Second Sunday after Easter.
Then shall they Fast. Isaiah ii. 22.
You have all had a lesson of the truth of this text lately. And depend upon it, whenever GOD vouchsafes Himself to teach us, He expects us to learn. We have gone on for a year and a half so uninterruptedly with our services here, that we have been perhaps too much disposed to forget of Whose mercy it is that we have thus been enabled to carry on service after service, and, day after day, to offer up the Great Sacrifice which He Himself ordained. It may be that I have trusted too much in myself in what I have been able to do for you; and it may be, dear Sisters, that you have trusted too much in roe in what you have expected to receive from me. Now, you see, GOD has taught us all a lesson, both you and me. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." The treasure you have; and, thank GOD, it cannot be taken away from you: the treasure of Absolution after Confession, the treasure of our LORD'S Body and Blood coming down from heaven on the Altar here. But yet you see, while you dwell in this world, how precariously these gifts are bestowed on you. It needs but that GOD should by one little word lay aside your Priest from his everyday strength, and you are deprived of the greatest of all His gifts, and look round about you in the morning vainly, for the manna that was wont to descend into this desert.
How great a grief this has been to me, my Sisters, it is not easy to tell you. But we must take comfort in this: "Whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." Even because He has now for a season deprived us of that which we held dearest, we may, I hope, gather that He would only increase our love, and quicken our thankfulness to Him. For see, as I have often told you, that which applies in Holy Scripture to the Head, may, almost always, in a certain sense, be taken of the members; and so that which was in the first place said of the members, may usually he likewise taken of the Head.
It is not till next Sunday that the Church will begin to set before us the departure of our dear LORD into Heaven, its grief and its advantages too. But it will not be much if we anticipate her teaching by one week.
"Cease ye from man." This, in the first and clearest sense, is said byway of warning against too great a trust in those who are, notwithstanding, our LORD'S messengers and ambassadors. Their example may fall so miserably short of that which they would teach others; or they may physically be unable to bestow those blessings on others which their hearts are nevertheless yearning to give them. But then remember, that, even with respect to our LORD so far as He was Man, the command to the Apostles was, at this season, "Cease ye from man." Hitherto they had walked with Him as friend with friend. Hitherto, in their long journeys from one end of Judaea to the other, hitherto, in their early risings, and so late takings rest, hitherto, in their travels by land, and in their tossings on the sea of Gennesareth, they had so had Him with them as at any moment to be able to ask a question, and to seek for deliverance in danger: when they would draw near to their LORD and their GOD, needed no act of faith, but only an exercise of sight. Henceforth it was to be so no longer. Henceforth they were to have no further means of access to Him than we now have. Then, as now, He was to be seated at the Right Hand of the FATHER. Then, as now, they were to be surrounded by the struggle and conflict of this wicked world, as we still are by a body of sin, and a world that hates the truth. Yes: it must have been a hard lesson to learn,--the hardest, perhaps, that ever was learnt: "Cease ye from man;" when the Man thus to be ceased from was He Whose loving-kindness was better than the life itself,--was He Whose Presence makes the heavenliness of Heaven,--was He of Whom all His people would say, "Whom have I in Heaven but Thee? There is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee."
"Cease ye from man." And we might well reply, "But, O LORD JESU! how can we cease from Thee, from Thee, Man, as well as Thee, GOD? How can we cease from that which as Man only Thou givest us, Thine Own Body, Thine Own Blood? Have we not over and over again found that to be our armour against the assaults of the Devil, found that to be our support in the famine of this world,--found that to be the strength in which we are to pass through the wilderness of our life here, till we come to the True Horeb?" Cease from that! It is the same thing as ceasing from life, ceasing from strength, ceasing from blessedness! But our LORD would sometimes teach you otherwise; and I hope that the lesson of this last fortnight has not been lost upon you. Had it not been that I knew this, that I was well persuaded how, even of this most precious treasure, it might be said, even as of the talents of old, "The LORD is able to give thee much more than this," I know not how I could have borne the being thus made the means of depriving you of your Angels' Food. But I must not doubt that, even in this sense, the saying is sometimes true: "It is expedient for you that I go away." I must not doubt that even thus it may sometimes be said, "Cease ye from man." O dearest Sisters, examine yourselves now, tell me hereafter, whether you have been indeed trying to sanctify this deprivation to your own advance in holiness. It was intended to work together for that. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men;" and none could tell as He, what an affliction this has been to all of you. But still, thus much we may ask him, my Sisters: thus much we may ask Him with a pure heart, in full assurance of faith, that we may not again, that it may not be necessary for us again to, be thus tried: that it may now again be my unspeakable joy and privilege, morning by morning, to give you the Bread of Holiness, and the Chalice of Immortality, that, unworthy, deeply, miserably unworthy as I am,--that still that HOLY GHOST Who regards not the worthiness of the Priest, but the faith of His Church, may day by day come down from the Habitation of His Glory, making the Bread which we offer the Body, and the Wine which we pour forth the Blood, of our LORD and GOD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST! Will you not pray for this? Nothing nearer, nothing dearer to my heart can you ask, my Sisters: and oh that He Who heareth all prayers may hear this!
"Wherein is He to be accounted of?" And that was the very question they asked of Him in the days of His humiliation. "' Is not this the carpenter's son?' Is not this He Whose face was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men? Is not this He that came out of Nazareth, the city from which cometh no good thing?" And in like manner now. Wherein is He to be accounted of? Wherein is a little bread and a little wine to be esteemed as our medicine, our armour, our Resurrection, our Life? Wherein? Dear Sisters, let your own consciences, or rather let your own love, answer. Wherein? Is He not, under these earthly and humble veils, more dear, more infinitely precious to you than anything and everything else?
Is it not this which sometimes almost seems to turn faith into sight? Which sometimes almost makes hope become fruition? Which raises and elevates love beyond itself, till it becomes a foretaste of that eternal love which is the very life and existence of the blessed ones?
"Wherein is He to be accounted of?" In these and in a thousand such-like graces; as much hidden from the world now as ever, but more and more dear to those who have that love in their heart which passeth all understanding. And yet notice, that the time will come when "Cease ye from man," even from Him that is GOD as well as Man, must be said to us as surely as it was to the Apostles. They lost Him in His earthly and bodily form, but why? that they might receive that other Comforter, Who should abide with them for ever. You, too, must some day lose Him, in that form which now to you is dearest of all--His Sacramental Presence; but why, again? Because all veils and types will be at an end; because all shadows will have passed; because the "through a glass darkly" will have given way to the future "face to face." What better or more loving prayer can I put up for you, dear Sisters, than that this may be so? Than that, having long since learnt to cease from man in every other way, (and GOD has been giving you a lesson in that duty, as you know,) you may at last come to cease even from the Sacramental Presence of our LORD'S Body and Blood; seeing Him as He is; beholding the King in His beauty; having fruition of His glorious Godhead; changed into His likeness; made one with Him for ever and ever.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.