XXIX. The Covering of Christ's Body
Comes Nicodemus too? not as of old
Muffling his face in mantle of the night,
To hold his converse with the Prince of Light,
But even by despair now rendered bold.
O blessed hands that lifeless frame to hold,
And bear! O mournful beatific sight!
With eloquent tongue of that sepulchral rite
Ordained of old, whose fragrant sweets enfold,
And speak of Resurrection in the grave!
He dies, when others He had power to save;
While women hang the speechless head and weep:
As when some shepherd for his helpless sheep
Is slain, and prostrate lies upon the ground,
His flock like downcast mourners stand around.
Yea, company most blest, most sad below,
With odours sweet, (O contravention strange!)
To antedate of death the loathsome change;
As if to struggle with the last dread foe
E'en in his own dark kingdom, nor forego
The prey that seemed already his, but plant
Tokens of joy and living covenant
E'en in corruption's range of utter woe.
With linen white and clean for the dark tomb,
Like spotless snow from Heaven in winter's gloom,
Falling upon some still and shadowy night,
While stars keep watch throughout the infinite;
To shelter with its covering soft and bright
Dead nature--ere it put on vernal bloom.
But what are these, the costly liniment,
Sabean odours, Araby's perfume,
That wrap His pallid Body in the tomb?
Was it for this, in sad presentiment,
Kings from the rich and fragrant East were sent
To where that star's pale radiance did illume
That stable-cave, wherein a mother leant
Upon the offspring of her Virgin womb?
When festal scents of myrrh and frankincense
Were soon to blend with weeping Rachel's cry,
And dying shrieks of murdered Innocents,--
While kingly worshippers around Him press,
And Tyrian garb and gold of Araby
Seemed but to mock His cold and nakedness.
But what may these the odorous spices mean
That are with Thee within the winding-sheet?
It is the embalming of affections sweet
From bodies mortified and souls serene,
That tend Thee in that "linen white and clean,"
Which is "the righteousness of saints," made meet
Around Thy bleeding Head and wounded Feet
To watch, and in the silent heart unseen,--
Embalming with the sighs of pensive love,
Which fragrance hath of immortality,
And finds a place among those souls that prove
Dead to this world of sense, and hide with Thee;
Like Magdalene, whose praise is seal'd above,
And breathes on earth for ages yet to be.
"In the secret place of His dwelling shall He hide me."
When such affections in the heart are found,
They ever love the solitude and shade,
And covered in the grave with Christ are laid;
As lies the fleecy mantle on the ground
Sheltering the roots, which shall anon abound
With Resurrection; or as buds, afraid
Of gales severe or gentle, have arrayed
Themselves in leafy coverings all around;
Or as the flowers that ope their dewy cup
To their own sun, but soon again fold up
Their fragrant bosom from the nightly dew,
Or nipping blasts; e'en so themselves unclose
To Christ the heart's affections; then from view
Hide in the tomb with Him, and there repose.
O that the wondrous secrets of Thine Ark,
The Godhead and the Manhood joined in one,
Were safe in the withdrawals of Thy throne
From tongues of busy men, where shadows dark
Environ, and no eye of man can mark,
Where Faith and Love may entering be alone,
And feed on thoughts to adoration known.
Yet there intrude rash men to blow the spark
Of angry disputations, from the coal
Ta'en from Thine Altar, fill'd with fire of Heaven,
To sanctify the lips, and cleanse the soul.
While at Thy shrine, whence worshippers are driven,
Range disputants, which on each other frown,
Where Angels veil their faces and bow down.