This Mountain. Isaiah xxv. 6-8.
Now there is a wonderful lesson in the very beginning of this verse. This mountain, where all these glorious things are to be done,--this mountain, where death is to be swallowed up in victory; what is it? and where? And there, perhaps, is as great a mystery as is to be found in this great Prophet,--this fifth Evangelist. Nowhere are we told. There is no reference in the context to any mountain at all; with the chapter a new prophecy has begun, and no allusion to any mountain is to be found in it. Now, dear Sisters, that is not so done but for our great comfort; and, if you will take the words as I am going to take them, in any season of disappointment, of doubt, of fear, in any season when one feels sick at heart with labour apparently fruitless, when one is discouraged by one's own falls, when one looked for kindness and has found the contrary, in any one of those many, many trials which daily beset us, and will beset us to the end, here you will find (as I have often done before now) a strong consolation. See how.
We may take "mountain," of difficulty, or danger. "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain." Well then: in this mountain, the very next that meets us, in this mountain, let it be what it may, in this mountain, bare and bleak as it looks, repugnant to flesh and blood as it is, in his mountain shall the LORD of Hosts make a feast of fat things. That is, He allowed it to stand in our course, that we might, by its means, ask for and obtain more grace here; and if more grace here, more glory there. Does not this thought hallow all difficulties? Ought not this remembrance to make sweet all sorrows, let them come how or whence they may? Hard to bear? Well, let us allow it; we may have prayed that we may avoid them, but GOD has not heard us. Well, then: in this mountain shall the LORD of Hosts make to us a feast of fat things. So take courage, dear Sisters, if any of you there be with such a mountain full in view: or which you are even now climbing. In this mountain may be, will be, save for your own fault, the treasures of all grace. He says, this mountain, without describing it more exactly, for two reasons. The one, lest your mountain should seem so great and fearful that you never can believe that the fat things, the wines well refined, are to be found there; or again, lest it should be so little--some little foolish vexation not worth, as the saying is, thinking twice about--as to make you think that it never can bring with itself all these glorious promises. But it will, though. Ah! those little trifling trials, how sorely they trouble us! They vex us, because we will not gird up ourselves regularly to battle with Satan about them, as we might about something better; and because we cannot realize the exceeding and eternal great reward which these also get us. Think, then, of "this mountain;" and let that very vagueness be the comfort in ascending your next.
Of the fat things full of marrow, at more length presently; now let us go on; and the next verse is even more marvellous. "And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations." We are disposed to say, How can these things be? Why, thus we may understand it. By the first mountain, Isaiah tells us of each one trouble, affliction, difficulty, be it great or little, in life. By the second mountain, he would set forth to us that most fearful and tremendous battle of grief and fear which we all have yet to face, namely, Death. Death, not here set forth as the swift dark river, with the desert on this side, and the green and beautiful hills of Canaan beyond: but as the fearful mountain, which we all must overcome; the "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." And yet, see how lovingly he speaks of it. "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people."
Ah! dear Sisters! what that covering is! Then we shall see that love which we now can only believe; and which it often costs us so much before we can believe! Then these riddles and mysteries which now so piude us, so perplex us--oh what it will be to get rid of them at once and for ever! We all know, in the case of any one whom we love dearly here, how we cannot endure the existence of anything like a mystery between us; how it grieves us, vexes us, makes us think that they can not love us as we love them, or this would not be. What, then, when the seeing our dear LORD'S dealings with us will no longer be "in a glass darkly," but "face to face?" We must have sometimes known, my Sisters, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, what it is to realize His being with us; to feel it so intensely, that one would bear any pain, suffering, distress, if but for one poor moment we might see Him as He is. "He shall destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people."
So take it for ourselves; but cheering' as it is to understand the text of ourselves, now let us turn it to Him Who is about to appear in Bethlehem for our sakes. That Child, born for us, that Son, given to us, will, in the course of His earthly life, ascend many mountains, and the indefinite "this mountain" will still suit any of them. Let us take it, then, of Mount Tabor, Mount Calvary, and of the Mount of Olives. And yet, dear Sisters, notice this: that if we ascend any one of these with Him, it will have its especial trial as well as its especial comfort; as what companionship of His will not have? If we go up Mount Tabor, although there "His raiment did shine as the light," yet,--"they feared as they entered into the cloud." If we go up Mount Calvary, though there emphatically Death be swallowed up in victory, yet first we have the blaspheming multitudes, the "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." If we ascend the Mount of Olives, though the day of His final triumph be now come, yet there is the sorrow of the earthly separation: never more to hear the lips that spake as never man spake; never more to see the Face that was "fairer than the children of men."
"A feast of fat things." And so the remembrance of the Transfiguration was indeed. For see how S. Peter, in the last months before he was called to his martyrdom, fell back upon it as the source of his greatest consolation,--to that glorious day, "when we were with Him in the holy mount." "Of fat things full of marrow." And what is that, but that beside the outside glory, there is an inner and mysterious comfort that we must break the shell, strip off the husk, to come at? Now, my Sisters, when any of you are called to any loathsome disease, to minister where the very sight and atmosphere of the sufferer are a grievous trial, then think of the Transfiguration. If only he dies in grace, if only your prayers and helps, and example too, procure him a safe passage, then that body, so marred--truly to be called "our vile body"--shall be as the LORD'S was on Tabor. I mean not immediately, not even when angels shall have carried the poor Lazarus into Abraham's bosom: but when the earth shall have given up her dead, when "the little hills shall rejoice on every side," when "the valleys shall stand so thick with the corn "of the Resurrection "that they shall laugh and sing"--ah, what will be the fulfilment of the text,--" And we shall be changed!" Yes,--I know nothing which can so cheer up in a hospital as the remembrance of Mount Tabor. As the poor man of whom I have told some of you before now, when he heard the Superior recommending in Latin some particular method of treatment, and ending, "Let the experiment be tried on a vile body," made answer, "That body is not so vile for which our LORD JESUS CHRIST abhorred not to die;" so we may say, "That body is not so vile which He, That was Himself transfigured on Mount Tabor, will not disdain to transfigure." Yes; Tabor also shewed how "He will swallow up death in victory." It is more than to conquer death. Death were conquered, if we were put in the same position in which we had existed before it; death was conquered when the LORD said, "Talitha cumi." Death was conquered when JESUS cried in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." But death is swallowed up in victory, when these bodies of the Resurrection shall be invested with their four new qualities--subtilty, agility, impassibility, immortality. And so it was also swallowed up on Mount Tabor, when "there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem."
Yes: as "one deep calleth to another," so one height calleth to another; Mount Tabor speaks of Mount Calvary. And there pre-eminently our prophecy is fulfilled. No need to tell you, my Sisters, what is "the feast of fat things" made there? what is the feast of "wines on the lees" poured out there? You have not so learned CHRIST as not to be going on still, as every virgin soul has gone on before you, in the strength of that meat, along the desert of your earthly life. "Wines on the lees well refined," indeed! For remember this, (and it is marvellous to see how this Prophet, in all the sublimity of his poetry, is taught by the HOLY GHOST to speak with such accurate fullness)--remember this: that, strictly speaking, the Flesh which you eat, the Blood which you drink, is not simply that which was rent on the Cross, that which was shed in the Passion, but that which after the Passion manifested itself by many infallible proofs to the Apostles in the great Forty Days; refined, as it were, from the possibility of corruption, and now incorruptible as well as glorious. And on Calvary how gloriously was the "face of the covering "destroyed! all the types fulfilled at once; all the prophecies explained; all the promises made good. And the veil that hindered our access to the Holy of Holies, rent, even as the veil of the Temple: and Death, in a sense in which nowhere else, swallowed up in victory.
We are going to Bethlehem; and why do I speak of Calvary? Why, that was Beth-lehem also in this respect, that it truly was the House of Bread; of that Bread which our true Joseph commands to be set on for the true Israelites, and of which the Egyptians must not eat. And so S. Bernard says: "Behold, it is the season of the Nativity, and I find myself talking of the Passion; I should take you to the Cradle, and I am pointing to the Cross; I should shew you the Babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and I am manifesting to you the King, Who hung, spoiled of His raiment, on the Cross. But that Royal Babe will forgive me if, since His whole life was a Passion, since His whole journey was up Mount Calvary, I look to the sum and substance of all, instead of to its mere beginning." And you, as true children of S. Bernard, though you must say daily, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem," yet can you not fulfil his rule and your own duty, unless you daily ascend the Via Dolorosa.
I might, if time allowed, shew you also how, in the Mount of Olives, these glorious things were done: but rather, now that we have come to the City of David, let us tarry there; for this week is more especially consecrated to it. You know that in the Middle Ages it was thought an imperfection in the Calendar that Lady Day, nineteen times out of twenty, should fall in Lent. To remedy this, it was transferred to the day week before Christmas; the 18th December; and so it remained for about half a century. But by that time, difficulties were found in the new arrangement; and so the festival was carried back again to its old position. But the iSth of December had been usually kept holy, and it was not thought well that it should return to be a merely ordinary day: therefore the festival of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin was instituted; though it never attained any great celebrity. Still, it seems to hallow the whole week; still it seems to remind us that "He That shall come, will come, and will not tarry."
And think how the Blessed Mother of GOD left Nazareth, in all the weakness of her state; and how Joseph must have feared for every step of that weary journey, and for her reception every night. He little knew the mystery: how He was to come to His own, and His own not receive Him. How the inn and the manger were but the type of His taking up His abode for a time in a strange and unkind world; and how that must be fulfilled which the prophet had foretold: "The ox knoweth his Owner, and the ass his Master's crib; but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider." And there, therefore, He lay: He to Whom, even in the cradle, this verse so marvellously applies. He, the Infant; He, the wrapped in swaddling-bands; He, depending on that most pure and happy breast for His daily food; He, so weak; He, suffering as other infants; He shall swallow up Death in victory. He, crying with the bitter tears of infancy; He, on the eighth day undergoing the painful rite of circumcision; He, suffering in that hurried journey to Egypt; He, nevertheless, "shall wipe away all tears from all faces." And He, Whose Mother, months before, had been for Him exposed to shame and peril; He, Who Himself is to be called a Man gluttonous and a wine-bibber, a Friend of publicans and sinners: "The rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth."
Dearest Sisters, we have a week to prepare to meet Him. Oh! with what love and earnestness should His reception be made in every Sisterhood! Oh how, like that Virgin Mother, should you take Him in the arms of your affection, should you caress Him with your works of mercy, should now your left hand be under Him, and your right hand embrace Him, as some day His will be under you, supporting you here; over you, crowning you there!
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.