Project Canterbury




H O L Y  S E P U LC H R E.





On the Eighth Anniversary of its Dedication,




J. R. SELWYN, M. A.,










Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


Come, see the place where the Lord lay.--Matt. Xxviii. 7.

WE are met together to-night, dear brethren, to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the opening of this building for public worship of Almighty God--and it is well that we should thus keep these anniversaries. For they help to keep alive in us that spirit of zeal which all must have in beginning a new work to God's honour; they serve to remind us of the original design, and enable us to see how far we are fulfilling it; and, above all, they enable us as a congregation to approach the Throne of Grace, carrying thither all the hopes and fears, the difficulties and the encouragements, the successes and disappointments, which have attended us hitherto; there to ask pardon for our shortcomings, there to seek comfort in our difficulties, and there, above all to render thanks to Almighty God for the many mercies we have received. And while we think thus concerning our privileges and our duty, everything that is connected with our Church will serve to remind us of them, as day by day, and year by year, more associations grow up in connection with it, and we feel that the Church is not only a bond of Heavenly brotherhood, but also a social tie of the highest and purest kind.

[4] And though, perhaps, in your particular case, you consider this building as only a temporary one, and look forward to the day when you may be able to build a church more suitable to your wants, more worthy of the glory of God; yet I conceive that associations of the one will pass to the other, and with them a deep feeling of thankfulness that in the smaller building you were so drawn together, that you were enabled to do better for the service of God. Moreover, whatever may be the future, the name will always abide, whether it is attached to the building in which we now are, or whether it belongs to a far more stately building, and as such will be a common bond of union with you all.

It is of that name I purpose to speak to-night. I would ask you to come with me--not to that splendid church where, now over the supposed grave of our Lord, the Greek and Latin Churches keep up the warfare of rival creeds beneath the bayonets of a Moslem soldiery, but to the new tomb hewn in the rock where once the Lord lay, that tomb which seemed the very abyss of despair to the weary watchers who saw where their Lord was laid, which is now to every believing heart the very gate of heaven--for I think that there we may find lessons of hope, of counsel, of love, which may well occupy our thoughts to-night.

And the first lesson is that which must be at the root of all parochial work, devotion and self-sacrifice.

How was it that there was that tomb at all, and that the body of our Lord was not cast out to the [4/5] fowls of the air, or buried unceremoniously by the Roman soldiers? It was because God gave grace to Joseph of Arimathea, to put away his fear, to go boldly to Pilate and beg the body of Jesus. It sounds but a little thing to do, but when we consider who Jesus was: how a Roman Governor had delivered Him to death to satisfy the angry exclamations of a mob; when we read how up to the hour of His death that same mob had been howling out curses and execrations round his cross; I say to go at such a time as that and beg the body of a man so hated required courage of no ordinary degree. Nor was he content with this. With Nicodemus he prepared to give it the best burial in his power. In his own new tomb, hewn in the rock, wherein never man had lain, rolled in spices and fine linen, they laid the body of Jesus.

Such was the devotion which attended the tomb of our Lord--shall less attend the risen Saviour? That was an offering, as those men thought, to a great teacher who was gone--to a man who had compelled them to love Him by the beauty of His character and His teaching, but who had filled them with false hopes, who had placed himself as in opposition to Scribe and Pharisee, and had been crushed in the encounter; but to whom, though dead, they were willing to testify their devotion by costly gifts, even by risk of life. Can we do less for a Teacher who was dead and is alive again; who has given us the crowning proof of the truth of His doctrine by His Resurrection from the tomb; who in that tomb has buried everything that could keep [5/6] us back from God; who stands triumphant at the right hand of God, and bids us show our zeal, our energy, and love for Him, by our devotion to His service?

No, from the Holy Sepulchre a voice comes back, the voice of the Ruler Nicodemus, the Counsellor Joseph, which bids us do as much for the Risen Saviour as they did for the crucified Christ.

And does not the sacred Body which they laid there so fearfully teach us some lesson also? Do not the sealed stone and the sentinels tramp tell us something of the uses of this Church, and of those who would hinder us from them?

Christ died for sin. His scarred and tortured body, calm in the sleep of death, was the proof how fiercely the enemy had striven to bruise his heel, how truly he had under-gone the curse for man. Dear brethren, this Church is to us also a place for dying unto sin. Here, through the grace of God, we can best mortify and kill all our corrupt affections, so that through the grave and gate of death we may finally rise with Christ hereafter. And, as his enemies strove to keep Him there, as they sealed the stone and placed the watch, so does the enemy of our souls keep guard and strive to keep us buried with our sins lest we should rise with Christ: as they said that the Resurrection of Christ was a lie--so does he tell us that the Peace of God which we obtain here by fervent humble prayer is but an emotion of the heart, not a reality of the soul.

[7] But all in vain. For the same might which burst the bars of death and overbore all that strove to stay it is here with us--and herein does the glory of this house excel even that most glorious sepulchre. For that contained but the body of the crucified Saviour, this is filled with the special presence of the Eternal Lord. When the day of His Resurrection came He burst from the grave because he could no longer be holden of it; but it is his own gracious promise that when two or three are gathered together there will He be in the midst of them--here He abides as He did again and again in the midst of His disciples to listen to our prayers, to drive away our fears, to breathe his blessing.

From the tomb of Good Friday let us pass to the empty sepulchre of Easter Day--form the Lord to His ministers, and here too we shall find ground for thought.

In all the accounts of angelic appearances there are none which so vividly bring before us the nearness of their ministry to men as the gospel account of Easter Day. By them God proclaimed the Resurrection of His Son. Through their ministry the way was made clear for all who should be witnesses of that Resurrection. It was the Angel of the Lord who rolled back the great stone--to great for the women's strength--it was the Angel who by the brightness of his glory, by his face like lightning and his raiment white as snow, so terrified the keepers of the tomb that they became as dead mean and hindered [7/8] no man from approaching, although it was the very morning they were most bound to watch. And it was the same angel who with voice of comfort and hope bade the trembling women Fear not, for their Lord was risen, and pointed to the empty grave in proof of his assertion.

And can we doubt that the Angels who were thus employed are on the same business still? can we doubt but that they are still ready to do the Father's will, and bring men to believe in the risen Lord? that they are still ready to remove obstacles out of the path of those who love him? still powerful to check and overbear those who would hinder us from Him? nay more, can we doubt that as they bore the beggar Lazarus into Abraham's bosom, so they are ready to hear those who truly love their Lord, when their time has come not to see the place where the Lord lay--but to the place where Jesus is. Would that the eyes of our faith might be more opened to see the Host of God, which stands around us as we pray; that, like Elisha gazing on their mighty power, we might exclaim "they are more with us than are with them"; that the sinner might catch but a faint glimpse of that Angelic joy which welcomes his returning steps; that the doubter might hear the triumphant voice, He is not here, He is risen; that all, in short, might listen and believe as the women did to the changeless song which from the Annunciation to the Resurrection had ever been the same--"Fear not."

[9] And, dear brethren, there is one point which the Angels seem to teach most strongly--and that is order and reverence. When St. Peter and St. John came to the Sepulchre they found the linen clothes lying, and the napkin which was about His head not lying with the linen clothes but wrapped together in "a place by itself"--and further we read that when Mary Magdalene looked in she saw two Angels standing, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

Such was the reverence with which they treated the tomb of our Lord. It may be thought fanciful to dwell much on this, but it does seem to me full of guidance to us as to the character of our services. If the tomb and graveclothes, the badges of His shame and death, were so hallowed and sanctified by contact with Him, that the very angels treated them with reverence and respect, what reverence can be too great, what awe too impressive, when we worship Him in the fullness of His Majesty? If the crucified body of Christ thus hallowed His tomb, how inexpressibly more sacred must be the place where he deigns to meet us, and above all where He deigns to give us His holy sacraments as pledges of His love.

Dear brethren, do strive after this reverence for holy places and holy things as a very essential part of your religion.

You that bear office in this Church, seek after it, and strive to kindle it in others by your own example. The soul acts upon the body, the body [9/10] on the soul, and there are few surer ways of kindling inward piety than by habitual reverence; few things which more deaden the inner life, more check the work of the Church, more repel those who would come into her, than habitual irreverence and carelessness in the things of God.

From the angels let us pass to those whom they saw and spoke to; and foremost of these come, not the apostles, those chosen companions of our Lord, but the faithful women who had followed Him from Galilee.

Among all the events of our Lord's life and ministry, there is nothing which shines out so brightly as the tender devotion of the women who followed Him. They at least seem to have been faithful when all others were faithless, they seem to have been brave when all others were cowards, they followed Him from Galilee ministering to Him; beneath the very cross they upheld His fainting mother. They were the last, St. Luke tells us, to look at the tomb, they were the first, "very early in the morning," to come to embalm Him; and verily they had their reward. The sinner who loved much now felt the fulness of the blessing which she won thereby. She saw the angels sitting in the sepulchre whom even the eyes of St. Peter or of the loved disciple could not behold, and as she turned back she was the first to see the Lord. Who can estimate the fulness of the blessing of that great sight, when weeping was turned into joy; when first of all the [10/11] world she knew her hope was real and true, and that she had not lived or loved in vain. Not even the bliss of the Virgin herself when she held the new-born babe in her arms could have far exceeded that which fell to the lot of the Magdalene, when she heard, from lips which she thought were cold in death, and in tones of which she well could estimate the love, her own name, "Mary."

And is not that blessing within the reach of every faithful woman who strives like they did to minister to Christ. What a scheme is here drawn out of women's work and women's influence. See how the Holy Sepulchre answers that which is now called the question of the day, and points to the work of those holy women as instances of what may be done for God. Men talk now as if women were placed in a lower scale in social life, as if they lacked power and influence which they ought to have. But the gospel does not say so. It ranks them even before the Apostles of our Lord--in what? In zeal and devotion; in energy, self-sacrifice and love.

God grant that this spirit may ever reign within the walls of the Church and in this Parish, and inspire all the women who wish to serve Him to serve him as those women did. To be, that is, the ministers of tenderness and consolation to many a weary soul who bears the image of their Lord, to soothe the sick, minister to their wants, comfort the dying; to attend in many a house where the hand of death has come, bearing the sweet spices of tender sympathy and holy love, to watch over some hard [11/12] impenitent soul, sealed like that stone and guarded by all the power of Satan, until at last they find in answer to their prayers that some angel has rolled away the stone, and they can enter in to soften and mould it unto Christ.

And may there also be never wanting a supply of men eager to run to Christ as St. Peter and John ran to His tomb. Eager that is to run the race that is set before them, and to do what they can for service. The two mainstays of the christian character are there depicted, faith and love. Faith, which shone forth in St. Peter. Love, which was the characteristic of St. John. Each will supply what the other lacks. Love will soonest find out what has to be done. Faith will render the accomplishment more easy. Where love hesitates faith will enter, where faith lags behind love will help us on. Dear brethren, what cannot the Parish do, if you all thus live in it. Look backwards to the time you are now celebrating, when this work first began and see how good has been the work which God has enabled you to do. And then look back also and recall your doubts and fears, your misgivings about this, your hesitation about that, aye, and perhaps your bitterness because this or that was not to your mind, put them both together and do you not find that though God has enabled you to do much, yet with more faith and more love you would have done still more.

And then with this thought look upwards to the throne of grace, praying that for the year that is [12/13] coming you may be more strengthened for what lies before you,

And so let the Holy Sepulchre teach you its last great lesson, the two-fold aspect of our spiritual life. There on one side we see the culmination of the curse of sin, the signs of a great struggle, a great sorrow, despair almost overwhelming; on the other, sin and death conquered, the calm of victory and almost boundless joy.

Is not this a type of what must ever be going on in the christian's soul? Is it not there that he feels the misery of the great warfare which is going on within him? Has he not often to shatter what seem his best hopes and let them go because they lead him into sin? Has he not often sunk back well nigh exhausted in the bitter conflict, and felt he must give way to despair? Who that has fought any fight against sin but knows something of this?

But does he not know too of that blessed feeling which comes over a man when he has won the fight, when some old habit has been put down, when some resolve has been made which it seemed almost impossible to make, when some self-sacrifice has been freely endured which at first seemed almost impossible to face? Who that has undergone these but knows the full blessedness of the Resurrection picture, when the soul mounts upwards unto Christ, and the very road which seemed so hard is now the path of happiness and content?

This then is the lesson your Church by its name will always teach you. It will tell you that no work [13/14] worth doing can be done for Christ which does not involve self-sacrifice and self-devotion; it will tell you that you need not expect to serve him without burying many a wish and conquering many an inclination; that there is a real hard dying unto sin to be done; but that if you do thus die you will have within you that Peace which passeth all understanding, that the triumph will be all the sweeter for the sacrifice it has cost, and that the holiest, purest pleasure which we can feel here is that which springs from a heart which has conquered sin and risen anew with Christ, because it is a pleasure which will last for ever, a joy here, which is a foretaste of that eternal joy, with which we shall look back on the struggles of our life, and find ourselves with God.



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