THUS, by a sort of acted parable, did our Lord teach to all generations a momentous truth. How many mourners have in like manner seen those who were dear to them laid low by an untimely stroke; and how soothing to them, as they reached the church-yard gate, to hear Him through the voice of His Minister proclaiming, "I am the resurrection and the life!" For are not these words equivalent to His charge to the household of Jairus, "Weep not, she is not dead, but sleepeth?"
Consider, first, the effect of this truth on heathen mourners. How afflicting was the condition of the vast mass of the Gentile world before life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel! The men of whom it consisted had the same nature which we have; there was the same human sympathy, the same yearning after the affection of kindred; men's hearts were open to the same sharp assaults of fear, despondency, and desolateness; they felt that aching void which God only can satisfy, but which human kindness can in a measure alleviate. Heathen parents were not less ready than king David to sacrifice themselves for their children, but no more than he could they ward off the stroke which wrecked their happiness. There were the same pangs of nature as now, the same necessity to submit, but not the same alleviation. Their only remedy therefore was, to forget what it was impossible to disarm; they "buried their dead out of their sight," and sought to dissipate reflections which would otherwise have been intolerable. The bodies of the dead, therefore, were looked upon as a pollution, and might not be interred in the sacred area of cities. The very best and most religious among the heathen, those who were most possessed with that natural instinct which rendered the soul's existence probable, never ventured to hope the body's resurrection. Its common destination was to be burnt on a funeral pile, as being that, the purposes whereof were absolutely ended.
How striking the contrast between the cheerless depository of heathen ashes, and the cheerful resting-place of the Christian dead! Such a contrast may best be seen in those countries where the remains of heathen antiquity are ranged side by side with the records of the early Church. On one side are the urns, in sign that men's bodies, as expecting no further recall, have been consumed to ashes; and the inverted torch of love teaches, that the object of affection is irretrievably lost. But pass to Christian tombs, and the objects which deck them speak of returning spring and reviving life; you find such flowers and insects as imply a new being and more glorious existence; or perhaps Jonah, or some other well-known emblem of the resurrection; above all, the cross witnesses the ground of their hope in death. Such are the fitting signs in those places in which, according to our ancient form for the assignment of a churchyard, the bodies of the Christian dead are laid up against the day of the general resurrection.
Such a contrast as this could not fail to strike the heathen, and it applies to all the circumstances which attended death. Hence the Apostate Julian made it a charge against the Christians, that "the bodies of their dead are carried to their graves with great concourse of people, which is an ominous sight, and a defilement to the eyes of men. For how can the day," he says, "be auspicious, which sees a funeral? or how can men go thence to the gods and to the temples?" And this feeling was not less encouraged by the Jewish Law than by the natural hopelessness of heathen ignorance. The Law, too, made the dead body a pollution. Whosoever handled it was defiled. "Whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." Therefore, when Josiah would defile the altar of Bethel, he burnt on it the bones of men. And hence was death bewailed by such companies of mourners as those whom our Lord banished from the house of Jairus; and not from his house only, but likewise from the whole Church of the redeemed. Instead of the minstrels and people who made much ado and wept, the custom of the early Christians, as the Apostolical Constitutions assure us, was to carry forth their friends with the voice of Psalmody. "The souls of the just," they say, "are in the hand of the Lord." "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." And in the same spirit has our Church given its full meaning to the inspired anticipations of Job, or borrowed from the closing vision of the Revelation--"I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, from henceforth, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord."
Now, to what must we refer this striking contrast--a contrast not only with the system of the heathen, but even with the Jewish ritual? The first we might expect to see altered; but why this opposition to the second? What new principle was brought in, by which the teaching of the ancient law was superseded? Why was the body of the dead no longer impure? why was it to be carried forth with joy and cheerfulness? how could it be allowed to enter cities, and find a resting place even in the sanctuary of God? The change arose from the revelation of that doctrine, which forms the central point of the whole Gospel system, which gives a significancy to all its acts, and a sacred character to all its relations--it depends on the doctrine of the Incarnation. For "now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept." Here, brethren, we have the reason why the custom of Jew as well as heathen was at once abandoned. "Give place," were the Master's words in act, not less than in expression; "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." Therefore did the Apostles bring together, and therefore did their hearers receive with so much wonder, what they preached respecting Jesus and the resurrection. The Apostles brought these things together, as implying a truth which, except from this relation, it had been impossible to convey. The feeling of a future being, and that the soul bore some likeness to the body which it had animated, the belief in some unknown world of spiritual existence--for this the Jew had been prepared by Daniel and Ezekiel, and even to the philosophic Greek it was not wholly strange. But that men's bodies should really awake, that they should re-appear as they had lived, to answer in that same form in which they had sinned; that Job spoke nothing figurative when he said, "In my flesh shall I see God "--this both Jew and Greek found it hard to believe. St. Paul seemed "to be a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection." Now, the reality of this doctrine may be best appreciated, if we consider briefly, I. what is the extent of Christ's relation to us; II. how our relation to Him is effected.
I. As to the extent of our relation to Christ. Does it apply to our body also, or only to our minds? The things with which we are acquainted in this world are of two kinds they are either material or immaterial. The things included in one of these classes are not less certain than those included in the other: but our manner of knowing them is different. Things material we know by our senses, things immaterial we know only by their acts. The body is a material thing, which we can see and handle; whereas the soul, which is immaterial, we know only because we feel it act. And we know no reason why it should cease to act, when it is separated from this material frame which it now inhabits. For it is plainly different in nature from the material clay. But this bodily substance does appear likely to perish, because we see it moulder away. Material bodies are made up of minute portions, and when these portions are resolved into a new shape, the old ones cease to be. They are not like the thinking principle within us, which seems to be always one in its workings; they are made up of parts, and they may be resolved into the separate elements out of which they were composed. Such was, no doubt, the natural feeling of untaught men; but to such a notion, the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection of the body is directly opposed. For it depends on the truth that Christ had a real body, and that with Christ His people are really united both in body and soul. For Christ our Lord did not come only in the appearance, but in the truth of our nature: He took a real body of the substance of His virgin mother, and all the properties of humanity were completely His. He was "perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting." By this means He became capable of that perfect sympathy, which extends not only to our feelings and understanding, but even to the influences of our mortal clay. For Christ is the new Adam of man's race: He is its fresh head; from Him it starts in all its faculties and relations for a second being; "and as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." As perfect therefore, as universal, as real, as our union with the first man, must be our union with the second. "For if we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." "And we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." For "He shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto His glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself." Now there might no doubt be a union of spirit with Christ, although our bodies had been altogether imrelated to Him; and there might be a hope of the spirit's future life, though the body had been left to moulder for ever in the tomb. But how can this be, since Christ has in all points become like to us, sin only excepted, and since our future life is from union with that second Man who is as completely related to our nature as was the first? Not only our spiritual but our very material substance has been associated, in some unknown and mysterious manner, with that glorified form which was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. "Handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have." Inasmuch, then, as there was a true and real resurrection of Christ's body, must there be a real resurrection of ours. How this affects the case of the Gentile world we know not, or what is Christ's influence on the whole human race; we speak of Christians, we speak of the members of Christ's body, we speak of those who, because Christ is sanctified, are sanctified with Him--"Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming." At that fearful hour we know indeed all men shall come forth with their bodies, and shall give account for their works. But our present inquiry is respecting the members of Christ's mystical body. His humanity is in all points, saving sin, like to theirs. The perfectness, therefore, of His resurrection assures the completeness of theirs. And therefore the Apostle prays, that both body, soul, and spirit, may be preserved blameless unto the day of the Lord Jesus.
II. Now, as the completeness of our relation to Christ our Lord is what assures us of the reality of the resurrection, so is the same thing impressed upon us if we consider, secondly, by what means this relation is effected. Our relation to our first father Adam is through that ordinary course of nature whereby the generations of mankind are transmitted. But if Adam had kept his first place and his first innocency, there was within his reach that tree of life which had power to correct the tendency of all bodily substance to decay and dissolution. So long as he was in paradise, he might stretch forth his hand to the tree of life, and eat and live for ever. Now, after this blessed condition, and this antidote to death had been taken away, it pleased God to give it back in that humanity of Christ our Lord, whereby He is the real tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. "That which quickeneth us," says Hooker, "is the spirit of the second Adam, and His flesh that wherewith He quickeneth." "For doth any doubt but that even from the flesh of Christ our very bodies do receive that life, which shall make them glorious at the latter day?" By what means, then, have we that inherency in the second Adam, by which our natural descent from the first is counteracted? As we hold to the first by birth natural and the food of men, so by Divine food and supernatural birth we must hold to the second. Therefore has Christ, as the Prayer Book reminds us, "instituted and ordained holy mysteries," that by these two Sacraments, the Sacrament of our new birth in Baptism, and the Sacrament of our replenishment in the Lord's Supper, the seed of Adam might be made the members of Christ. For flesh and blood belonged to Christ only when He "was made flesh, and dwelt among us;" and it is obvious, as our Church assures us, that it is when we worthily communicate that "we eat the flesh of Christ, and drink His blood." So that, as the resurrection is assured to us by the reality of our relation to Christ, so is this relation conveyed to us in Sacraments. And hence, of course, the order which limits the use of our funeral service to those who have been made members of Christ by the one Sacrament, and have not been separated from Him by exclusion from the other. For though others may be partakers of the resurrection, they have not the peculiar promises of which the Christian Church is the inheritor. Their bodies have not the peculiar sacredness which the members of Christ inherit from their Head. The Church accordingly prescribes, that "the office is not to be used for any that die unbaptized or excommunicate." If the Church's intention in this order is in part defeated, it is only because the laws of the land interfere to prevent her from stating those to be excommunicate whom she designs to declare so. This evil can never be remedied, till it is provided that the Church's holy words shall not be spoken of those who excommunicate themselves by staying away from her communion. But for all who give hope of repentance, who desire to return to the mother whom they have despised, in whose death there is a wish to be reunited to the body of Christ, from which their sins have separated them, her words of hope may fitly be employed. True, all deadly sins separate men from the body of Christ, and, for the time, prevent the grace of His Sacraments from being apprehended. But how many lay hold of Him again in their hour of trial? and who shall limit the saving efficacy of His cross and passion? Have not the best of us abundance to repent of? have we not secret sins to mourn? are we not hedged round by unbelief, indifference, ingratitude? When we ask, therefore, that our bodies may rest under the Church's sacred shade, it is not by reason of our own deserts, but only because we trust to be found in Him, who answers for us. We "plead not our righteousness, but the forgiveness of our unrighteousness, for His sake, who died to make an atonement for penitent sinners." Therefore would we commit our whole selves, our bodies as well as our souls, to His merciful keeping. For even the very bodies of the dead in Christ are not strangers to the promises of the Church of God. A circumstance to which ancient custom bears this striking witness, that the dead are laid in the grave in the same direction, towards the east, which we commonly adopt in public worship. This circumstance gives indication in itself whether any unknown corpse has received Christian burial. Those who have done so, lie as though ready to take part in the Church's united worship of their re-appearing Lord. Their very bodies are not cast away as useless; because they are members of Christ. And though this be, of course, a mere outward and visible sign, though it be no more, i. e. than a sacrament is Opposed to be by unbelievers, yet it is a pious and affecting sign, and it witnesses to a truth which is both certain and material. It witnesses that those, who through Sacraments have been united to Christ, have received what makes their very bodies sacred. It reminds us, that the effect of the Holy Eucharist, in the words of St. Ignatius, is to be "the medium of immortality." "How can they say," asks St. Irenaeus, that near follower of the Apostles, "that the flesh goes to corruption, and never more partakes of life, when it is fed with the body of our Lord, and with His blood?"
It was through such sentiments that the ancient Church did full justice to her Lord's command, and sorrowed not as those that had no hope. In persecution, amidst torments, before rulers and kings, men hazarded their lives unto the death, that they might receive a better resurrection. For the certainty of their Lord's resurrection assured them of the reality of their own. It was no different being in which they were to awaken; it could be with no other life, and no new consciousness, when the very body which had acted its part on earth was to partake the resurrection of the great day. It was no dream of melting into nothing, and mingling anew with the elements of the universe, when in their flesh they should see God. What certainty, what reality, what truth was thus given to the awful expectations of the unseen world! With what confidence might men take leave of what they loved, and be persuaded that it was only for a sleep, when the very body which they beheld was again to awaken!
And as this was fitted to comfort and encourage devout minds, so has it likewise its awful side, like all the other blessings of the Gospel. For God's gifts are all serious realities, which may not be trifled with without danger. If our wakening is so real and complete, how fearful must be those sins by which men recklessly defile the temple of their outward frame! What unknown agonies of shame, remorse, and horror, may careless men be storing up against that awful hour! For the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every one according to their works. "O Lord Jesus, by the mystery of Thy holy incarnation, by Thine agony and bloody sweat, by Thy cross and passion, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, Good Lord, deliver us."