Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER, 1936.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Saint Paul, in the fifteenth Chapter of First Corinthians, records the next appearance of Our Lord after His resurrection, to, above five hundred brethren at once: “of whom,” he writes, “the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” “After that, he was seen of James: then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”
This is the testimony of a witness whose “manner of life from his youth, which was at the first among his own nation at Jerusalem, and known of all the Jews; which knew him from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect he lived a Pharisee.” This is the testimony of a witness whose manner of life is known of all Christians who revere him as Apostle and Martyr and of non-Christians of honest mind and good will who refer to him as a reliable expositor of the Christian Religion.
Today I suggest that you meditate upon the appearance of Our Lord to the five hundred at one and the same time. I know of no fact in history supported by such testimony of so many witnesses of such calibre. These witnesses had nothing to gain and everything to lose. As a matter of fact they did lose everything which is reckoned to be humanly desirable. They lost family ties, social security and personal safety. They realized all this. With impressive intrepidity they unanimously and unhesitatingly affirmed the fact which they could not and would not deny as honest men. Many of them sealed their testimony with their own blood.
I believe that if such testimony for any fact whatsoever were to be offered in any court in our own country today, that the principles of justice as we have come to know them, would arouse a country-wide sentiment in favor of the witnesses. If witness to the fact of the resurrection of Our Lord is to be the only exception, then I believe that the exception may fairly be attributed to invincible prejudice.
The five hundred are described as brethren. Each was intimately known in his own circle in the fellowship. Their names are not recorded for us to read. This matters not at all. They witnessed in their own time. We treasure their tradition. We share in the blessing that belongs to those who have not seen, and yet have believed.
We have our means of witnessing, which also we share with the multitude that no man can number, who have “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers.” This witness of ours is not the least impressive, and certainly not less in importance. Just think for a moment what it means, remembering that it is the Lord’s own appointed way of witness for us. Each one of us is honored by being numbered with the long, long, line of disciples of every race and tongue, who for nearly twenty centuries at the Altars of the Church, according to the institution of God’s dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, do celebrate and make before the Divine Majesty, with the holy gifts, which we offer, the memorial God’s Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same. This Eucharistic witness is the perpetual memorial commanded in the holy Gospel to be continued until his coming again.
This witness, impressive as it is, is no less impressive in the personal witness of each Christian, made possible by Holy Communion, whereby each Christian, receiving the most precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is filled with grace and. heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him. The virtue of the indwelling life of Christ in the soul enables each Christian, each in his own vocation, to witness to the power, as well as the fact, of the resurrection. It is written concerning the first disciples, “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled: and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
“And ye are witnesses of these things.”
Affectionately in Our Lord,