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THE PASSOVER GREATLY DESIRED.
”And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
THESE words were spoken by our Lord in the night of His betrayal. When the hour was come, He sat down to the last supper with His disciples, and His “soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” As they were eating, He said: “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you.” It must indeed have been a desire “stronger than death,” ardent and divine, which could rise above the anguish of such an hour. Sorrow and the shadow of death draw men’s hearts into themselves, and quench the vividness of other thoughts, the desires of other days. But His thirst of love nothing could slake. It burned the more as the hour of His Passion drew near. We cannot enter into the divine intensity of this desire; but it would seem that the longing He 249had to eat this Passover with His disciples before He suffered, arose from the consciousness, that in that hour and in that act He would for ever put an end to shadows, and bring in the substance of our redemption. Year by year, until that night, the lamb of the Passover had prophesied the atonement in His blood. The whole Church had yearly celebrated a sacrament prefiguring His death; but the shadows were now passed away. The true Light was come; the true Lamb, the true Sacrifice, the only bloodshedding was at hand.”
And besides this, we may believe that He desired that hour with the ardent longing of our human infirmity, because it was the winding up of the long years in which He had waited for His bitter passion: “I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” The fear of death is a pure human affection, a natural and sinless shrinking from grappling with the powers of sin, and from the pangs which we must suffer in the struggle. He too foresaw the sharpness of death which He had undertaken to overcome; and this foresight “straitened” Him. It was now near to begin, and the end was not far off. The sooner begun, the sooner ended. We go forth even with impatience to meet sorrows which we cannot turn aside.
But there was, perhaps, another reason. That 250 last mournful Passover was a solace to the Son of man. It was sad, but sweet. It was to be the last time that He should so converse with the disciples and friends who had long loved and followed Him. We all know what the last day or the last night is before some great parting, before some happy time comes to an end; before some departure, some change which reaches to the foundations of home and heart: the last evening spent in some loved haunt, the last meeting with some fond friends, the last time of doing some familiar work, the last partaking in some act of common devotion. It is soothing, and yet so calm as almost to take away its power to soothe. We look on to it, and long for it, though its coming only brings the end the sooner. Yet in itself it is so blessed, that we shut our eyes, and will not look beyond, leaving the morrow to come, if it must. There are two great seasons of perfect sweetness and sadness, farewells and death-beds. They are times which draw out all tenderness and love: and some such thoughts and feelings were no doubt in the heart of our blessed Master when He looked on to this eventide, and said, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
These thoughts give a peculiar depth, and, if I may so speak, a divine pathos to His words. Perhaps we have never heard them without feeling 251their intensity of meaning. How powerful and persuasive is every word and act of His in that hour of unutterable tenderness and sorrow. What a light it casts upon the blessed Sacrament which He then bequeathed to us, and on the law which binds us to it.
1. For first, this shews us that the holy Sacrament is this last Passover continuing still. What was then begun is a perpetual celebration. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” The whole life of the Church is a paschal festival. Every year brings Easter back; but Easter is in every week. It ought to be in every day. This is the Passover He so ardently desired; the very substance which He then brought in and ordained for ever. When He sat with His Apostles, He took bread and wine, and offered up Himself both in figure and reality. The sign and the substance were then united in one act, and are inseparable. He now, for ever, offers up Himself in Heaven; and His Apostles, through their successors, offer up the same Passover on earth, and they will offer it alway, even unto the end of the world. In heaven and in earth, it is but one act still, one priesthood, and one sacrifice. The Church is the upper chamber spread abroad; a sphere above this visible world, hanging over all the earth. It is in all lands, under all skies, upon 252 the floods and in the mountains, in the wilderness and on trackless shores, wherever two or three are gathered together, there is the upper chamber, and the paschal table, the disciples, and the Lord of the true Passover, the Sacrifice and the Priest. At every altar He takes bread and wine, blesses, and gives His body and His blood. This whole action and event is a continuous and ever-present reality. We do not repeat or imitate, but perpetuate and continue the act which He began that last night before He suffered. And, by continuing it, we unite ourselves to Him in it. We go up into the room furnished and prepared; and are present, not more now than then, not more here than there. The kingdom of our Lord is in spirit and in truth. Our Sacrament is the true paschal sacrifice, indivisible and one.
2. And this may shew us further, that with desire He desires still to eat this sacrament of His love with us. How strangely this inverts our common ways of speaking. We look upon the holy communion as a commandment to be obeyed, or a blessing to be sought. Perhaps we may also regard it on our part as a source of strength and solace; but do we realise that it is He who is desiring to eat it with us? that the chief desire is on His side; that it is He who invites, calls, beseeches us; that He stands at the altar 253waiting and longing for our approach; and all this because of His divine love for sinners, because our sanctification is His joy? How full of all wonder is this tenderness and patience of love! That He should suffer such as we are to draw near; that He should endure to receive sinners, and to eat with them; that after our sins, backslidings, betrayals, our wilful infirmities and cold, heartless estrangements, He should at all accept of our advance, this is miraculous: but that He should desire to be touched by the hands of lepers and the lips of the unclean; that He should long for us while we stand aloof from Him; that when we draw near, His desire should be ardent and ours languid; that the joy and solace, if I dare so speak, should be more with Him than with us, and that the blessedness of that divine communion should be deeper in His heart than in ours,—all this is the mystery of love, the length and breadth and depth and height whereof pass all understanding. And yet there is somewhat we may comprehend, for His desire is like His love, divine. The infinite and unextinguishable love which brought Him from His Father’s bosom to die upon the cross; the tenderness of the Good Shepherd, in whose eyes the lost are precious as His own blood; these make Him to yearn over us when our swerving, cold, slothful hearts draw near with a scanty 254 and feeble desire. The greater desire is always with the more perfect; the greatest is with Him in whom no imperfection can be. And what is the source of this divine longing? Why does He desire us to eat this Passover with Him? It is because He desires our faith and love, our repentance and obedience, our presence at the paschal feast in the kingdom of God. His “delights are with the sons of men,” therefore He surrounds Himself with His friends, and so fulfils His promise: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” The first moving cause of this divine desire is that He may pour forth His blessings of power and grace upon us. The law of the Divine love is to overflow upon the creation of God. The eternal fountain sheds abroad its fulness on all orders of His works. His love is “the first arid the last.” It moved Him to create all worlds; to redeem us by the gift of Himself; to regenerate us by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. The same love moved the Word to be made flesh, and to suffer for our sins. It was the source of this strong desire on His night of agony; it is now the spring from which life, healing, cleansing, illumination, solace, strength, and bliss flow down upon His Church. When we draw near to Him at the altar, He sees our wounds, our weakness, our infirmities; He sees our needs, 255and our strong desires, and it is His joy to heal, strengthen, and save.
Let us now see in particular what are His intentions and acts of grace to all His faithful servants in this feast of redemption.
1. First, He desires to apply to us the benefits of His passion. The sacrifice upon the cross, which is of infinite worth to redeem all mankind, is made salvation unto each of us, as it is applied to us one by one. It is no more in our power to apply it to ourselves than to redeem ourselves. The application of the blood of Christ is an act of His sovereign grace. It is applied to us first in the laver of baptism; but its cleansing needs to be perpetually renewed, that the sins of our frail and evil will may be perpetually washed away. We stand before God in virtue of that one sacrifice, and by that alone. Therefore in the eating of the true Lamb of atonement, our compassionate and loving High Priest applies the sacrifice of His death for our perfect pardon. He desires to absolve us by the power of His atoning oblation, and to present us in Himself without spot unto His Father. No sinner hopes to be forgiven so as He thirsts to forgive. To pardon is even more blissful than to create. To draw us to the foot of the cross, to sprinkle us with His own divine blood, to unite us to His own sacrifice, this is His desire. 256 Who, then, when He calls will go away unforgiven? who can fear to come?
2. And again, He desires to give Himself to be our spiritual food. It was His delight to give Himself in our stead; to leave His kingdom, His glory, His eternal joy, to make Himself poor, outcast, and ashamed. He humbled Himself to be a servant, to be made in the likeness of men, to obey and to die, and that upon the cross, and all for us. But as if this were not enough, He has humbled Himself to be for ever our spiritual sustenance; He comes to us, “that we may dwell in Him, and He in us.” He has “compassion on the multitude,” toiling onward to the heavenly country, and gives them to eat in the wilderness, lest “they faint by the way.” It is His delight to work this divine miracle, not in the mountain or by the sea alone, but in all the world, and in all ages, upon every altar feeding every hungry soul with Himself. With desire He desires to see the thousands that follow throng about Him for the bread of life, and to satisfy them.
3. And lastly, He desires to make us, even now in this life, behold His love. Love pent up withers away; but Divine love cannot be straitened: it is like the light of heaven, which pours down in floods upon the earth. He is God, and God is love; and the bliss of God is to shew His 257love to all His works. As He gathered round Him the twelve and the more favoured three; as He cherished the disciple beloved above all; as He delighted to shew His love to “Martha and her sister and Lazarus;” as the trembling, the brokenhearted, and the penitent, came to Him upon earth, and He made them conscious of His compassion; so He desires us to approach Him now in the Sacrament of His death, that He may give us the inward pledges and perceptions of His love. We know how among friends the interchange of mutual love is sweet, and how they who love most have most joy in making their love felt. What we call tenderness is the desire love has to cherish its object with endearment. Dare we ascend from things of earth to things of heaven? Was it not for this that the Son of God, who was in heaven, came down to earth? What is the mystery of the Incarnation, but God loving and cherishing man with a love not alone divine, but also human? Our Redeemer is not only very God, but very man in all the truth of our humanity. And His human affections follow the laws of our perfect manhood. With desire He invites us to Himself, that He may shew to our intimate consciousness the personal love which moved Him to give Himself, with full intention, for each several soul.258
And now, from all that has been said, let us learn one great and searching truth.
Above all other motives for drawing near to the holy Sacrament of His body and blood, this is the first and chiefest: because He desires to eat this feast of love with us.
O cold and constrained hearts, who draw near only because He has commanded. O close and calculating souls, who come because it is for their advantage. Hard and perishing are they who have cause to be afraid to come; unbelieving and ungrateful, who, without cause, turn their backs upon His desire. On earth, “He was despised and rejected of men.” So is He now. “And we hide, as it were, our faces from Him.” He stands upbraiding with tones of love: “O My people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me:” “All the day long have I stretched out My hands:” “How often would I . . . . but ye would not:” “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.”163163 Micah vi. 3; Rom. x. 21; St. Matt. xiii. 37; St. John v. 40. If any dying friend, in the night of his last agony, should say, “Day by day kneel down at noon and remember me,” love would constrain us to fulfil it. The known desire of one loved and departed is among the most powerful and persuasive motives. 259If we should forget it for a day, we should be cut to the heart; we should reproach our unstable affections. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is the world’s reproof to heartless friends. How, then, shall we escape rebuke, if we neglect so fervent a desire? Blessed thought, that He is drawing us to Himself; that all His will is towards us, and all His heart set upon us, even in the midst of our faults, follies, weakness, inconstancy, and sins. What we are He knows, and yet, such as we are, He desires our fellowship, that, by communion with Him, we may be cleansed and changed; that the altar here may be a preparation and a foretaste of the marriage-supper in heaven, where, with face unveiled, He will sit down, and all His saints and all His beloved ones with Him, at the eternal Feast which shall be eaten ever new in the kingdom of God.260
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