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he eminently both rich, and wise, and good; a worthy, though close disciple of our Saviour. True faith may be wisely reserved, but will not be cowardly. Now he puts forth himself, and dares beg the body of Jesus.
Death is wont to end all quarrels. Pilate's heart tells him he hath done too much already, in sentencing an Innocent to death. No doubt, that centurion had related unto him the miraculous symptoms of that Passion. He, that so unwillingly condemned innocence, could rather have wished that just man alive, than have denied him dead.
The body is yielded, and taken down; and now, that, which hung naked upon the Cross, is wrapped in fine linen; that, which was soiled with sweat and blood, is curiously washed and embalmed.
Now, even Nicodemus comes in for a part; and fears not the envy of a good profession. Death hath let that man loose, whom the law formerly overawed with restraint. He hates to be a night-bird any longer; but boldly flies forth, and looks upon the face of the sun; and will be now as liberal in his odours, as he was before niggardly in his confession.
O Saviour, the earth was thine and the fulness of it; yet, as thou hadst not a house of thine own while thou livedst, so thou hadst not a grave when thou wert dead. Joseph, that rich Councillor, lent thee his; lent it so, as it should never be restored. Thou tookest it but for a while; but that little touch of that Sacred Corpse of thine made it too good for the owner.
Oh happy Joseph, thou hadst the honour to be landlord of the Lord of Life! How well is thy house-room repaid with a mansion not made with hands, eternal in the heavens! Thy garden and thy tomb were hard by Calvary, where thou couldst not fail of many monitions of thy frailty. How oft hadst thou seasoned that new tomb, with sad and savoury meditations! and hadst oft said within thyself, "Here I shall once lie down to my last rest, and wait for my resurrection!" Little didst thou then think, to have been disappointed by so Blessed a guest; or that thy grave should be again so soon empty, and in that emptiness incapable of any mortal indweller. How gladly dost thou now resign thy grave to him, in whom thou livest, and who liveth for ever; whose soul is in Paradise, whose Godhead everywhere! Hadst thou not been rich before, this gift had enriched thee alone : and more ennobled thee, than all thine earthly honour. Now great princes envy thy bounty; and have thought themselves happy, to kiss the stones of that rock, which thou thus hewedst, thus bestowedst.
Thus, purely wrapped and sweetly embalmed, lies the precious Body of our Saviour, in Joseph's new vault. Are ye now also at rest, O ye Jewish Rulers? Is your malice dead and buried with him? Hath Pilate enough served your envy and revenge? Surely,
it is but a common hostility, that can die; yours surviveth death, and puts you upon a further project. The Chief Priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that this Deceiver said while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again; Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure, till the third day; lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen.
How full of terrors and inevitable perplexities is guiltiness! These men were not more troubled with envy at Christ alive, than now with fear of his resurrection. And what can now secure them? Pilate had helped to kill him; but who shall keep him from rising?
Wicked and foolish Jews! how fain would ye fight against God, and your own hearts! How gladly would ye deceive yourselves, in believing him to be a Deceiver, whom your consciences knew to be no less true than powerful! Lazarus was still in your eye. That man was no phantasm. His death, his reviving, was undeniable. The so fresh resuscitation of that dead body, after four days' dissolution, was a manifest conviction of Omnipotence. How do ye vainly wish, that he could deceive you, in the forereporting of his own resurrection! Without a Divine power, he could have raised neither Lazarus nor himself; with and by it, he could as well raise himself as Lazarus. What need we other witnesses, than your own mouths? That, which he would do, ye confess he foretold; that the truth of his word might answer the power of this deed, and both of them might argue him the God of Truth and Power, and yourselves enemies to both.
And now, what must be done? The sepulchre must be secured, and you with it. A huge stone, a strong guard, must do the deed; and that stone must be sealed, that guard of your own designing. Methinks, I hear the soldiers and busy officers, when they were rolling away that other weighty stone (for such we probably conceive) to the mouth of the vault with much toil and sweat and breathlessness, how they bragged of the sureness of the place and unremovableness of that load; and when that so choice a watch was set, how they boasted of their valour and vigilance, and said, they would make him safe from either rising or stealing.
Oh the madness of impotent men, that think by either wile or force to frustrate the will and designs of the Almighty! How justly doth that wise and powerful Arbiter of the World laugh them to scorn in heaven, and befool them in their own vain devices! O Saviour, how much evidence had thy Resurrection wanted, if these enemies had not been thus maliciously provident! How irrefragable is thy rising made, by these bootless endeavours of their prevention
All this while, the devout Marys keep close; and silently spend their Sabbath, in a mixture of grief and hope. How did
they wear out those sad hours, in bemoaning themselves each to other in mutual relations of the patient sufferings, of the happy expiration of their Saviour; of the wonderful events, both in the heavens and earth, that accompanied his Crucifixion; of his frequent and clear predictions of his Resurrection! And now they have gladly agreed, so soon as the time will give them leave, in the dawning of the Sunday morning, to visit that dear sepulchre.
Neither will they go empty-handed: she, that had bestowed that costly alabaster-box of ointment upon their Saviour alive, hath prepared no less precious odours for him dead.
Love is restless and fearless. In the dark of night, these good women go to buy their spices; and, ere the day-break, are gone out of their houses towards the tomb of Christ, to bestow them. This sex is commonly fearful: it was much for them, to walk alone in that unsafe season: yet, as despising all fears and dangers, they thus spend the night after their Sabbath. Might they have been allowed to bury their perfumes on the Sabbath, or to have visited that holy tomb sooner, can we think they would have staid so long? Can we suppose they would have cared more for the Sabbath, than for the Lord of the Sabbath, who now kept his Sabbath in the grave? Sooner they might not come, later they would not, to present their last homage to their dead Saviour. Had these holy women known their Jesus to be alive, how had they hasted, who made such speed to do their last offices to his Sacred Corpse! For us, we know that our Redeemer liveth; we know where he is. O Saviour, how cold and heartless is our love to thee, if we do not haste to find thee in thy word and sacraments; if our souls do not fly up to thee, in all holy affections, into thy heaven!
Of all the women, Mary Magdalen is first named; and, in some Evangelists, alone. She is noted above her fellows. None of them were so much obliged; none, so zealously thankful. Seven devils were cast out of her, by the command of Christ. That heart, which was freed from Satan by that powerful dispossession, was now possessed with a free and gracious bounty to her Deliverer. Twice, at the least, hath she poured out her fragrant and costly odours upon him. Where there is a true sense of favour and beneficence, there cannot but be a fervent desire of retribution. O Blessed Saviour, could we feel the danger of every sin, and the malignity of those spiritual possessions from which thou hast freed us, how should we pour out ourselves into thankfulness unto thee!
Every thing here had horror. The place, both solitary and a sepulchre; nature abhors, as the visage, so the region of death and corruption: the time, night; only the moon gave them some faint glimmering; for this being the seventeenth day of her age, afforded some light to the latter part of the night: the business,
the visitation of a dead corpse. Their zealous love hath easily overcome all these. They had followed him in his sufferings, when the disciples had left him; they attended him to his Cross weeping; they followed him to his grave, and saw how Joseph laid him even there, they leave him not; but, ere it be daylight, return to pay him the last tribute of their duty. How much stronger is love than death! O Blessed Jesu, why should not we imitate thy love to us? Those whom thou lovest, thou lovest to the end; yea, in it; yea, after it even when we are dead, not our souls only, but our very dust is dearly respected of thee. What condition of thine should remove our affections, from thy person in heaven, from thy limbs on earth?
Well did these worthy women know, what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had done to thee. They saw, how curiously they had wrapped thee, how preciously they had embalmed thee : yet, as not thinking others' beneficence could be any just excuse of theirs, they bring their own odours to thy sepulture, to be perfumed by the touch of thy Sacred Body. What thank is it to us, that others are obsequious to thee, while we are slack or niggardly? We may rejoice in others' forwardness; but if we rest in it, how small joy shall it be to us, to see them go to heaven
When, on the Friday evening, they attended Joseph to the entombing of Jesus, they marked the place; they marked the passage; they marked that inner grave-stone, which the owner had fitted to the mouth of that tomb, which all their care is now to remove; Who shall roll away the stone? That other more weighty load wherewith the vault was barred, the seal, the guard set upon both, came not perhaps into their knowledge. This was the private plot of Pilate and the priests, beyond the reach of their thoughts.
I do not hear them say, "How shall we recover the charges of our odours?" or, "How shall we avoid the envy and censure of our angry Elders, for honouring him, whom the governors of our nation have thought worthy of condemnation?" The only thought they now take is, Who shall roll away the stone? Neither do they stay at home, and move this doubt; but when they are well forward on their way, resolving to try the issue. Good hearts cannot be so solicitous for anything under heaven, as for removing those impediments, which lie between them and their Saviour. O Blessed Jesu, thou, who art clearly revealed in heaven, art yet still both hid and sealed up from too many here on earth neither is it some thin veil, that is spread between thee and them, but a huge stone; even a true stone of offence lies rolled upon the mouth of their hearts. Yea, if a second weight were superadded to thy grave here, no less than three spiritual bars are interposed betwixt them and the above; idleness, ignorance, unbelief. Who shall roll away these stones, but the same
power that removed thine? O Lord, remove that our ignorance, that we may know thee; our idleness, that we may seek thee; our unbelief, that we may find and enjoy thee.
How well it succeeds, when we go faithfully and conscionably about our work, and leave the issue to God! Lo, now God hath removed the cares of these holy women, together with the gravestone. To the wicked, that falls out, which they feared; to the godly, that, which they wished and cared for, yea more. Holy cares ever prove well; the worldly dry the bones, and disappoint the hopes.
Could these good visitants have known of a greater stone sealed, of a strong watch set, their doubts had been doubled: now, God goes beyond their thoughts; and at once removes that, which both they did and might have feared. The stone is removed, the seal broken, the watch fled.
What a scorn doth the Almighty God make of the impotent designs of men! They thought, "The stone shall make the grave sure; the seal shall make the stone sure; the guard shall make both sure:" now, when they think all safe, God sends an angel from heaven above; the earth quakes beneath; the stone rolls away; the soldiers stand like carcasses, and, when they have got heart enough to run away, think themselves valiant; the tomb is opened; Christ is risen; they confounded. O the vain projects of silly men! as if, with one shovelfull of mire, they would dam up the sea: or, with a clout hanged forth, they would keep the sun from shining. O these spiders' webs, or houses of cards which fond children have, as they think, skilfully framed, which the least breath breaks and ruins! Who are we, sorry worms, that we should look in any business to prevail against our Creator? What creature is so base, that he cannot arm against us, to our confusion? The lice and frogs shall be too strong for Pharaoh, the worms for Herod. There is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord.
O the marvellous pomp and magnificence of our Saviour's Resurrection! The earth quakes; the angel appears that it may be plainly seen, that this Divine Person now rising had the command both of earth and heaven. At the dissolution of thy human nature, O Saviour, was an earthquake; at the reuniting of it, is an earthquake: to tell the world, that the God of Nature then suffered, and had now conquered. While thou layest still in the earth, the earth was still; when thou camest to fetch thine own, The earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob. When thou, our true Samson, awakedst, and foundest thyself tied with these Philistine cords, and rousedst up, and brakest those hard and strong twists with a sudden power, no marvel if the room shook under thee.
Good cause had the earth to quake, when the God, that made it, powerfully calls for his own flesh, from the usurpation of her