And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost--St. Luke xxiii. 46.
"Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes:
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee:
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
In life, in death. Great is man's need in life; greater his need in death. But whether we live, may we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, may we die unto the Lord. And so,
"In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
There is no peace like that in which Christ's Passion ends--none so deep, because there was never sorrow like unto His; and the peace which now comes is one which passeth understanding. Of this peace, lastly, the Cross speaks to our souls.
But, then, to gain that peace the former lessons of the Cross must have been studied and, according to our ability, put in practice. The way for such peace as this is prepared: by the forgiveness of enemies and by being in perfect charity with the world; by frequent meditation on that vast eternal state wherein death shall leave us; by the conscientious discharge of duty to those amongst whom our lot has been cast; by submission to God's holy disciplining will, whatever it may impose; by habitual longing and thirst for union with Him; by glad acceptance of His revelation of Himself through His Well-Beloved Son. Such practice be ours, and that shall bring a man peace at the last.
Once more let us give attention to the solemn lesson from the Cross, before night falls, and stars come out like lamps lit in the skies of evening, and the day of grace is past and gone. Remember: these messages from the Cross of Jesus Christ are always double, befitting the attitude of minds, the state of souls. The Cross lifts up, it casts down; it acquits, it also condemns. Christ saves, He likewise judges; and, meanwhile, one man is taken, and another is left. Of what can you think with such secret and strange apprehension as of the coming of the end and the long-expected arrival of man's last adversary? Yet is there a dread within that dread--another and a greater dread: the dread of unprepared, evil death. "From sudden, unprepared, and evil death, Good Lord, deliver us!" Such is death when the dying man is not helped by the Cross, because he did not love it in his life, nor trust to it, or, worse, because he may have been its enemy. Oh, at such a moment, if there be power to feel, what must be felt by one who knows that the Holy Cross is nothing to him, who has no friend, no Saviour, on earth or beyond it, to whom the sight of Calvary brings no gleam of hope? This Cross is the object which men and women have prized and loved more than aught else in the world; which they have worn on their hearts, unseen by companion or friend; which travellers in strange lands have kept on the person, that, in case of accident or death, they might be known for disciples of Christ; from which they have learned the best they ever knew; which has been to them an instructor in faith, hope, and charity; on which they have strained their dying eyes; under which sign, in the catacombs of old, and now in the quiet churchyard and God's-acre, the bones and dust await their resurrection. And this Cross, so dear, so precious, so far beyond all estimate in value, of what must it speak to the miserable creature dying out of Christ! He cannot evade its censure and reproof; it stands there to condemn, and its shadow falls on his death-bed, long and black and still.
But let this Cross be to us for comfort and peace when for us also the inevitable hour arrives. "Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness." The darkness comes of our three enemies, Sin, Pain, and Death. On this Cross Christ has made full satisfaction for the sin of the whole world. On this Cross Christ has borne such pain as martyr never knew, that we may be comforted and strengthened, whatever we have to bear. On this Cross hath Jesus died, and thus we learn of Jesus Christ to die. And now is the time to learn it; now, in time of health, in time of prosperity, prepare to die. Now, when the brain is clear, and the mind unclouded, and the frame is in health and sound, now learn to die. Sickness is not the time to prepare for death. Disease, with its attendant distresses and torments, must render it impossible to come thoughtfully and calmly to God. Fever, hallucinations, wandering of mind, excitement through stimulants, and anxiety through nervous distress--are these the helpers to him who sees that he must make ready for an interview with his Judge, and needs the fulness of his powers to prepare for that dread meeting! The sick man knows too well that it is the worst of all times for him to prepare for death. The thoughtless, if well-meaning, physician hides the truth from him; knowing that he is about to die, the physician encourages him to think that he is not to die. O fatal error! to put off repentance till our sins forsake us, and not we our sins--till the power of sinning is gone! To be to us a help and comfort in death, this Cross must have been our true and beloved companion in life. And if so, the fear of death is gone. It is dead on that Cross on which our sins are dead, on which one is crucified with Christ; and blessed are they who thus suffer crucifixion, for they rise again to a better hope, and perfect love casts out their fears.
It is now time to depart hence and return each to his own place. But as we go let us take with us thoughtful hearts and, still better, anxious hearts. Thoughtful must we be if indeed moved by the recital of the Passion once again, and anxious lest we may have received this grace to no purpose. When the sun went down upon Jerusalem, the memory of the things which had occurred that day was already beginning to fade as the people resumed the tenor of their life, and entered into their occupations, and took up their work, and resumed their pleasures; and so for a while they forgot what had happened, and the world went on as before. So is it with many when Lent and Holy Week are ended; they go their way and straightway forget. But let it not be so with us, and let us carry hence impressions too deeply stamped upon the mind and heart to be easily effaced. As we recede from the mountain whereon the great Master has taught us His favourite lesson, let it be with a resolve to practise it and find out what it means; and let us try to keep that Sacred Hill always in view, on the horizon of our journey; and let us watch the Cross, that it may be to us like that pillar of cloud and fire which led Israel through the wilderness. So watched, and watching over us, the Cross shall be at last the sign of final victory over every foe, and the pledge of the life of the world to come; its lessons well learned, its warnings duly heeded; our own in life, in death. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." "For I am the Resurrection, and the Life," saith the Lord: "he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."