Christmas Day, 1858.
The Divine Sacrifice. Isaiah xvi. 1.
WE repeat this verse in our Advent services, till it becomes like a household word. Well, and rightly; for a dear verse it is, and we will talk of it now. But first let me thank GOD, that the service which I had so long looked forward to, as one of the times of refreshing from the Presence of the LORD, passed so happily. That midnight office, indeed, was one of them. If I could but say what I want to express! If I could hut make you feel as I would! I know not how to put the joy into words. But altogether, one seems then to realize better than at any other time, what our separation from the world is--how we are pledged to GOD. The external midnight separation, the silence and chillness without, the beauty within, all lead one to see that it is indeed the "little flock" to whom it is the FATHER'S good pleasure to give the kingdom.
And now see what is the mystical meaning of the words we have had so often in our mouths. They will be explained by that little monosyllable, "ye." Tell me who are the ye, and I will tell you to whom the prophecy relates. And we will first take it as a command to ourselves. "Send ye the Lamb." O spotless and precious Lamb, broken and distributed, but never divided; brought into conflict with the raging lion, and his Vanquisher; Purifier of impurity; Strengthener of weakness; Healer of sickness; Life in death! Glorious Lamb, set before us by those few all-powerful words; made what Thou art by the descent of the HOLY GHOST on the lifeless materials of bread and wine! Are we to send this Lamb from us? Are we not rather to cling to Him with the fullest strength of our love, energy of our faith, tenacity of our hope? Dear Sisters, if I know you at all, you would not give up the daily Celebration here, for any possible price. This, thank GOD, can be offered to you; you give your love and service daily to the LORD; He daily gives you His Body and Blood. On this I look with unmingled pleasure. This House, this Home, whatever else fails--and many things do fail--however we fail short of what I should like to see--and no one can tell that better than I can--at least, the Joy of joys is your own. So far as that is concerned, I know you can, and I believe firmly that you do say, "Master, it is good for us to be here!"
Well, but then, what strange command is this? "Send ye the Lamb to the Ruler;" and why? Because we must never forget the Sacrifice in the Banquet. We know of what delicious sweetness that feast is. To those who know it not, I might try to describe its delight. To you, thank GOD, I need not. Nothing that I can say, could make you feel what, without any word, you can and do feel for yourselves. Feed upon it, dear Sisters, it is yours; but let the Sacrifice ascend to Heaven too. "Send ye the Lamb to the Ruler of the land." What will it not fetch down for you? And never be mistaken, or hesitate as to the question to Whom the Sacrifice is offered, whether to the whole Blessed TRINITY or not. As our dear Master and only SAVIOUR Himself was the first to receive in the institution of the Sacrament of Sacraments; so also, albeit He is the Victim and the Priest, He is Himself also the GOD to Whom the Sacrifice is made oblation of. To Himself He offers Himself.
Then comes a difficulty: whence is the Lamb, the Mystic Lamb to be sent? "From Sela." Now Sela is, by interpretation, a rock. We must understand it then of the fulness, the stability, of our faith. As if he said, "On the rock of our entire confidence, send up this Sacrifice." And so I say too. I do verily believe that if you, say six or seven only, of CHRIST'S dedicated Brides, were really and truly to unite in prayer at our oblation, for some especial gift, it would be granted you. When I have taken the paten in my hand to pass down to you, I have often thought, "If these, my dear children, were but resolved to have any one thing, I feel confident that it would not be denied them.'' The Lamb, so sent by you (I cannot tell you the strength of my confidence) would be well-nigh invincible.
But how do we read "from Sela to the wilderness?" Here we must take the other version, and read it, "from Sela in the wilderness." Our Sacrificial Victim is sent from the strong rock of faith, which rock stands as the waymark, as the signal stone, in our wilderness. To that Rock we assemble when the sun's rays are fiercely hot, and find shadow from the heat; by that Rock we are sheltered from the driving rain, wind, and snow of a wintry sky.
And we are to send it, where? Where, but to "the mount of the daughter of Sion?" To that mountain on which all our hopes are fixed: to that mountain which is exalted in the tops of the mountains, and exalted far above the hills. And, "to the Ruler of the Land." He that "spared not His own SON, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Send? But why not accompany? Why send this Sacrifice to the Heavenly place for us, where we so long to be, ourselves, with it? You know the verse of the hymn--
"And though my body may not,
Thy spirit seeks thee fain,
Till flesh and earth return me
To earth and flesh again."
That loving LORD first came down from Heaven for us as on this day! So came down as He can never descend again; so came down that what was then done, might be done for ever. Again, He comes down many and many a time under the form of Bread and Wine; and many a time we send Him up again in the way of Sacrifice; we cause Him to ascend with our prayers to His FATHER and our FATHER, to our GOD and His GOD.
But what will it be when we have no more need to send this Lamb, because we can go ourselves? O blessed privilege indeed! Prayer useless then, because all that we could wish we have! The Sacrifice over for ever, because the Lamb that is "as it had been slain," is now in the midst of the adoring circle of His servants, to receive praise for ever, no more to assist in prayer.
To Him, now exalted far above all principality and power, you have been this day sending your thoughts, your prayers, your affections. But what were they? Such as befit this Lamb, and such as befit you? It is so difficult, my Sisters, for one poor priest to say the same thing over and over again, to those with whom he is connected as I am with you, and not become wearisome, not repeat the same words and phrases, not deaden, instead of kindling, your affection. The same thing? It must be the same thing. You have the same temptations, they do not vary; you have the same enemy, only become better acquainted with each of you, and so, better able to time and adapt his temptations; and therefore how could I give you different advice, warning, comfort? The Rock in the wilderness, my Sisters, alters not. "Jesus CHRIST, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Daily, in the same manner and to the same end, the Lamb is sacrificed and oblation made of His Body and Blood to Heaven; and yet this dear LORD, so always the same, how does He shape His comfort and help as you need it! How does He hold you back here and urge you forward there; use this means to obtain such a blessing, carry you by the most unlikely road to where you would be!
Yes! bear with poor unworthy sermons, bear with tautology, bear with repetitions. You know that I have but one aim, one wish, one longing--to present you faultless and undented at that throne on that day. And oh that this succession of festivals may help you on thitherward! You do not know, as I do, what, in a weary passage upon the Atlantic homewards, it is, to get two or three consecutive fine days, with a prosperous and favourable gale; to see the sails, instead of flapping idly against the mast or being closely furled to the shrouds, swelling out before the wind, and to feel every quarter of an hour that you are so much nearer to the land where you desire to be. What that favourable breeze is to an earthly, these succeeding festivals ought to be to a spiritual course. The remembrance of the Incarnate Word, hallowing the succeeding week, colouring with its own tint the various festivals through which we are to pass, while they, on their part, modify and give a differing beauty to it. The Incarnate Word still, whether enduing the Proto-martyr with his boldness, or S. John the Divine with his love, or as an Infant GOD accepting the sacrifice of the martyred Infants.
And thus, through festival or common day, we must go on--as GOD grant we may always be able to do--sending the Lamb to the Ruler of the Land, till the Lamb that stands in the midst of the hundred and forty and four thousand send in His turn for each of you, to add to their number and to learn their song.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.