortal blow. Thus, all the circumstances that signalized alike our Lord's descent into the tomb and his triumphant resurrection, proclaim him, as with the sound of royal trumpets, the first and greatest of the dead.
II. Because he rose by his own power.
There is no sensibility in the dead. The eyelids your fingers have closed open no more to the light of day. The morning raises up all within the house to a fresh sense of bereavement: without, it wakens business, pleasure, the music of skies and groves ; but it wakens not the sleeper in that looked and lonely
chamber, who, once dreading to be left alone, is alike fearless now of darkness and of solitude.
There is no passion in the dead. The sight of them affects us, not our grief and sorrow them ; as well kiss marble as that icy brow; our tears will flow, nor does Christ forbid them ; but their hottest gushes thaw not the fountains that death has frozen.
There is no power in the dead. The cold hand you lift drops; the poor body lies as it is laid. And, so soon as that last, long sigh is drawn, though the color still lingers on the cheek, and the limbs are not yet stiffened into cold rigidity, they can rise no more than the ashes on the hearth can resume their original form, and change into what once they were, a branch green with leaves, and decked with fragrant blossoms. The dead can do nothing to help themselves. In all cases but Christ's resurrection, life was not resumed, but restored; it was given, not taken back. At the
grave of Lazarus it proceeded from Christ's lips, wafted on the air to the ear of death. At the gate of Nain it passed from Christ's hand, streaming, like the electric fluid, into the body of the widow's son. And there, where Elisha lies stretched on the Shunammite's dead boy, his eyes on the child's eyes, his hands on the child's hands, his lips on the child's lips, that prostrate, praying man forms a connecting medium by which life flows out of Him in whom is its fulness, to fill a vessel that death has emptied. And, at the last day, we ourselves shall not awake, but be wakened, roused from sleep by the trump of God, as, blown by an angel's breath, it sounds throughout the world, echoing in the deepest caves of ocean, and rending the marble of the tomb.
Now look at our Lord's resurrection. He rose in
the silent night; no hand at the door, no voice in his ear, no rough touch awaking him. Other watchers than Pilate's soldiers stood by the sepulchre ; but these angels whom it well became to keep guard at this dead man's chamber door, beyond opening it, beyond rolling away the stone, beyond looking on with wondering eyes, took no part in the scenes of that eventful morning. The hour sounds; the appointed time arrives. Having slept out his sleep, Jesus stirs; he awakes of his own accord; he rises by his own power; and arranging, or leaving attending angels to arrange, the linen clothes, he walks out on the dewy ground, be neath the starry sky, to turn grief into the greatest joy, and hail the breaking of the brightest morn that ever rose on this guilty world. That open empty tomb assures us of a day when ours too shall be as empty. Having raised himself, he has power to raise his people. Panic-stricken soldiers flying the scene, and Mary rising from his blessed feet to haste to the city, to rush through the streets, to burst in among the disciples, and with a voice of joy to cry, He is risen, He is risen! prove this was no vain brag or boast, "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
III. Because he is the only one who rose never to die again.
The child of the Shunammite, the daughter of the ruler, the widow of Nain's son Lazarus, and all .the saints who followed our Lord from the grave, were prisoners on parole. The grave took them bound to return. Dear-bought honors theirs! While Enoch
and Elijah never tasted death, these twice drank the bitter cup; with one cradle, each had two coffins; one birth, but two burials; and thus, that God might be glorified, suffering pains from which obscurer saints have been exempt, they in part fulfilled the noble saying of that dauntless martyr, who declared his love for Christ to be such, that if he had as many lives as he had gray hairs on his head, he would lay them all down for him. Thiese honored ones were out on bail. After a while they retraced their steps; and, now lying in dusty death, they wait the summons of the resurrection. But Jesus waits to summon, not to be summoned. The grave holds them, but heaven holds him. For. heaven, as well as hell, was moved at his coming ; and there, saints adoring, angels worshipping at his feet, in the very body which was stretched on the cross and laid in the sepulchre for us, he fills his Father's throne. The King of kings and Lord of lords is “He who liveth and was dead."
IV. Because he has taken precedence of his people, who are all to rise from their graves to glory.
It is better for me, if I am a poor man standing in need of royal favors, to have a friend at court than in my own humble cottage; and it is better for us that Christ is with his Father in heaven than with his people on earth. It is expedient for you, he said, that I go away. He has gone to prepare a place for us ; and while his Spirit has come down to take care of the business of his church on earth, he looks after and watches over its affairs in heaven. He had work to do which could not otherwise be done. He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. So, after three days unbroken rest, he rose to sleep no more,
and be the first-born of the dead. Apart from that, precedence was his right. It belonged to him in the very nature of things. The king precedes his train ; the head rises first out of pit or grave, afterwards the body and its members; the foundation stone is laid first, afterwards the stones of the superstructure; the elder brother breaks first from a mother's womb, afterwards the children of whom he is forerunner.
It is as the prelude of our own resurrection, that Christ's is to us the object of the greatest satisfaction and joy. In these cast-off grave clothes, in that linen shroud and napkin, there is more to draw our eyes, and fix our interest, and move our admiration, than in the jewelled robes or royal purple of the greatest monarch of earth. That empty tomb, roughly hewn in the rock, is a greater sight than Egypt's mighty pyramids, or the costliest sepulchres that have received the ashes of the proudest kings. How full of meaning is its very emptiness! What good news to us in Mary's disappointment! What joys flow to us in these women's tears! Thanks be to God, they could not find him. He is not there. No, Mary! they have not taken away your Lord; no robber has rifled that sacred tomb. See, the dew lies sparkling on the grass, nor feet have brushed it but those of one who has left the grave. He is risen ; and, as the first fruits of them that sleep, as the first ripe sheaf that was offered to the Lord, his resurrection is the pledge and promise of a coming harvest. Henceforth the grave holds but a lease of the saints. Because he rose, we shall rise also.
Sweeter to our ear than the full chorus of bright skies and greenwood, are the first notes of the warbler that pipes away the winter, and breaks in on its long,