THis is the highest of all Feasts, says Epiphanius upon the day. This day Christ opened to us the door of Life, being the first-fruits of those that rose from the dead: whose Resurrection was our life, for he rose again for our justification, Rom. 4. 45.
Instead of the usual Invitatory, O come let us sing unto the Lord, holy Church uses special Hymns or Anthems concerning Christs Resurrection. Christ rising again from the dead, &c. And, Christ is risen, &c. set down before the Collect on Easter-day. Having kept company with the Apostles and first Believers, in standing by the Cross weeping upon Good-Friday, and kept a Fast upon the Saturday following to comply with the Apostles and Catholick Church who were that day sad and pensive, because their Lord was taken away from them, we are directed this day to rejoyce with them for the Rising again of our Lord, and to express our joy in the same words that they then did, and the Church ever since hath done, Christ is risen, S. Luke 24. 34. the usual Morning salutation this day, all the Church over; to which the Answer in some places was, Christ is risen indeed; and in others, this, And hath appeared to Simon.
Holy Church her aim is in all these chief days, to represent as full as may be the very business of the day, and to put us into the same holy affections that the Apostles and other Christians were, when they were first done; she represents Christ born at Christmas, and would have us so affected that day yearly, as the first believers were at the first tidings delivered by the Angel. So at his Passion she would have us so affected with sorrow, as they were that stood by the Cross. And now at his Resurrection she desires to represent it to us, as may put us into the same rejoycing, that those dejected Christians were, when the Angel told them, He is not here, but is risen, S. Luke 24. 6. Holy Church supposes us to have fasted and wept upon Good-Friday, and the day following, because our Lord was taken away according to that of our Saviour, The time shall come that the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then shall they fast in those daies, and now calls upon us to weep no more, for Christ is risen. And that she may keep time also with the first tidings of the Resurrection, she observes the Angels direction to the Women, S. Matt. 26. 7. Go quickly and tell his Disciples that he is risen. Supposing us as eager of the joyful news of Christs Resurrection, as they were, she withholds not the joy, but immediately after Confession and Absolution, she begins her Office with Christ is risen.
Proper Psalms at Morn. are 2. 57. 111.
The first of these is a Triumphant Song for Christs victory over all his Enemies that so furiously raged against him, Ver. 6. Yet I have set my King upon my holy hill of Sion. Notwithstanding all the fury of his Enemies that persecuted and murdered him, Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Sion, by his glorious Resurrection from the dead, as it is expounded, Acts 13:33.
The 57. Psalm is of the same nature. It mentions Christs Triumph over Hell and Death. My Soul is among Lions, Verse 4. And the children of men have laid a net for my feet, and pressed down my soul, crucifying the Lord of glory, but God sent from Heaven, Ver. 3. and saved him from the Lions, both Devils and Men by a glorious Resurrection. And therefore he breaks forth, Ver. 9. Awake up my glory, awake Lute and Harp, I my self will awake right early: I will give thanks unto thee O Lord, &c.
The 3. Psal. is a Psalm of Thanksgiving for marvellous works of redemption Ver. 9. works worthy to be praised and had in honour, Ver. 3. And therefore though it be not set particularly for the Resurrection, but may serve for any marvellous work of mercy, yet is it most fit for this day and the work of this: for amongst all the marvellous works of Redemption, this of Christs Resurrection is the chief, and most worthy by us to be had in honour. For If Christ be not risen, we are yet in our sins, we are utterly lost, 1 Cor. 15. But Christ is risen, The merciful and gracious Lord hath so done his marvellous work of Christs Resurrection, that it ought to be had in remembrance. For which holy Church teaches us to sing, as we are bound, I will give thanks unto the Lord with my whole heart, secretly amongst the faithful, and in the Congregation, Ver. 1.
Evening Psalms are 113. 114. 118.
The first is a Psalm of Thanksgiving especially for raising up Christ, Ver. 6, 7. Taking him out of the dust, and lifting him out of the mire, to set him with and above the Princes, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all Principalities and powers, and Might and Dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, Ephes. 1. 21.
The 118. Psal. is (part of it at least) of Christs Resurrection, as it is expounded S. Matt. 21. and Acts 4. 11. The stone which the builders refused, is become the head of the corner, this day. And therefore This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoyce and be glad in it. ver. 27.
The 114. Psal. may seem at first sight not so applyable to Christs Resurrection: for it is a Thanksgiving for the Jews deliverance out of Egypt. Yet notwithstanding if we look well into it, we shall find it proper enough for the day. For as the Apostle teaches us, All things hapned to them in types and figures; not only words but actions were typical. Egypt was a type of Hell, and their captivity there, a type of our captivity under sin and the Devil. Their deliverance from thence, a type and figure of our deliverance from Hell: and that which the Psalmist here gives thanks for as past, in the History, is understood to be meant as much or more in the prophesie of Christs Redemption of his Church, (the true Israelites, that walk in the steps of the Faith of our Father Abraham, (from sin and Hell, by the power of his glorious Resurrection this day.
The first Lesson Morn. is Exod. 12. in which is mentioned the Institution of the Passeover, proper for this day, the feast of the Passeover: For as S. Aug. observes, Ep. 119. We do in this Feast not only call to mind the history of our Saviours Resurrection, but also celebrate the mystery of ours. That as Christ this day rose again from death to life, so by Christ and the vertue of his Resurrection shall we be made alive, and rise from death to life eternal. Christ is therefore our true Passeover, whereof the other was a type. The Lesson then is proper for the day.
So is the first Lesson Even. Exod. 14. For it is concerning the Israelites deliverance out of Egypt, a type of our deliverance from Hell this day by Christs glorious resurrection. As that day Israel saw that great work, which the Lord did upon Egypt, Ver. 31. So this day we see the great conquest over Hell and Death finished, by Christs triumphant Resurrection from the dead.
The Second Lessons are plain.
The Gospel gives us the full evidence of Christs Resurrection: The Epistle tells what use we should make of it, If Christ be risen, seek those things that are above, &c.
The Collect prayes for grace, to make that use of it which the Epistle directs.
Thus holy Church is careful to teach and instruct all her children in the matter of the Feast, preaching Christs Resurrection to us, both in the type and Prophesie out of the Old Test. and in the History of it out of the New. And she does not only teach us to know what God hath done for us this day, but also she is careful that we may do our duty to God for this his marvellous goodness, commanding and directing us to pray for grace to do our duty, prescribing us excellent forms of adoring and blessing God for his mercy, this day such methods as the Holy Ghost hath set down, in which we may be sure to pray and praise God by the Spirit.
For the Antiquity of this Feast, heaps of Testimonies might be brought, but these two following may suffice.
1. S. AVGVST. Epist. 118. These things which are not written, but we keep them by tradition, if they be observed all the world over, are to be understood to be commended to us, and commanded either by General Councels (whose authority in the Church is most safe) or else by the Apostles: as for example, That the Passion of our Lord, his Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, and the coming of the Holy Ghost, should be observed by an Anniversary solemnity.
2. CONSTANTINE The Great. c. 17. The Feast of Easter we have kept from the first day of the Passion untill now. Euseb. de vita Constant. l. 3. c. 17. And this was not in the practice of some few, but of all Churches, as he there testifies, and is apparent, from the great contention in the Church about the day. Some following the Jewish accompt who kept this Feast the Fourteenth day of the first Month (The first Month began with the new Moon whose fourteenth day (or Moon as they call'd it) was the day of the Vernal Equinox, or if none such hapned, then that whose fourteenth day came the soonest after the Equinox) but the most Churches kept their Easter the first Sunday after the fourteenth day of the first Month, which usage the Councel of Nice confirmed for these reasons.
First, because it was the most general custome of the Churches.
Secendly, because they would not in this particular comply with the Jews, for though in some other cases they did it on purpose to sweeten them and make them plyable to Christianity, as our Lord himself did and his Apostles, Acts 21. 24. retaining many of their laudable and useful Rites, as of Excommunication, Benediction, Imposition of hands, with many more which you may see in Grotius Annot. in S. Matth. 18. and Append. p. 54. (for they loved not Innovation, nor measured the goodness of their Religion by their distance from the Jews in things lawful and useful) though I say the Primitive Christians did not like the Jewish Rites ever the worse because they were Theirs, i. e. of Gods Institution, but did use as many of them that were useful as they had occasion for, yet in this of the time of keeping Easter they would not, because it was of ill signification and scandalous, for the Jews keep their Easter as typical and prefiguring Christ to come; the Christians kept their Easter in thankful remembrance of Christ Come, and Risen from the dead: and therefore differing so much in the main of the Feast, they would not comply with them, no not so much as in the Time, lest by that they might have been thought to have complyed also in the very Feast, and so have seemed to have denied their Lord as the Jews did.
Thirdly, because after the Jews fashion of keeping of Easter (they following at that time an Erroneous Account which had not due regard to the time of the Equinox) it might happen that there might be two Easters in one year, (viz. one in the first Month and another in the last) and none in the next year.
After our English Account Easter is found by finding out Shrove-Tuesday; which is always the first Tuesday in the New Moon after Candlemas; the Sunday six weeks after, is Easter.
MVNDAY and TVESDAY in Easter-week.
THese two Holy days are added as Attendants upon Easter-day in honour of this high Feast and the more solemnity of it. And we find S. Austin upon occasion mentioning them De civit. Dei l. 22. c. 8. although both from him (elsewhere) and others we may gather that these two days were not all which at that time were added to the Feast: For of old, this Queen of Feasts, as the Fathers call it, was so highly esteemed, that it was in a manner solemnized fifty days together, even from Easter to Whitsuntide. See Ambr. Ser. 61. Per hos quinquaginta dies nobis est jugis & continuata Festivitas, &c. See also Euseb. de vit. Constant. l. 4. c. 64. And Tertul. de Iejuniis. And in his Book de Idol. where he affirms that all the Heathen Festivals put together could not equal this one great and solemn Feast of the Christians. From these and the like places some conclude, and most probably, That every day of that time the Christians met together in publick to sing with greatest joy Psalms and Allelujah to God Almighty, and to take the Cup of Salvation, the holy Communion, praising the Name of the Lord. All which time they did not kneel at their prayers which was accounted a posture of mourners, but Stand, (as upon Sundays they were wont) in token of joy, thus making every of those days equal in a manner to Sundays. The reason of this so great and long Festivity at this time, was principally because it was the Feast of Easter, or of our blessed Lords Resurrection, a principal Article of our faith: for as S. Paul says, 1 Cor. 15. If Christ be not risen we are yet in our sins, and we Christians of all men most miserable. Now that Christ is risen, needs must there be in Christians hearts an overflowing of joy, which in those times they expressed by such dayly publick exercises of Religion, principally of receiving the holy communion, the pledge of our resurrection (as our Saviour says S. John 6. He that eats my flesh shall live for ever) that by this means the memory of the resurrection might be fixt deeply in their minds. We must not think that the Christians then did keep all this Time holy, so as to cease from labour (for the poverty of many, and the care and charity required in all, would not permit that) but only as to religious exercises and services. As devotion abated, the Feast was shortned; yet long after Tertullian, even till Gratians time and downward, the whole week of Easter, as also of Whitsuntide, were reckoned among Holy-days. Gratian. de Consec. Dist. 3. And our Church, though she enjoyns only Munday and Tuesday of this week for Holy-days, yet seems to me to commend the keeping holy of this whole week, as also of the whole week after Christmas, Ascension, and Pentecost: For she directs the proper Prefaces for Christmas, Easter, Ascen. and Pentecost to be used every day the week after; Which Prefaces are to be used only at the Communion, as appears by the Rubricks; so that by prescribing the Prefaces to be used upon every day of the week, she doth withal prescribe the Communion every day likewise, which is properly the keeping of a day Solemnly Holy; and this weeks solemnity is principally, as we have said, for the expressing of our joy for our Lords Resurrection, and the honour of the Feast, which Christians were not willing to make shorter than the Jews Feast of unleavened Bread.
Among the Ancients there was another peculiar Reason for the keeping of the whole week of Easter Holy, besides that of the Resurrection. For they ministring Baptism (except in case of necessity) at no other times but the Eves of Easter and Whitsunday, did make it a part of their Festivity, the week following to congratulate the access of a new Christian progeny; the New Baptized coming each day to Church in white vestures with lights before them: where Thanksgivings and Prayers were made for them, with Instructions also to those that were of years of discretion (for at that time, there were many such that came in from Heathenism) in the principles and ways of Christianity. But afterwards, when most of the baptized were Infants, and so not capable of such solemnities, this custome was altered, and Baptism administred all times of the year, as at the beginning of Christianity. Tertul. de Bapt. S. Chrysost. Hom. 1. in Act. Apost.
1. Sunday after Easter.
It was the custome of our fore-fathers to observe the Octave or Vtas of their high and principal Feasts: and this is the Octave or eighth day after Easter. Upon every Octave, the use was to repeat some part of that Service, which was perform'd upon the Feast it self; and this is the reason that the Collect used upon Easter, is renewed upon this day.
The Epistle exhorts the new baptized persons that are born of God, to labour to overcome the World, which at their baptism they vowed to do.
The Gospel shews how Christ conversed with his Disciples after his Resurrection; instructing and confirming them in the faith of the Resurrection.
This Sunday is called Low-Sunday, because it is Easter-day repeated, the Octave of Easter, but the Sunday before is high Easter, and this is a lower Feast, Low Easter: in Latin Dominica in albis, or rather, Post Albas (sc. depositas) as some old Rituals call it: because those that were baptized on Easter-eve, wore, seven days after, white garments, called Chrysoms; signs of the purity which they received in Baptism; which white clothes they this day put off.
As the last Sunday instructed the young and new-born Christians, how they should imitate Christ in a Resurrection from sin and death to life; so this Sunday instructs the Shepherds of the flock, how to imitate their great Shepherd. And the Epistle sets before us his great patience and goodness in the work of our redemption. The Collect prayes for thankfulness and imitation of his holy life.
3. Sunday after Easter.
Hitherto since Easter the Church hath been as it were overwhelmed in the joyful meditation of Christs Resurrection from the dead, or chiefly about it, and that hath been the subject of all the Collects since then. Now in this Collect (as somewhat also in one of the Readings aforegoing) the Church reflects upon that other ancient Paschal Solemnity, the general Baptism that was used at that time; so that this Collect is for the new baptized or new Regenerates by Baptism: desiring Almighty God who shews the light of his truth, to them that be in error, (enlightning them by baptism, which was therefore called illumination, and the baptized the Enlightened) to grant them that be admitted into the fellowship of Christs religion, namely by baptism, that they may eschew those things that be contrary to their profession, or vow in baptism, &c. Though this custome of general baptism at Easter be not in use now, yet this Collect is still seasonable, as a general anniversary Commemoration of the great blessings received from God by our baptism, and our solemn vow and profession made to him therein.
The Ancients were wont to observe Pascha annotinum, an anniversary commemoration of their baptism; they that were baptized at Easter the year before, came the year following the same day to the Church, and solemnly with oblations and other religious offices commemorated the anniversary day of their new birth. Though our Church does not in every particular observe the same custome, yet she draws near to the ancient practice, in this solemn, though general Anniversary Commemoration of baptism this day, minding us all this day of our baptism, and our vow made therein, and praying to God to enable us all to keep it. And for this very reason does she appoint children to be baptized upon Sundays and other Holy-days when most people are present, that they may be put in remembrance of their own profession made to God in baptism; Preface before Baptism: and happy were it for us, if we would made good use of this care of the Church, and be often remembring that solemn vow; by which we have dedicated our selves to God to be an holy people, the wilful breach of which vow is horrid Sacriledge.
In the Gospel our Saviour tells his Disciples, that though they should weep and lament (by reason of his death) their sorrow should be turned into joy, which no man should take from them (namely after his Resurrection.) And such joy belongs to this time and to us in it, if we be also his true Disciples and followers; which how we may be, the Epistle shews by minding us of (what we promised and vowed, when admitted into Christs School, and gave up our names to him) the abstaining from fleshly lusts, and having honest conversation in all our Relations. And this is the main drift of the whole Epistle (the first of S. Peter) out of which this is taken, to perswade them that were born again, and lately become Christians, to walk suitably to such an holy profession and that chiefly in regard of the lively hope unto which they were begotten again by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and so is most agreeable to the Churches meditations this day and season.
4. Sunday after Easter.
This Collect is fit for this Paschal time from Easter to Pentecost, a time of greatest joy, the Church therefore prays that we may rightly observe the time; be full of joy in a joyful time; withal that our joy may be a true and real joy, that our hearts may surely there be fixt, where true joyes are to be found: Such joyes as Christs Resurrection, and the promised Comforter affords. And one or both of these two grand occasions of Joy and Exultation (to wit, Christs Resurrection, and the promise of a Comforter) are the principal Subject of the Gospels from Easter to Whitsuntide; but lest our joy should grow presumptious and luxuriant (as joy is apt to exceed) the Epistles for the same time admonish us of duties answerable, as to believe in Christ, to rise from the grave of sin, to be patient, loving, meek, charitable, &c. having our Lord for an example, and the promise of his Spirit for our guide, strength and comfort.
5. Sunday after Easter.
The Gospel before promised a Comforter. The Epistle and Gospel this day direct us what to do to obtain that promise. Two conditions are required on our parts for the receiving of that promised Comforter: First prayers or Rogations, this the Gospel teaches, Ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full. Secondly to love God and keep his Comandments, S. John 14. 15. This the Epistle exhorts to, See that ye be doers of the Word, &c. The Collect prayes that we may feel the fruits and comforts of this holy Spirit in our hearts by good thoughts and abilities to perform them.
Of Rogation week.
This is called Rogation Sunday: because upon the three following days Rogations and Litanies were used, and Fasting, for these two reasons. 1. Because this time of the year, the fruits of the earth are tender and easily hurt: therefore Litanies extraordinary are said to God to avert this judgement. 2. Because our LORDS Ascension is the Thursday following, therefore these three days before are to be spent in prayers and fasting. Conc. Aurelian. that so the flesh being tamed, and the soul winged with fasting, we may ascend with Christ.
The Gospel is concerning Rogations, teaching us how to ask of God, so as we may obtain, and withal foretels his approaching Ascension.
The Fast this week is voluntary: for there is no Fast commanded betwixt Easter and Whitsunday, as hath been observed before.
The Service formerly appointed in the Rogation days of Procession was the 103 and 104. Psal. with the Litany, and Suffrages, and the Homily of Thanksgiving. Artic. Eliz. in the 7. year of her reign. The 2. Psalms were to be said at convenient places, in the common perambulation: the people thus giving thanks to God, in the beholding of Gods benefits, the increase and abundance of his fruits upon the Earth. At their return to the Church, they were to say the rest of the Service mentioned, Eliz. Injun. 18, 19.