The Sending of the Lamb. Isaiah xvi. 1.
You will notice how, almost always, those versicles or antiphons which are to go along with us through the whole course of some ecclesiastical season, are not the plain, distinct texts which set forth that season in the readiest and easiest way, but recondite, mystical, hard at first to be understood. And wisely it was done. If they were merely plain, commonplace teaching, the mind would soon get accustomed to them, and the lips would repeat them as a mere formula. But give something that requires to be thought over and reasoned about, and then, as the Prophet says, "Ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory."
Therefore this text, for what is called the Sacerdotal verse, in our Sarum Advent Use: "Send, O LORD, the Lamb, the Ruler of the lard, from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Sion;" or, as it is proper to take it, and as the original Latin does take it, "from the rock of the wilderness to the hill of the daughter of Sion." No fear of our easily exhausting its meaning; it is one of those sayings that remind us of the description of Wisdom: "Her thoughts are deeper than the sea, and her counsels profounder than the great deep." Into this great deep then, like Peter, we are to cast ourselves; in order that, like him also, we may get to JESUS.
Now, first notice that there are two different readings of the first part of the verse. The one, "Send ye the Lamb;" the other, "Send, O LORD, the Lamb." Both admirably full of comfort, though of a different kind: the latter of Advent consolation; the former rather of Passion sufferings ending in Easter glory.
"Send, O LORD, the Lamb." And because He is about to be sent, therefore we keep this most holy season. But what? Send a Lamb into a world of which it is written, ' My soul is among lions?" But what? Expose His gentleness and tenderness to the fierce swarm of beasts like that in the seventh plague of Egypt?" Is His immaculate fleece to be torn with cruel thorns, and at length His glorious Life to be violently destroyed? Yes; and see why. "The Lamb that is--not that shall be--"the Ruler of the Land." I think, dear Sisters, we are too apt to forget this. I think you, all of you, endeavour to lift up your hearts and love to Him Who is hereafter to be King of all things, as He is your King now; but He is their King at this very moment also. And there is the blessing.
We think, and in one sense truly, that we are fighting against enemies infinitely outnumbering us: against squadrons whose name is legion; against every kind of opposition, danger, toil. Well: so be it; but that Lamb is Ruler of the Land even now. A barren and dry land where no water is; true: a land, the inhabitants whereof say every hour of their lives, by deed if not by word, "We will not have this Man to reign over us." But He does reign over them still. Oh how happy and safe are you, if you can only realize this! He, being what He is in power to them and in love to you; you, having that claim and hold upon Him that He has given you the will first, and then the power to make; all your wanderings for Him, all your rest in Him, ought to be happy wanderings and happy rest.
Only is not it fit to remind you of this? To this Immaculate Lamb you are bound by the golden tie of bridal love. But what if you indulge in any tempers which are not His, which clearly and manifestly break what He would have? I think you none of you lay to heart what such a sin is. Because it is so great, therefore, no doubt, Satan employs it as his favourite system of attack against Religious Houses. But the moment any one of you shall find herself saying, "I know my temper is ruffled, and I do not mean at present to conquer it: the offence will go off in time, and then. well and good: but I will not attempt to triumph over it now;" do you know how fearful a condition that is for you? What! take such feelings into the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament! What! let them ascend with the sacrifices of prayer and praise that go up from this Oratory! What! the Cross on, and a temper which abhors and mocks the Cross within, the breast! It is bad enough, dangerous enough, for any Christian to allow an angry feeling to exist and root itself; what for you? I think the consciences of you all tell me that I am not speaking at random: that you each in turn have so sinned: and I for myself can only confess the same thing--I wish it were with deeper--I know it is with deep sorrow. But while such a temptation is in force, no worse, no more dangerous petition than that we are speaking of: "Send, O LORD, the Lamb!" For if He comes to you His elect temples, and finds them thus occupied, may He not be tempted to utter that most dreadful sentence that, in the stillness of the night, resounded through the Jewish Temple at the Pentecost before the final siege, "Let Us depart hence!"
Then, again: whence is the Lamb to be sent? "From the rock of the wilderness." And that is the most remarkable part of the verse. For we know whence He really came.
There are very beautiful ideas, in those old rude frescoes one sometimes sees in early cathedrals--or the same thing in stained glass--where our dear LORD sets forth as a Pilgrim with His staff and scallop shell from the Presence of the FATHER; and then, again, we have His return, the work for which He came now accomplished, and His displaying to the Majesty on high His victorious wounds; those wounds to which nothing can now henceforth be denied. That, then, is the sending forth of the Lamb. Therefore the rock of the wilderness is none other than Heaven. The Holiest of the Holies, the very Presence Chamber, the Central Shrine, the Immediate Throne of GOD. A Rock indeed, for what can ever shake it? How can it ever decay? Here is the Source of all strength; here is the Fountain of all success; and as of old time to the Jews, so from hence the streams of grace are to be dispersed abroad over the wilderness of the world. Thence well called the Rock of the Wilderness. But yet in that possessive word "of," there is something comforting. That which is of something belongs to something: the child of a father; the capital of a kingdom; therefore this Rock belongs to this wilderness.
"O Rock!" cries S. Peter of Blois, "my changeless goal amidst so many labours! my never-forgotten port amongst so many storms! Rock of living gem, flashing forth brightly into the night! Rock of cool shelter, refreshing the weary earth with shade! it is on Thee that they dwell, raised far above the conflicts and tribulations of this world, they whom I desire to sec; they whom, a Priest at the Altar, I have commemorated over again, as the crowning fires of Martyrdom, or snowy candour of Virginity invited me, but whom I shall then, a friend, hail as friends. Rock, whereon all His promises are engraven, which are Yea and Amen! Rock, where His seat is prepared, Whom, by the eye of faith, I have so often seen hanging on the Cross, but Whom I shall then, with the eye of sight, behold seated on the Throne! Rock, on Which, in their several generations, all the fathers leaned, and Which didst never fail them. Rock of Ages, meet abode and watchtower for the King of Ages! can it be that with these very eyes I shall see Thee, with these very feet I shall tread Thee, shall myself, as it were the feeble coney, make my secure and eternal nest in Thy side? For verily on a dark and gloomy day was that cleft excavated, whereto I am to betake me; riven it was in the sight of men and Angels, when other rocks rent, other caves opened, when there was darkness over the whole earth.
"O most beloved and desired Rock, open to me that securest of ports, take me to Thyself, yea, rather into Thyself! Receive the poor Priest who here hath so often come into deep waters, so that the floods went over him: Thou that in all Thy stateliness lookest down on 'the place of broad rivers and streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.'"
Hence then this glorious Lamb is sent; and whither is He sent? Truly to the mount of the daughter of Sion. You must take it in the sense of difficulty, that difficulty which, but by Him, Sion never could have conquered for herself. The difficulty of returning to her native home, the difficulty of trampling down Satan under her feet, the difficulty of waging the hard, the unequal war which lay before her. The Lamb then came to win for her what she never could have won for herself. And, dearest Sisters, that which is true of her as the whole, is true of each of you as the part.
"Send, O LORD, the Lamb to the ruler of the land, from the rock of the wilderness to the mount of the daughter of Sion." Oh, how earnestly I pray it for each of you, well knowing that at this very moment each of you have a mountain which, like that of Zerubbabel, must become a plain to you, or you must perish. Think for yourselves now: what is the thing that at this moment you ought to take in hand? And do not deceive yourselves by replying, "There is nothing in particular." For every Christian there always is, and must be, while in a body of sin, and in a world that hates the truth, something that more especially calls at that very moment for his attack or defence. For a Bride of CHRIST far more, for a Bride of CHRIST in her Advent warfare most of all. And because there is, therefore the Ruler of the Land comes, not only in His season--the season of Bethlehem and the manger--but in His Sacramental Presence also.
In that sense, shall we not take the text at this time, in our mouths: "Send, O LORD, the Lamb? Send Him by the miraculous operation of the HOLY GHOST, from the height of Heaven where He now sitteth, to this poor Altar; send that Flesh, now the Joy of the Angels, and the Splendour of the Blessed, to be our food and sustenance here; send the Lamb that standeth, as it had been slain, in the midst of the worshipping elders, to be once more the Sacrifice, though now the Unbloody Sacrifice, of the Church Militant."
I told you that you might take the other reading if you liked it better: "Send ye the Lamb." And how but in this sense? that we offer Him still on the Altar, Who all those centuries ago was offered once for all on the Cross; that we send the Lamb from the rock of the wilderness, (and what is that but the Church Militant?) to the mount, the true mount, the eternal mount of the daughter of Sion, Sion the City of the Living GOD, the Heavenly Jerusalem?
We are about, then, to send Him to that Mount to plead for us. But with Him, dearest Sisters, send all your earnestness, all your hopes, all your love--Sursum Corda. Say as the old Spanish Church says on this day: "It is meet and right, truly, and altogether expedient, to render thanks to Thee, Who of Thine own freewill and goodness didst frame us; when deceived by the craft of the serpent, of Thine own free will didst deliver from death. Who didst long before, by the thunder of the prophets, predict that SON Whom Thou wast about to send into the world, that He, expected with the more earnestness, might be received with the more joy; therefore we beseech Thee that, as Thou didst not allow Thy handywork to perish, but didst quicken it by the humble Advent of Thy SON, that having now found us, restored us, recalled us, Thou wouldst so protect us, so heal us, so defend us, so guard us, that, in the terrible Judgment, when He shall come to judge them for whom and by whom He was judged, He may so find those whom He has redeemed, that He may make them ever His own: that they who have suffered on earth, may with Angels and Archangels ascribe glory to Him in Heaven.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, he all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.