Seeking the Living among the Dead: A Sermon Preached in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Shanghai, on Easter Evening 1887.
By the Rev. Sidney C. Partridge of the American Church Mission.
Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, Limited, the Bund, 1887.
ST. LUKE, xxiv. 5.
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
ONCE more the glorious day of days has dawned upon the weary earth. Once more we stand amid the Easter flowers, filling the air with their fragrance, and speaking to us in their silent yet beautiful way of the great and precious lessons of the hour. As our American poet has so touchingly sung,
“With childlike credulous affection,
We behold their tender buds expand.
Emblems of our own great Resurrection,
Emblems of the bright and better land.”
Again, with a mighty shout which echoes from continent to continent, the angel descends from heaven and rolls away the stone, and the infidel and skeptic guarders of the tomb who would seal there the Church's Christ are struck down and are speechless as they behold the light and hear the sound that smites them to the earth. Again, with clarion tones, the Holy Church, laying aside her garments of mourning and woe, proclaims to the world the joyful news of the victory over death and the grave—
“Christ the Lord is risen to-day—
Sons of men and angels say.
Raise your joys and triumphs high,
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply.”
It is, Dearly Beloved, a time of refreshing and strengthening for us all; a time when we are assured again by the messenger from heaven of the impregnability of this great foundation truth of our religion, without which our very faith is vain and our preaching but sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.
 Hastening to that rock-cut sepulchre as hastened the women on that first Easter day, what is the word that greets us? It is the angel's query which is written in our text, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Now, how may we be said to seek the living among the dead?
I.—”Among the dead.” The moment we hear those words our thoughts turn instinctively to our own precious dead; for though we all of us must die, we do not think of ourselves yet as “the dead,” we are the living. Our own dead, I say, those whom we have known and loved on earth, and who have passed on before us to the blessed mansions in Paradise; and not only these, but all the saints of God in every age, the noble army of martyrs, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the priests and kings of Holy Writ, even the Patriarchs themselves. Not “I was” but “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” saith the Lord, and we know also that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” In what light are we accustomed to look upon these holy men and women? Are they real, living characters or are they dead? I do not mean living characters in the sense in which we speak of the heroes of fiction, but living, to-day, in the Paradise of God. Alas! too often they are to us as those departed and forgotten; like the faded figures upon some ancient tapestry, they are the relics of a dead and buried past. Then let us listen and hear again to-day the angel's words, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”—They live! Aye! they live! All—from the smallest to the greatest, from the first to the last. Because He lives, they live also. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Samuel, David and Solomon the king, Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Peter and James and John the well-beloved, Paul the hero of the faith, Timothy and Titus, aye—Polycarp, Ignatius, Augustine, Ambrose, down the long line of the ages to the martyr-bishops of our own day, to Patteson [2/3] and Hannington—Yes! They all live, and walk the paths of Paradise with Him.
And those endeared to us by ties of kinship and love, they live also, freed from all sorrow, care and pain—far safer than they ever were on earth, they live! Oh! Blessed truth! It is no message of the preacher's own devising, it is the gentle greeting of the heavenly visitor who meets us at the open tomb and, tenderly rebuking our lack of faith, asks, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
II.—Then, with reference to ourselves, how often do we seek life for ourselves amid the dead philosophies and speculations of men. How many there are on this Asiatic coast who, like the unwary bird, are caught in the snare of some materialistic or agnostic philosophy—something that has just enough brazen assurance, cool intellectual conceit and mystifying terminology in its sheep's clothing to conceal the wolf that is within. Hollow spectres are they from the groves and academies of the ancient world, dragged out after their centuries of sleep like mummies from their tombs; galvanized with wit, satire, and often cheap profanity, wrapped in the flimsy garments of a quasi-scientific phraseology which the popular eye and ear mistakes for brains, but which the Christian student knows to be indicative of superficiality, these forlorn and pitiable objects are the substitutes which a boasted nineteenth century infidelity offers for faith in the living God! On what, this Easter Day, I ask you, are many of our friends and countrymen feeding their immortal souls? Not on the life-giving words of the Son of God but on the empty husks of some John Stuart Mill or the still more popular chaff of Herbert Spencer and his school. But, Beloved, be not deceived. God is not mocked! “He sitteth between the cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet; He still is king, be the people never so impatient.” “Whatsoever a [3/4] man soweth, that—and that only—shall be reap! He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.'''
But there are others, and they form a very large class, who cannot strictly be said to sow these things and yet who reap their effects and are led away by them from the truth. I speak whereof you well know when I mention that large company of young men in these Eastern sea-ports, born in Christian homes in England or America, baptized in infancy and made children of God, members of Christ and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, sent out with a father's exhortation and a mother's prayers, who in times past and even to-day have been led aside step by step from Christ and His Church until they find themselves trying the old, time-worn fallacy of seeking the living among the dead. Yes [ It is an old, old experiment, this search for LIFE. “What is it? Where is it? Tell me! O Ancient Alchemist, bending at midnight over your alembic containing the precious elixir of immortality. But he answers not, for he is dead! Cold and stiff he lies there on the pavement by the side of his retorts and crucibles. Answer me! Ye zealous pilgrims to the Land of Flowers, seeking the fountain of youth and the water of life! The answer is written in their ashes, mingled long since with sand upon the shore of the hoarse resounding sea. Answer me! Ye Huxleys and Pasteurs of to-day. I am not Bpeaking of your purely scientific achievements and the benefits which you have conferred upon mankind, but of the deeper problems which you propose to solve. What do you offer us? Your ingenious answers, as the Duke of Argyll has so keenly shown, prove, when exposed to the sun-light, to be, alas, but “learned formulae for concealing ignorance.” No! From that adamantine wall beyond which they have not trespassed one solitary line, there echoes back in mockery the hollow answer, “Whence it comes we have not [4/5] found!—What it is we do not know.” Why is this? Listen to the angel's message. It is because you are seeking the living among the dead. To the soul hungering and thirsting for life you give nought but the sepulchre of death. But just where you leave that soul the church of Christ takes it up and says, “We know what life is and where it is. In Him is life and the life is the light of men. He is the way, the Truth, the Life. From His riven side the water of life flows freely, and the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come,' take and drink, freely, without money and without price—Come, receive your strength and your life from the source of life Himself.”
III.—And, lastly, Dearly Beloved, men seek the living Christ Himself among the dead. They come as came these women at the first Easter dawn, bringing their ointments to embalm the dead historic Christ; bringing the doctrines and dogmas and systems of theology which their own petty brains have invented; bringing the herbs and spices of their own scholarship and criticism and reasoning, to lay them upon the body of the dead Savior of the world. All so-called Christianity on earth to-day divides itself into two great sections. On one side of the central line of division men talk of what Christ did when He was on earth, of what He said, of what He taught, of His philosophy, His moral system, His perfect example, His great unselfishness, His divine character, etc, etc. But all is past. On the other side of that line men also speak of these, but only as of secondary importance; they are only valuable as leading us up to something higher, namely, what He says and teaches and does to-day, living in the heavens, sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, the Ruler of the universe. One class seeks Him among the dead, the other among the living. Amid these confusing voices this great Church gives no uncertain sound. She speaks the words of Him who bought [5/6] her with his blood. “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive again for evermore. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. I have the keys of death and of hell. I—I—am the Resurrection and the Life. I—not my religion, not my philosophy, not my example; no, none of these—but I—I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Eighteen hundred years ago the world in the wisdom of God by its wisdom knew not God. Dark, gloomy, terrible was the picture. Hear them as they discuss that most vital of all their problems, viz., the Resurrection of the dead. Hear Aeschylus saying, “Once for all, then, there is no resurrection from the dead.” See Thucydides and Cicero seeking it in an immortality of fame. Listen to Catullus as he says, “The sun may set and rise and shine again, but when once our brief sun is set, there is a perpetual night to be slept.” Into that abyss of darkness where men struggled in their helplessness, into that labyrinthic catacomb where they sought in vain for truth and light, suddenly, as the lightning flashing from the East unto the West, there came a cry that pierced the very silence of the tomb and sent men startling back in amazement. That Cry was, “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD AND BECOME THE FIRST FRUITS OF THEM THAT SLEPT!” The Roman soldiers heard it, trembled and fled. Pontius Pilate the Governor, pallid with fear, barred the gates of his palace and cried, “I have crucified a God!” The Holy City rang with its echoes. One disciple after another caught up the sound and wafted it on. It marched upon the Imperial roads, it crossed the seas upon the Roman galleys, it shook the gates of the Eternal City and reached at last the Caesar on his throne. It has never, never stopped. It has encircled the globe in its great triumphant march. From Asia it started out and to Asia it has at length returned.
 The Holy Catholic Church, the life-giving organism whose heavenly commission it is to herald that joyful cry, Beloved, is here in your midst to-day. With a Sacred Ministry reaching back link by link through the ages until it joins hands with Him who walks amid the stars, with the life-giving Sacraments, the channels and pledges of his grace and love, with the Faith pure and unsullied as it came from the throne of God—Why? why, I ask you, is she here? Not for the reasons that many men suppose. She comes not here to cross swords with oriental philosophies; she comes not here to compare the Sermon on the Mount with the Great Learning of Confucius or the Doctrine of the Mean; nor does she come here, I assure you, to save poor, perishing heathen from the crushing wheels of that Calvinistic Juggernaut who is a caricature of a God of love. No, no; her mission is as far higher than these low, grovelling motives which men assign to her as the heavens are higher than the earth. She comes to bring LIFE! She comes to say to these weary sin-burdened souls, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk in newness of life.” She comes to say to these dead bones, “Live,” and behold! they live! In a word, she bears to them the burden of this angel message, and says, “Seek no longer the living among the dead.” And that is just the difference between t Christianity and all other religions; it is a difference of kind, not of degree; it is the difference between the beautiful painting which stands out upon the canvas and the living person it represents; nay, rather it is the difference between the cold, stony, lifeless statue—however graceful, however exquisitely chiselled—and the living man who stands beside it with the glow of health upon his cheeks and the life blood coursing through his veins. The one is dead, the other lives!
I am not insensible to the fact that I, a priest of the Daughter Church, am speaking to you who represent the [7/8] Mother. It is your Jubilee year, and with heart and hand we join with you in rendering honor to that noble lady who is Queen not only of Lesser but of the Greater Britain. In a thousand different ways, by press and platform and pulpit, you will have brought before you the prominent events and the great achievements of this marvellous reign of two score years and ten. Let me beg you amid it all to pause for a moment and consider what is its true and lasting glory. Viewed in the light of that higher tribunal above, there is something which far transcends in importance any victory by force of arms on land or sea—which surpasses the glory of territorial acquisition or of national renown—it is the growth of the national Church. It is a twofold growth, outward and inward. Outwardly it is seen in the extension of its episcopate to the North, South, East and West, from the ice-bound coasts of Labrador to the coral reefs of the Bahamas, from the templed hills of China to the valley of the Congo and the deadly jungle of the great dark Continent. And its inward growth is no less remarkable. To have witnessed the many important changes in the way of return to primitive and Apostolic ways, and in addition to have seen that venerable liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, translated into over seventy different tongues, this is a privilege which God has rarely, if indeed ever, granted to any earthly sovereign.
I may mention but two incidents in this connection which may serve to impress these thoughts upon our minds. The first is that which transpired a few weeks since in Lambeth Palace, when the Bishops of New York and North Carolina, representing the re-united Church of the great republic, stood there on either side of the Primate of All England, and laid upon the altar a thank-offering for this century of growth of the American Church, and with it their country's first contribution to that great Church House which is to rise in the city of [8/9] London as a permanent memorial. And the second was in that city of Dresden, the very centre of that great monarchy which is to-day the living successor on earth of the Holy Roman Empire; where at the consecration of the American Church, there were seen walking side by side to the altar of God, for the first time in over a thousand years, priests of the Greek, the Anglican, and the Old Catholic Churches. We thank God for the vision; it carries us back through the centuries to the days when Constantine sat on the throne of Rome, and the Church of God was one. May it rouse us one and all to a deeper and more realizing sense of what the unity of Christ's Church really is, and lead us to strive and work for it as never before!
No more hopeful sign has appeared upon the horizon in our day than the fact that we are slowly but surely returning to Apostolic preaching. That began the conversion of the world, and that, and that alone, can carry it on. One by one the man-made systems of theology come and go. They all pass away in time. Even in our own lifetime we have seen them laid aside in the alcoves of that great store-house where sooner or later all human productions must find their places. Yes, the scaffolding which has been erected around the simple and ancient Faith of the Church is slowly being removed, and the Temple of God in its majesty and beauty comes out before the eyes of men. What was the keynote of this Apostolic preaching of which I speak? Jesus and the Resurrection. And that alone lasts when all else passes away. Without that human history is a meaningless puzzle, life an inexplicable mystery, death a horror, and eternity a blank; but with it these all are but links in that great golden chain which encircles the earth and binds it to the heavens.
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Dearly Beloved,—Suffer the parting word of exhortation. If you have sought Him amid dead forms, dead philosophies, dead [9/10] histories, or the deader pleasures of this life, seek Him there no more; seek Him in His living Body, which is the Church: so shall this beautiful flower-decked Temple of God in which you worship become to you as the shadow of a great Rock in a weary land, beneath whose cooling shade you may rest on your heavenly journey and quaff the life-giving waters which here flow so freely for the Christian pilgrim.
And then shall this pulpit and font and altar take on for you a meaning which they never had before; this great sanctuary shall be hallowed by new and living associations, and you will learn to seek its portals not only on the great Lord's Day, but from day to day throughout the week, until it becomes to you the most precious spot on earth—aye, the very gate of heaven itself! May God grant it, for the sake of His blessed Son who rose on Easter Day.