(Mat_28:1-10; Mar_16:1-11; Luk_24:1-12; Joh 20:1-18; Mat_28:11-15; Mar_16:12, Mar_16:13; Luk 24:13-35; 1Co_15:5; Mar_16:14; Luk_24:36-43; Joh_20:19-25; Joh_20:26-29; Mat_28:16; Joh 21:1-24; Mat_28:17-20; Mar_16:15-18; 1Co_15:6; Luk_24:44-53; Mar_16:19, Mar_16:20; Act_1:3-12)
Grey dawn was streaking the sky, when they who had so lovingly watched Him to His Burying were making their lonely way to the rock-hewn Tomb in the Garden. Considerable as are the difficulties of exactly harmonising the details in the various narratives – if, indeed, importance attaches to such attempts – we are thankful to know that any hesitation only attaches to the arrangement of minute particulars, and not to the great facts of the case. And even these minute details would, as we shall have occasion to show, be harmonious, if only we knew all the circumstances.
The difference, if such it may be called, in the names of the women, who at early morn went to the Tomb, scarce requires elaborate discussion. It may have been, that there were two parties, starting from different places to meet at the Tomb, and that this also accounts for the slight difference in the details of what they saw and heard at the Grave. At any rate, the mention of the two Marys and Joanna is supplemented in Luke by that of the ‘other women with them’ while, if John speaks only of Mary Magdalene, her report to Peter and John: ‘We know not where they have laid Him,’ implies, that she had not gone alone to the Tomb. It was the first day of the week – according to Jewish reckoning the third day from His Death. The narrative leaves the impression that the Sabbath’s rest had delayed their visit to the Tomb; but it is at least a curious coincidence that the relatives and friends of the deceased were in the habit of going to the grave up to the third day (when presumably corruption was supposed to begin), so as to make sure that those laid there were really dead. Commenting on this, that Abraham descried Mount Moriah on the third day, the Rabbis insist on the importance of ‘the third day’ in various events connected with Israel, and specially speak of it in connection with the resurrection of the dead, referring in proof to Hos_6:2. In another place, appealing to the same prophetic saying, they infer from Gen_42:17, that God never leaves the just more than three days in anguish. In mourning also the third day formed a sort of period, because it was thought that the soul hovered round the body till the third day, when it finally parted from its earthly tabernacle.
Although these things are here mentioned, we need scarcely say that no such thoughts were present with the holy mourners who, in the grey of that Sunday-morning, went to the Tomb. Whether or not there were two groups of women who started from different places to meet at the Tomb, the most prominent figure among them was Mary Magdalene – as prominent among the pious women as Peter was among the Apostles. She seems to have first reached the Grave, and, seeing the great stone that had covered its entrance rolled away, hastily judged that the Body of the Lord had been removed. Without waiting for further inquiry, she ran back to inform Peter and John of the fact. The Evangelist here explains, that there had been a great earthquake, and that the Angel of the Lord, to human sight as lightning and in brilliant white garment, had rolled back the stone, and sat upon it, when the guard, affrighted by what they heard and saw, and especially by the look and attitude of heavenly power in the Angel, had been seized with mortal faintness. Remembering the events connected with the Crucifixion, which had no doubt been talked about among the soldiery, and bearing in mind the impression of such a sight on such minds, we could readily understand the effect on the two sentries who that long night had kept guard over the solitary Tomb. The event itself (we mean; as regards the rolling away of the stone), we suppose to have taken place after the Resurrection of Christ, in the early dawn, while the holy women were on their way to the Tomb. The earthquake cannot have been one in the ordinary sense, but a shaking of the place, when the Lord of Life burst the gates of Hades to re-tenant His Glorified Body, and the lightning-like Angel descended from heaven to roll away the stone. To have left it there, when the Tomb was empty, would have implied what was no longer true. But there is a sublime irony in the contrast between man’s elaborate precautions and the ease with which the Divine Hand can sweep them aside, and which, as throughout the history of the Christ and of His Church, recalls the prophetic declaration: ‘He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at them.’
While the Magdalene hastened, probably by another road, to the abode of Peter and John, the other women also had reached the Tomb either in one party, or, it may be, in two companies. They had wondered and feared how they could accomplish their pious purpose – for, who would roll away the stone for them? But, as so often, the difficulty apprehended no longer existed. Perhaps they thought that the now absent Mary Magdalene had obtained help for this. At any rate, they now entered the vestibule of the Sepulchre. Here the appearance of the Angel filled them with fear. But the heavenly Messenger bade them dismiss apprehension; he told them that Christ was not there, nor yet any longer dead, but risen, as, indeed, He had foretold in Galilee to His disciples; finally, he bade them hasten with the announcement to the disciples, and with this message that, as Christ had directed them before, they were to meet Him in Galilee. It was not only that this connected, so to speak, the wondrous present with the familiar past, and helped them to realise that it was their very Master; nor yet that in the retirement, quiet, and security of Galilee, there would be best opportunity for fullest manifestation, as to the five hundred, and for final conversation and instruction. But the main reason, and that which explains the otherwise strange, almost exclusive, prominence given at such a moment to the direction to meet Him in Galilee, has already been indicated in a previous chapter. With the scattering of the Eleven in Gethsemane on the night of Christ’s betrayal, the Apostolic College was temporarily broken up. They continued, indeed, still to meet together as individual disciples, but the bond of the Apostolate was for the moment, dissolved. And the Apostolic circle was to be re-formed, and the Apostolic Commission renewed and enlarged, in Galilee; not, indeed, by its Lake, where only seven of the Eleven seem to have been present, but on the mountain where He had directed them to meet Him. Thus was the end to be like the beginning. Where He had first called, and directed them for their work, there would He again call them, give fullest directions, and bestow new and amplest powers. His appearances in Jerusalem were intended to prepare them for all this, to assure them completely and joyously of the fact of His Resurrection – the full teaching of which would be given in Galilee. And when the women, perplexed and scarcely conscious, obeyed the command to go in and examine for themselves the now empty niche in the Tomb, they saw two Angels – probably as the Magdalene afterwards saw them – one at the head, the other at the feet, where the Body of Jesus had lain. They waited no longer, but hastened, without speaking to any one, to carry to the disciples the tidings of which they could not even yet grasp the full import.
2. But whatever unclearness of detail may rest on the narratives of the Synoptists, owing to their great compression, all is distinct when we follow the steps of the Magdalene, as these are traced in the Fourth Gospel. Hastening from the Tomb, she ran to the lodging of Peter and to that of John – the repetition of the preposition ‘to’ probably marking, that the two occupied different, although perhaps closely adjoining, quarters. Her startling tidings induced them to go at once – ‘and they went towards the sepulchre.’ ‘But they began to run, the two together’ – probably so soon as they were outside the town and near ‘the Garden.’ John, as the younger, outran Peter. Reaching the Sepulchre first, and stooping down, ‘he seeth’ (βλέπει) the linen clothes, but, from his position, not the napkin which lay apart by itself. If reverence and awe prevented John from entering the Sepulchre, his impulsive companion, who arrived immediately after him, thought of nothing else than the immediate and full clearing up of the mystery. As he entered the sepulchre, he ‘steadfastly (intently) beholds’ (θεωρεῖ) in one place the linen swathes that had bound the Sacred Limbs, and in another the napkin that had been about His Head. There was no sign of haste, but all was orderly, leaving the impression of One Who had leisurely divested Himself of what no longer befitted Him. Soon ‘the other disciple’ followed Peter. The effect of what he saw was, that he now believed in his heart that the Master was risen – for till then they had not yet derived from Holy Scripture the knowledge that He must rise again. And this also is most instructive. It was not the belief previously derived from Scripture, that the Christ was to rise from the Dead, which led to expectancy of it, but the evidence that He had risen which led them to the knowledge of what Scripture taught on the subject.
3. Yet whatever light had risen in the inmost sanctuary of John’s heart, he spake not his thoughts to the Magdalene, whether she had reached the Sepulchre ere the two left it, or met them by the way. The two Apostles returned to their home, either feeling that nothing more could be learned at the Tomb, or to wait for further teaching and guidance. Or it might even have been partly due to a desire not to draw needless attention to the empty Tomb. But the love of the Magdalene could not rest satisfied, while doubt hung over the fate of His Sacred Body. It must be remembered that she knew only of the empty Tomb. For a time she gave way to the agony of her sorrow; then, as she wiped away her tears, she stooped to take one more look into the Tomb, which she thought empty, when, as she ‘intently gazed’ (θεωρεῖ), the Tomb seemed no longer empty. At the head and feet, where the Sacred Body had lain, were seated two Angels in white. Their question, so deeply true from their knowledge that Christ had risen: ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ seems to have come upon the Magdalene with such overpowering suddenness, that, without being able to realise – perhaps in the semi-gloom – who it was that had asked it, she spake, bent only on obtaining the information she sought: ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.’ So is it often with us, that, weeping, we ask the question of doubt or fear, which, if we only knew, would never have risen to our lips; nay, that heaven’s own ‘Why?’ fails to impress us, even when the Voice of its Messengers would gently recall us from the error of our impatience.
But already another answer was to be given to the Magdalene. As she spake, she became conscious of another Presence close to her. Quickly turning round, ‘she gazed’ (θεωρεῖ) on One Whom she recognised not, but regarded as the gardener, from His presence there and from His question: ‘Woman, why weepest then? Whom seekest thou?’ The hope, that she might now learn what she sought, gave wings to her words – intensity and pathos. If the supposed gardener had borne to another place the Sacred Body, she would take It away, if she only knew where It was laid. This depth and agony of love, which made the Magdalene forget even the restraints of a Jewish woman’s intercourse with a stranger, was the key that opened the Lips of Jesus. A moment’s pause, and He spake her name in those well-remembered accents, that had first unbound her from sevenfold demoniac power and called her into a new life. It was as another unbinding, another call into a new life. She had not known His appearance, just as the others did not know Him at first, so unlike, and yet so like, was the glorified Body to that which they had known. But, she could not mistake the Voice, especially when It spake to her, and spake her name. So do we also often fail to recognise the Lord when He comes to us ‘in another form’ than we had known. But we cannot fail to recognise Him when He speaks to us and speaks our name.
Perhaps we may here be allowed to pause, and, from the non-recognition of the Risen Lord till He spoke, ask this question: With what body shall we rise? Like or unlike the past? Assuredly, most like. Our bodies will then be true; for the soul will body itself forth according to its past history – not only impress itself, as now on the features, but express itself – so that a man may be known by what he is, and as what he is. Thus, in this respect also, has the Resurrection a moral aspect, and is the completion of the history of mankind and of each man. And the Christ also must have borne in His glorified Body all that He was, all that even His most intimate disciples had not known nor understood while He was with them, which they now failed to recognise, but knew at once when He spake to them.
It was precisely this which now prompted the action of the Magdalene – prompted also, and explains, the answer of the Lord. As in her name she recognised His Name, the rush of old feeling came over her, and with the familiar ‘raboni !’ – my Master – she would fain have grasped Him. Was it the unconscious impulse to take hold on the precious treasure which she had thought for ever lost; the unconscious attempt to make sure that it was not merely an apparition of Jesus from heaven, but the real Christ in His corporeity on earth; or a gesture of veneration, the beginning of such acts of worship as her, heart prompted? Probably all these; and yet probably she was not at the moment distinctly conscious of either or of any of these feelings. But to them all there was one answer, and in it a higher direction, given by the words of the Lord: ‘Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to the Father.’ Not the Jesus appearing from heaven – for He had not yet ascended to the Father; not the former intercourse, not the former homage and worship. There was yet a future of completion before Him in the Ascension, of which, Mary knew not. Between that future of completion and the past of work, the present was a gap – belonging partly to the past and partly to the future. The past could not be recalled, the future could not be anticipated. The present was of reassurance, of consolation, of preparation, of teaching. Let the Magdalene go and tell His ‘brethren’ of the Ascension. So would she best and most truly tell them that she had seen Him; so also would they best learn how the Resurrection linked the past of His Work of love for them to the future: ‘I ascend unto My Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God.’ Thus, the fullest teaching of the past, the clearest manifestation of the present, and the brightest teaching of the future – all as gathered up in the Resurrection – came to the Apostles through the mouth of love of her out of whom He had cast seven devils.
4. Yet another scene on that Easter morning does Matthew relate, in explanation of how the well-known Jewish calumny had arisen that the disciples had stolen away the Body of Jesus. He tells, how the guard had reported to the chief priests what had happened, and how they in turn had bribed the guard to spread this rumor, at the same time promising that if the fictitious account, of their having slept while the disciples robbed the Sepulchre should reach Pilate, they would intercede on their behalf. Whatever else may be said, we know that from the time of Justin Martyr this has been the Jewish explanation. Of late, however, it has, among thoughtful Jewish writers, given place to the so-called ‘Vision-hypothesis,’ to which full reference has already been made.
5. It was the early afternoon of that spring-day perhaps soon after the early meal, when two men from that circle of disciples left the City. Their narrative affords deeply interesting glimpses into the circle of the Church in those first days. The impression conveyed to us is of utter bewilderment, in which only some things stood out unshaken and firm: love to the Person of Jesus; love among the brethren; mutual confidence and fellowship; together with a dim hope of something yet to come – if not Christ in His Kingdom, yet some manifestation of, or approach to it. The Apostolic College seems broken up into units; even the two chief Apostles, Peter and John, are only ‘certain of them that were with us.’ And no wonder; for they are no longer ‘Apostles’ – sent out. Who is to send them forth? Not a dead Christ! And what would be their commission, and to whom and whither? And above all rested a cloud of utter uncertainty and perplexity. Jesus was a Prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people. But their rulers had crucified Him. What was to be their new relation to Jesus; what to their rulers? And what of the great hope of the Kingdom, which they had connected with Him?
Thus they were unclear on that very Easter Day even as to His Mission and Work: unclear as to the past, the present, and the future. What need for the Resurrection, and for the teaching which the Risen One alone could bring! These two men had on that very day been in communication with Peter and John. And it leaves on us the impression, that, amidst the general confusion, all had brought such tidings as they had, or had come to hear them, and had tried but failed, to put it all into order or to see light around it. ‘The women’ had come to tell of the empty Tomb and of their vision of Angels, who said that He was alive. But as yet the Apostles had no explanation to offer. Peter and John had gone to see for themselves. They had brought back confirmation of the report that the Tomb was empty, but they had seen neither Angels nor Him Whom they were said to have declared alive. And, although the two had evidently left the circle of the disciples, if not Jerusalem, before the Magdalene came, yet we know that even her account did not carry conviction to the minds of those that heard it.
Of the two, who on that early spring afternoon left the City in company, we know that one bore the name of Cleopas. The other, unnamed, has for that very reason, and because the narrative of that work bears in its vividness the character of personal recollection, been identified with Luke himself. If so, then, as has been finely remarked, each of the Gospels would, like a picture, bear in some dim corner the indication of its author: the first, that of the ‘publican;’ that by Mark, that of the young man, who, in the night of the Betrayal, had fled from his captors; that of Luke in the companion of Cleopas; and that of John, in the disciple whom Jesus loved. Uncertainty, almost equal to that about the second traveller to Emmaus, rests on the identification of that place. But such great probability attaches, if not to the exact spot, yet to the locality, or rather the valley, that we may in imagination follow the two companions on their road.
We leave the City by the Western Gate. A rapid progress for about twenty-five minutes, and we have reached the edge of the plateau. The blood-stained City, and the cloud-and-gloom-capped trysting-place of the followers of Jesus, are behind us; and with every step forward and upward the air seems fresher and freer, as if we felt in it the scent of mountain, or even the far-off breezes of the sea. Other twenty-five or thirty minutes – perhaps a little more, passing here and there country-houses – and we pause to look back, now on the wide prospect far as Bethlehem. Again we pursue our way. We are now getting beyond the dreary, rocky region, and are entering on a valley. To our right is the pleasant spot that marks the ancient nep̱toah, on the border of Judah, now occupied by the village of Lifta. A short quarter of an hour more, and we have left the well-paved Roman road and are heading up a lovely valley. The path gently climbs in a north-westerly direction, with the height on which Emmaus stands prominently before us. About equidistant are, on the right Lifta, on the left Kolonieh. The roads from these two, describing almost a semicircle (the one to the north-west, the other to the north-east), meet about a quarter of a mile to the south of Emmaus (Hammoza, Beit Mizza). What an oasis this in a region of hills! Along the course of the stream, which babbles down, and low in the valley is crossed by a bridge, are scented orange, and lemon-gardens, olive-groves, luscious fruit trees, pleasant enclosures, shady nooks, bright dwellings, and on the height lovely Emmaus. A sweet spot to which to wander on that spring afternoon; a most suitable place where to meet such companionship, and to find such teaching, as on that Easter Day.
It may have been where the two roads from Lifta and Kolonieh meet, that the mysterious Stranger, Whom they knew not, their eyes being ‘holden,’ joined the two friends. Yet all these six or seven miles their converse had been of Him, and even now their flushed faces bore the marks of sadness on account of those events of which they had been speaking – disappointed hopes, all the more bitter for the perplexing tidings about the empty Tomb and the absent Body of the Christ. So is Christ often near to us when our eyes are holden, and we know Him not; and so do ignorance and unbelief often fill our hearts with sadness, even when truest joy would most become us. To the question of the Stranger about the topics of a conversation which had so visibly affected them, they replied in language which shows that they were so absorbed by it themselves, as scarcely to understand how even a festive pilgrim and stranger in Jerusalem could have failed to know it, or perceive its supreme importance. Yet, strangely unsympathetic as from His question He might seem, there was that in His Appearance which unlocked their inmost hearts. They told Him their thoughts about this Jesus; how He had showed Himself a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; then, how their rulers had crucified Him; and, lastly, how fresh perplexity had come to them from the tidings which the women had brought, and which Peter and John had so far confirmed, but were unable to explain. Their words were almost child-like in their simplicity, deeply truthful, and with a pathos and earnest, craving for guidance and comfort that goes straight to the heart. To such souls it was, that the Risen Saviour would give His first teaching. The very rebuke with which He opened it must have brought its comfort. We also, in our weakness, are sometimes sore distrest when we hear what, at the moment, seem to us insuperable difficulties raised to any of the great truths of our holy faith; and, in perhaps equal weakness, feel comforted and strengthened, when some ‘great one’ turns them aside, or avows himself in face of them a believing disciple of Christ. As if man’s puny height could reach up to heaven’s mysteries, or any big infant’s strength were needed to steady the building which God has reared on that great Cornerstone! But Christ’s rebuke was not of such kind. Their sorrow arose from their folly in looking only at the things seen, and this, from their slowness to believe what the prophets had spoken. Had they attended to this, instead of allowing themselves to be swallowed up by the outward, they would have understood it all. Did not the Scriptures with one voice teach this twofold truth about the Messiah, that He was to suffer and to enter into His glory? Then why wonder – why not rather expect, that He had suffered, and that Angels had proclaimed Him alive again?
He spake it, and fresh hope sprang up in their hearts, new thoughts rose in their minds. Their eager gaze was fastened on Him as He now opened up, one by one, the Scriptures, from Moses and all the prophets, and in each well-remembered passage interpreted to them the things concerning Himself. Oh, that we had been there to hear – though in the silence of our hearts also, if only we crave for it, and if we walk with Him, He sometimes so opens from the Scriptures – nay, from all the Scriptures, that which comes not, to us by critical study: ‘the things concerning Himself.’ All too quickly fled the moments. The brief space was traversed, and the Stranger seemed about to pass on from Emmaus – not feigning it, but really: for, the Christ will only abide with us if our longing and loving constrain Him. But they could not part with Him. ‘They constrained Him.’ Love made them ingenious. It was toward evening; the day was far spent; He must even abide with them. What a rush of thought and feeling comes to us, as we think of it all, and try to realise times, scenes, circumstances in our experience, that are blessedly akin to it.
The Master allowed Himself to be constrained. He went in to be their guest, as they thought, for the night. The simple evening-meal was spread. He sat down with them, to the frugal board. And now He was no longer the Stranger; He was the Master. No one asked, or questioned, as He took the bread and spake the words of blessing, then, breaking, gave it to them. But that moment it was, as if an unfelt Hand had been taken from their eyelids, as if suddenly the film had been cleared from their sight. And as they knew Him, He vanished from their view – for, that which He had come to do had been done. They were unspeakably rich and happy now. But, amidst it all, one thing forced itself ever anew upon them, that, even while their eyes had yet been holden, their hearts had burned within them, while He spake to them and opened to them the Scriptures. So, then, they had learned to the full the Resurrection-lesson – not only that He was risen indeed, but that it needed not His seen Bodily Presence, if only He opened up to the heart and mind all the Scriptures concerning Himself. And this, concerning those other words about ‘holding’ and ‘touching’ Him – about having converse and fellowship with Him as the Risen One, had been also the lesson taught the Magdalene, when He would not suffer her loving, worshipful touch, pointing her to the Ascension before Him. This is the great lesson concerning the Risen One, which the Church fully learned in the Day of Pentecost.
6. That same afternoon, in circumstances and manner to us unknown, the Lord had appeared to Peter. We may perhaps suggest, that it was after His manifestation at Emmaus. This would complete the cycle of mercy: first, to the loving sorrow of the woman; next, to the loving perplexity of the disciples; then, to the anxious heart of the stricken Peter – last, in the circle of the Apostles, which was again drawing together around the assured fact of His Resurrection.
7. These two in Emmaus could not have kept the good tidings to themselves. Even if they had not remembered the sorrow and perplexity in which they had left their fellow-disciples in Jerusalem that forenoon, they could not have kept it to themselves, could not have remained in Emmaus, but must have gone to their brethren in the City. So they left the uneaten meal, and hastened back the road they had travelled with the now well-known Stranger – but, ah, with what lighter hearts and steps!
They knew well the trysting-place where to find ‘the Twelve’ – nay, not the Twelve now, but ‘the Eleven’ – and even thus their circle was not complete, for, as already stated, it was broken up, and at least Thomas was not with the others on that Easter-Evening of the first ‘Lord’s Day.’ But, as Luke is careful to inform is, with them were the others who then associated with them. This is of extreme importance, as marking that the words which the Risen Christ spake on that occasion were addressed not to the Apostles as such – a thought forbidden also by the absence of Thomas – but to the Church, although it may be as personified and represented by such of the ‘Twelve,’ or rather ‘Eleven,’ as were present on the occasion.
When the two from Emmaus arrived, they found the little band as sheep sheltering within the fold from the storm. Whether they apprehended persecution simply as disciples, or because the tidings of the empty Tomb, which had reached the authorities, would stir the fears of the Sanhedrists, special precautions had been taken. The outer and inner doors were shut, alike to conceal their gathering and to prevent surprise. But those assembled were now sure of at least one thing. Christ was risen. And when they from Emmaus told their wondrous story, the others could antiphonally reply by relating how He had appeared, not only to the Magdalene, but also to Peter. And still they seem not yet to have understood His Resurrection; to have regarded it as rather an Ascension too Heaven, from which He had made manifestation, than as the reappearance of His real, though glorified Corporeity.
They were sitting at meat – if we may infer from the notice of Mark, and from what happened immediately afterwards, discussing, not without considerable doubt and misgiving, the real import of these appearances of Christ. That to the Magdalene seems to have been put aside – at least, it is not mentioned, and, even in regard to the others, they seem to have been considered, at any rate by some, rather as what we might call spectral appearances. But all at once He stood in the midst of them. The common salutation – on His Lips not common, but a reality – fell on their hearts at first with terror rather than joy. They had spoken of spectral appearances, and now they believed they were ‘gazing’ (θεωρεῖν) on ‘a spirit.’ This the Saviour first, and once for all, corrected, by the exhibition of the glorified marks of His Sacred Wounds, and by bidding them handle Him to convince themselves, that His was a real Body, and what they saw not a disembodied spirit. The unbelief of doubt now gave place to the not daring to believe all that it meant, for very gladness, and for wondering whether there could now be any longer fellowship or bond, between this Risen Christ and them in their bodies. It was to remove this also, which, though from another aspect, was equally unbelief, that the Saviour now partook before them of their supper of broiled fish, thus holding with them true human fellowship as of old.
It was this lesson of His continuity – in the strictest sense – with the past, which was required in order that the Church might be, so to, speak, reconstituted now in the Name, Power, and Spirit of the Risen One Who had lived and died. Once more He spake the ‘Peace be unto you!’ and now it was to them not occasion of doubt or fear, but the well-known salutation of their old Lord and Master. It was followed by the re-gathering and constituting of the Church as that of Jesus Christ, the Risen One. The Church of the Risen One was to be the Ambassador of Christ, as He had been the Delegate of the Father. ‘The Apostles were [say rather, ‘the Church was’] commissioned to carry on Christ’s work, and not to begin a new one.’ ‘As the Father has sent Me [in the past, for His Mission was completed], even so send I you [in the constant present, till His Coming again].’ This marks the threefold relation of the Church to the Son, to the Father, and to the world, and her position in it. In the same manner, for the same purpose, nay, so far as possible, with the same qualification, and the same authority as the Father had sent Christ, does He commission His Church. And so it was that He made it a very real commission when He breathed on them, not individually but as an assembly, and said: ‘Take ye the Holy Ghost;’ and this, manifestly not in the absolute sense, since the Holy Ghost was not yet given, but as the connecting link with, and the qualification for, the authority bestowed on the Church. Or, to set forth another aspect of it by somewhat inverting the order of the words: Alike the Mission of the Church and her authority to forgive or retain sins are connected with a personal qualification: ‘Take ye the Holy Ghost;’ – in which the word ‘take’ should also be marked. This is the authority which the Church possesses, not ex opere operato, but as connected with the taking and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church.
It still remains to explain, so far as we can, these two points: In what this power of forgiving and retaining sins consists, and in what manner it resides in the Church. In regard to the former we must first inquire, what idea it would convey to those to whom Christ spake the words. It has already been explained, that the power of ‘loosing’ and ‘binding’ referred to the legislative authority claimed by, and conceded to, the Rabbinic College. Similarly, as previously, stated, that here referred to applied to their juridical or judicial power according to which they pronounced a person either ‘zakai,’ innocent or ‘free;’ ‘absolved,’ ‘patur:’ or else ‘liable,’ ‘guilty,’ ‘ḥayyaḇ’ (whether liable to punishment or sacrifice). In the true sense, therefore, this is rather administrative, disciplinary power, ‘the power of the keys’ – such as Paul would have had the Corinthian Church put in force – the power of admission and exclusion, of the authoritative declaration of the forgiveness of sins, in the exercise of which power (as it seems to the present writer) the authority for the administration of the Holy Sacraments is also involved. And yet it is not, as is sometimes represented, ‘absolution from sin,’ which belongs only to God and to Christ as Head of the Church, but absolution of the sinner, which He has delegated to His Church: ‘Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven.’ These words also teach us, that what the Rabbis claimed in virtue of their office, that the Lord bestowed on His Church in virtue of her receiving, and of the indwelling of, the Holy Ghost.
In answering the second question proposed, we must bear in mind one important point. The power of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ had been primarily committed to the Apostles, and exercised by them in connection with the Church. On the other hand, that of forgiving and retaining sins, in the sense explained, was primarily bestowed on the Church, and exercised by her through her representatives, the Apostles, and those to whom they committed rule. Although, therefore, the Lord on that night committed this power to His Church, it was in the person of her representatives and rulers. The Apostles alone could exercise legislative functions, but the Church has to the end of time ‘the power of the keys.’
8. There had been absent from the circle of disciples on that Easter-Evening one of the Apostles, Thomas. Even when told of the marvellous events at that gathering, he refused to believe, unless had personal and sensuous evidence of the truth of the report. It can scarcely have been, that Thomas did not believe in the fact that Christ’s Body had quitted the Tomb, or that He had really appeared. But he held fast by what we may term the Vision-hypothesis or, in this case, rather the spectral theory. But until this Apostle also had come to conviction of the Resurrection in the only real sense of the identical though glorified Corporeity of the Lord, and hence of the continuity of the past with the present and future, it was impossible to re-form the Apostolic Circle, or to renew the Apostolic commission, since its primal message was testimony concerning the Risen One. This, if we may so suggest, seems the reason why the Apostles still remained in Jerusalem, instead of hastening, as directed, to meet the Master in Galilee.
A quiet week had passed, during which – and this also may be for our twofold learning – the Apostles excluded not Thomas, nor yet Thomas withdrew from the Apostles. Once more the day of days had come – the Octave of the Feast. From that Easter-Day onwards the Church must, even without special institution, have celebrated the weekly-recurring memorial of His Resurrection, and that when He breathed on the Church the breath of a new life, and consecrated it to be His Representative. Thus, it was not only the memorial of His Resurrection, but the birthday of the Church, even as Pentecost was her baptismal day. On that Octave, then the disciples were again gathered, under circumstances precisely similar to those of Easter, but now Thomas was also with them. Once more – and it is again specially marked: ‘the doors being shut’ – the Risen Saviour appeared in the midst of the disciples with the well-known salutation. He now offered to Thomas the demanded evidence; but it was no longer either needed or sought. With a full rush of feeling he yielded himself to the blessed conviction, which, once formed, must immediately have passed into act of adoration: ‘My Lord and my God!’ The fullest confession this hitherto made, and which truly embraced the whole outcome of the new conviction concerning the reality of Christ’s Resurrection. We remember how, under similar circumstances Nathanael had been the first to utter fullest confession. We also remember the analogous reply of the Saviour. As then, so now, He pointed to the higher: to a faith which was not the outcome of sight, and therefore limited and bounded by sight, whether of the senses or of perception by the intellect. As one has finely remarked: ‘This last and greatest of the Beatitudes is the peculiar heritage of the later Church’ – and thus most aptly comes as the consecration gift of that Church.
9. The next scene presented to us is once again by the Lake of Galilee. The manifestation to Thomas, and, with it, the restoration of unity in the Apostolic Circle, had originally concluded the Gospel of John. But the report which had spread in the early Church, that the Disciple whom Jesus loved was not to die, led him to add to his Gospel, by way of Appendix, an account of the events with which this expectancy had connected itself. It is most instructive to the critic, when challenged at every step to explain why one or another fact is not mentioned or mentioned only in one Gospel, to find that, but for the correction of a possible misapprehension in regard to the aged Apostle, the Fourth Gospel would have contained no reference to the manifestation of Christ in Galilee, nay, to the presence of the disciples there before the Ascension. Yet, for all that, John had it in his mind. And should we not learn from this, that what appear to us strange omissions, which, when held by the side of the other Gospel-narratives, seem to involve discrepancies, may be capable of the most satisfactory explanation, if we only knew all the circumstances?
The history itself sparkles like a gem in its own peculiar setting. It is of green Galilee, and of the blue Lake, and recalls the early days and scenes of this history. As Matthew has it, ‘the eleven disciples went away into Galilee’ – probably immediately after that Octave of the Easter. It can scarcely be doubted, that they made known not only the fact of the Resurrection, but the trysting which the Risen One had given them – perhaps at that Mountain where He had spoken His first ‘Sermon.’ And so it was, that ‘some doubted,’ and that He afterwards appeared to the five hundred at once. But on that morning there were by the Lake of Tiberias only seven of the disciples. Five of them only are named. They are those who most closely kept in company with Him – perhaps also they who lived nearest the Lake.
The scene is introduced by Peter’s proposal to go a-fishing. It seems as if the old habits had come back to them with the old associations. Peter’s companions naturally proposed to join him. All that still, clear night they were on the Lake, but caught nothing. Did not this recall to them the former event, when James and John, and Peter and Andrew were called to be Apostles, and did it not specially recall to Peter the searching and sounding of his heart on the morning that followed? But so utterly self-unconscious were they, and, let us add, so far is this history from any trace of legendary design, that not the slightest indication of this appears. Early morning was breaking, and under the rosy glow above the cool shadows were still lying on the pebbly ‘beach.’ There stood the Figure of One Whom they recognised not – nay, not even when He spake. Yet His Words were intended to bring them this knowledge. The direction to cast the net to the right side of the ship brought them, as He had said, the haul for which they had toiled all night in vain. And more than this: such a multitude of fishes, that they were not able to draw up the net into the ship. This was enough for ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ and whose heart may previously have misgiven him. He whispered it to Peter: ‘It is the Lord,’ and Simon, only reverently gathering about him his fisher’s upper garment, cast himself into the sea. Yet even so, except to be sooner by the side of Christ, Peter seems to have gained nothing by his haste. The others, leaving the ship, and transferring themselves to a small boat, which must have been attached to it, followed, rowing the short distance of about one hundred yards, and dragging after them the net, weighted with the fishes.
They stepped on the beach, hallowed by His Presence, in silence, as if they had entered Church or Temple. They dared not even dispose of the netful of fishes which they had dragged on shore, until He directed them what to do. This only they noticed, that some unseen hand had prepared the morning meal, which, when asked by the Master, they had admitted they had not of their own. And now Jesus directed them to bring the fish they had caught. When Peter dragged up the weighted net, it was found full of great fishes, not less than a hundred and fifty-three in number. There is no need to attach any symbolic import to that number, as the Fathers and later writers have done. We can quite understand – nay, it seems almost natural, that in the peculiar circumstances, they should have counted the large fishes in that miraculous draught that still left the net unbroken. It may have been, that they, were told to count the fishes – partly, also, to show the reality of what had taken place. But on the fire of coals there seems to have been only one fish, and beside it only one bread. To this meal He now bade them, for they seem still to have hung back in reverent awe, nor durst they ask Him, Who He was, well knowing it was the Lord. This, as John notes, was the third appearance of Christ to the disciples as a body.
10. And still this morning of blessing was not ended. The frugal meal was past, with all its significant teaching of just sufficient provision for His Servants, and abundant supply in the unbroken net beside them. But some special teaching was needed, more even than that to Thomas, for him whose work was to be so prominent among the Apostles, whose love was so ardent, and yet in its very ardour so full of danger to himself. For, our dangers spring not only from deficiency, but it may be from excess of feeling, when that feeling is not commensurate with inward strength. Had Peter not confessed, quite honestly, yet, as the event proved, mistakingly, that his love to Christ would endure even an ordeal that would disperse all the others? And had he not, almost, immediately afterwards, and though prophetically warned of it, thrice denied his Lord? Jesus had, indeed, since then appeared specially to Peter as the Risen One. But this threefold denial still stood, as it were, uncancelled before the other disciples, nay, before Peter himself. It was to this that the threefold question of the Risen Lord now referred. Turning to Peter, with pointed though most gentle allusion to the danger of self-confidence – a confidence springing from only a sense of personal affection, even though genuine – He asked: ‘Simon, son of Jona’ – as it were with fullest reference to what he was naturally lovest thou Me more than these?’ Peter understood it all. No longer with confidence in self, avoiding the former reference to the others, and even with marked choice of a different word to express his affection from that which the Saviour, had used, he replied, appealing rather to his Lord’s, than to his own consciousness- ‘Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ And even here the answer of Christ is characteristic. It was to set him first the humblest work, that which needed most tender care and patience: ‘Feed [provide with food] My Lambs.’
Yet a second time came the same question, although now without the reference to the others, and, with the same answer by Peter, the now varied and enlarged commission: ‘Feed [shepherd, ποίμαινε] My Sheep.’ Yet a third time did Jesus repeat the same question, now adopting in it the very word which Peter had used to express his affection. Peter was grieved at this threefold repetition. It recalled only too bitterly his threefold denial. And yet the Lord was not doubtful of Peter’s love, for each time He followed up His question with a fresh Apostolic commission; but now that He put it for the third time, Peter would have the Lord send down the sounding-line quite into the lowest deep of his heart: ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things – Thou perceivest that I love Thee.’ And now the Saviour spake it: ‘Feed [provide food for] My Sheep,’ His Lambs, His Sheep, to be provided for, to be tended as such! And only love can do such service.
Yes, and Peter did love the Lord Jesus. He had loved Him when he said it, only too confident in the strength of his feelings, that he would follow the Master even unto death. And Jesus saw it all – yea, and how this love of the ardent temperament which had once made him rove at wild liberty, would give place to patient work of love, and be crowned with that martyrdom which, when the beloved disciple wrote, was already matter of the past. And the very manner of death by which he was to glorify God was indicated in the words of Jesus.
As He spake them, He joined the symbolic action to His ‘Follow Me.’ This command, and the encouragement of being in death literally made like Him-following Him – were Peter’s best strength. He obeyed; but as he turned to do so, he saw another following. As John himself puts it, it seems almost to convey that he had longed to share Peter’s call, with all that it implied. For, John speaks of himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he reminds us that in that night of betrayal he had been specially a sharer with Peter, nay, had spoken what the other had silently asked of him. Was it impatience, was it a touch of the old Peter, or was it a simple inquiry of brotherly interest which prompted the question, as he pointed to John: ‘Lord-and this man, what?’ Whatever had been the motive, to him, as to us all, when, perplexed about those who seem to follow Christ, we ask it – sometimes in bigoted narrowness, sometimes in ignorance, folly, or jealousy – is this the answer: ‘What is that to thee? follow thou Me.’ For John also had his lifework for Christ. It was to ‘tarry’ while He was coming – to tarry those many years in patient labour, while Christ was coming.
But what did it mean? The saying went abroad among the brethren that John was not to die, but to tarry till Jesus came again to reign, when death would be swallowed up in victory. But Jesus had not so said, only: ‘If I will that he tarry while I am coming.’ What that ‘Coming’ was, Jesus had not said, and John knew not. So, then, there are things, and connected with His Coming, on which Jesus has left the veil, only to be lifted by His own Hand – which He means us not to know at present, and which we should be content to leave as He has left them.
11. Beyond this narrative we have only briefest notices: by Paul, of Christ manifesting Himself to James, which probably finally decided him for Christ, and of His manifestation to the five hundred at once; by Matthew, of the Eleven meeting Him at the mountain, where He had appointed them; by Luke, of the teaching in the Scriptures during the forty days of communication between the Risen Christ and the disciples.
But this twofold testimony comes to us from Matthew and Mark, that then the worshipping disciples were once more formed into the Apostolic Circle – Apostles, now, of the Risen Christ. And this was the warrant of their new commission: ‘All power (authority) has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’ And this was their new commission: ‘Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ And this was their work: ‘Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.’ And this is His final and sure promise: ‘And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’
12. We are once more in Jerusalem, whither He had bidden them go to tarry for the fulfilment of the great promise. The Pentecost was drawing nigh. And on that last day – the day of His Ascension – He led them forth to the well-remembered Bethany. From where He had made His last triumphal Entry into Jerusalem before His Crucifixion, would He make His triumphant Entry visibly into Heaven. Once more would they have asked Him about that which seemed to them the final consummation – the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. But such questions became them not. Theirs was to be work, not rest; suffering, not triumph. The great promise before them was of spiritual, not outward, power of the Holy Ghost – and their call not yet to reign with Him, but to bear witness for Him. And, as He so spake, He lifted His Hands in blessing upon them, and, as He was visibly taken up, a cloud received Him. And still they gazed, with upturned faces, on that luminous cloud which had received Him, and two Angels spake to them this last message from Him, that He should so come in like manner – as they had beheld Him going into heaven.
And so their last question to Him, ere He had parted from them, was also answered, and with blessed assurance. Reverently they worshipped Him; then, with great joy, returned to Jerusalem. So it was all true, all real – and Christ ‘sat down at the Right Hand of God!’ Henceforth, neither doubting, ashamed, nor yet afraid, they ‘were continually in the Temple, blessing God.’ ‘And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.’
Amen! It is so. Ring out the bells of heaven; sing forth the Angelic welcome of worship; carry it to the utmost bounds of earth! Shine forth from Bethany, Thou Sun of Righteousness, and chase away earth’s mist and darkness, for Heaven’s golden day has broken!
Easter Morning, 1883. – Our task is ended – and we also worship and look up. And we go back from this sight into a hostile world, to love, and to live, and to work for the Risen Christ. But as earth’s day is growing dim, and, with earth’s gathering darkness, breaks over it heaven’s storm, we ring out – as of old they were, wont, from church-tower, to the mariners that hugged a rock-bound coast – our Easter bells to guide them who are belated, over the storm-tossed sea, beyond the breakers, into the desired haven. Ring out, earth, all thy Easter-chimes; bring your offerings, all ye people; worship in faith, for –
‘This Jesus, Which was received up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven.’ ‘Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!’