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Communion Sunday
The Action Sermon


CHRIST CRUCIFIED

*And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him.—St Luke xxiii. 33.

SOMETIMES, not always, things which were painful and distressing when they happened to us, are very pleasant to remember and to look back upon. Some here present will think of a hero of classic story, who once, in the midst of great sorrows and troubles, tried to cheer up the hearts of the little devoted band of his followers by suggesting this thought to them. The words have more music and felicity in his language than in ours; but this is the meaning of what he said: 'Perhaps, many a day hereafter, it will be pleasant for us to remember all this.' We have thought the like ourselves. When we have by hard work attained some worthy end, we look back with pleasure on the toils that brought us there. Joy is the sweeter after sorrow. Rest is the happier after weariness. And the griefs and labours which were so painful while we were going through them, sometimes grow softened in memory into something on which we even love to dwell: as rugged mountains, stern and bleak when we are near them, grow soft and blue in the distance, when we look at them from far away.

It is in the thought of this, that on the morning of what we all humbly ask of God may be a pleasant and helpful Communion Sunday, I have taken for the subject of our meditation an event at whose passing the solid eprth trembled: from whose sight the sun hid his face away. Let us, this quiet morning, think of the Most Awful Event that ever took place in this world—the Crucifixion of our Blessed

Redeemer. For though it would have been something to fill with a horror unspeakable, for any of us to have stood by and witnessed the circumstances of our Saviour’s death, keeping in mind Who it was that thus died,—to have actually seen human beings smiting and mocking and torturing the Divine Jesus, —yet now all the horror and the agony of that death are gone by: Our Master has seen of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied: It is but the shadow of departed anguish that lives on upon the sacred page: The pang is past, and the glory to which it led remains: The cross has mouldered, but the crown is ever bright: And surely our Redeemer Himself, looking around in the heavenly glory upon the ransomed souls to which His death brought life, and listening to the heavenly song, (Worthy is the Lamb that was slain/—surely He rejoices now to look back upon His earthly sorrow and dying, from whence His chief glory and our whole salvation grew. And if it be fact—and God's word says it is— that as the unspeakable duration which is Eternity passes over heaven, the remembrance of Christ's death is cherished there, and His death made the burden of the joyful song of blest spirits for whom He did not die, how much more may we treasure the thought of that atoning death, which is the crowning source of all good we have or hope, in life, death, and immortality! This day, like all His faithful since the first, we specially show the Lord's death. 'To-morrow, and all days we live, we purpose and pray that we may ‘bear about His dying.' And we think of it indeed solemnly and thankfully; but with solemn and thankful joy.

The life of sorrow, not without its gleams of gladness, reflected from the gladness of others, is all but past; and the end, clearly foreseen from the first, is here. Our Master, made perfect through sufferings, has learned, by experience of what we are, to sympathize with us. He has endured that inexpressible agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, of which we sought reverently to think on a former Communion morning. He has stood before His earthly judge, receiving His sentence from the lips of clay. Scourged, mocked, crowned with thorns (the mockers little thought how glorious that Crown would be, nor how the best of the race would worship the bleeding Head which bore it),* surely He saw the very vilest exhibition of human levity and brutal ruthlessness. The purple robes of mockery have been taken away : and now, bearing the cross on which He was to die, He advances, with faltering steps if tradition says truly, amid an insensate crowd, towards that eminence lying outside the walls of Jerusalem to the North-West, called Golgotha, the place of a skull. It is interesting to remember that this little height was part of Mount Moriah, where many a day before Abraham had climbed with a sinking heart to offer for a sacrifice his well-beloved son. And as we stand apart, to look on, as the Evangelists revive the scene: as we hear the roar of the crowding rabble (only our brothers after all in human sin and misery): as we see the gleaming temple, the quiet palm-trees, the blue Eastern sky with the early sun,—for it is only between eight and nine o9clock in the morning by our way of naming time: as we note the triumphant malice of priests and Pharisees: as we discern amid the mob, distinguished by the cross He carries, our Blessed Saviour, with the thorns around His Head, torn by the scourge, and fainting beneath His burden : as we mark all this, the thought arises, With how little solemnity solemn things are sometimes done: How little we human beings sometimes understand the import of what we do! Here was the sacrifice to be offered, which alone gave efficacy to all sacrifices of millions, which was to save mankind : here was something about to be done that God had purposed from the first and angels looked forward to for ages: here was about to happen the greatest and most momentous event this world should ever see: and yet not with the awful solemnity that befitted the occasion, but amid scoffs and jeers and cruel laughter was all this gone through. By and by, worn out, the Saviour faints and falls under the cross He is bearing: it is too much for His sinking strength. There is a moment’s pause, till the soldiers lay hold of a man coming in from the country, one Simon, ah African, and compel him to carry the cross towards Golgotha. It is some relief in the dark scene before us, to know that there were hearts in the crowd that felt for Him who had so felt for all. The Evangelist tells us there were women there, who * bewailed and lamented Him/ And it was at this our Lord broke the silence in which He seems to have been advancing; but not with any word of complaint for Himself. 'Daughters of Jerusalem' He said, 'weep not for me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children'.

Golgotha is reached. And this is the spot, not now to be traced, where Christ must drink the bitterest drops of that cup of anguish in which He (tasted death for every man/ It should seem that at first, as we know was usual, the Saviour was stripped of His raiment: and then, the cross being laid upon the ground, nailed to it by large iron spikes driven through hands and feet. The agony thus caused— and caused to many a poor creature besides Him— was dreadful: but as no important blood-vessel was pierced, and no organ directly necessary to life affected, there was nothing to prevent the sufferer from living in anguish for very many hours,—even for several days. We know that, as a last doubtful mercy, it was usual to give the crucified a stupefying potion, to render him comparatively insensible to pain; and seemingly with this intention, a cup of wine mingled with myrrh was offered to our Redeemer : but having tasted it, He refused to drink it. No: with a clear mind, keenly alive to all that should pass, our Lord would tread the valley of the shadow of death. And even as those nails pierced through nerve and bone : even as the cross, straining with its living burden, was lifted from the earth and roughly dropt into its socket: the Saviour breaks silence with the first of those seven sayings which the Church has treasured up as spoken on the cross— c Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.’

The foretellings of prophecy must be fulfilled to the minutest particular. The little spoil of the Saviour’s raiment was to be divided among the soldiers who had assisted in crucifying Him. They seem to have had no difficulty with anything but the outer garment; which, being woven in one piece, could not be divided without being destroyed. Accordingly, while they divided the other pieces of dress among them, they settled by lot who should take this entire. They did not know, we may be sure, those rude Germans—for it was by soldiers of the German legion all this was done—they did not know that hundreds of years before, one whose name they never heard of had foreseen this very doing: and had written such words as these: 'They parted my raiment among them; and for my vesture they did cast lots.’

Now, with the derisive title above His head, 'This is the King of the Jews/ our Saviour hangs upon the cross. It has been the way to call it ‘ the accursed tree:, it has been taught that even yet, on the calmest summer evening, when not a breeze stirs, a sudden shiver will every now and then run through all the leaves of the aspen, because it was of that tree the cross was made, and it shudders evermore at the remembrance of the awful load it bore. And yet, with curious inconsistency, how every fancied fragment of the cross was for ages valued; and there never was prouder royal crown than that round which, a dark thread of iron amid the pure gold, there runs what they thought who fashioned it was one of the nails that held our Lord. No speck of rust, they say, has ever appeared on the iron of that iron crown, though it has been there now for fifteen hundred years. There is yet another story of the Crucifixion which (we know not with what reason) has wonderfully kept its place. You know how the red-breast has been made sacred over Christendom, by the tradition that striving vainly with its little bill to pluck out a nail, its breast was marked by that precious blood. And so has the legend hallowed the little bird, that few indeed would harm a robin.

It is nine in the morning. Our Lord has but six hours before Him, till pain and humiliation shall be past for ever: but the bitterest and worst comes last. Six hours: and that is all: but no human being can comprehend, as no merely human being could have borne without annihilation, the anguish of these hours. Our Blessed Redeemer is dying. He never did ill to any man, yet He dies that agonizing death. He never did ill to any, yet the rulers and people derided Him, and the soldiers mocked Him, as He hung upon the tree. He pleased the Father alway, yet God forsakes Him (in some sense) too : and now, all alone, He, the sinless, is bearing the wrath and curse due to myriads of sinners. It was the most awful time that ever passed since the creation. Gather round, universe He made: gather round, angels of light: gather round, powers of darkness; and see the Redeemer die!

Yet amid that wicked human crowd, there were some to feel, as far as mortal could feel, for the suffering Saviour. By the cross, as the sublime hymn has not failed to preserve it, stood His mourning mother. Not a word does the Evangelist say of what was in her heart: it would have been vain,—it is needless. There was looking on, one beloved disciple, the only one who had ventured to be present there: and a few women, who alone of all that in past days had owned Him as their Lord, dared to own Him still. Calmly our Lord commended to St John the care of His mother: the second saying from the cross was ‘Behold thy son: behold thy mother:' the charge was sacred. But there does not seem to have been any relenting in any other that looked on, of all that looked on. The very worst aspect of human nature was present, as He died for it: yet nothing but we can find its parallel in our own hearts: and we can crucify Christ afresh/ even now. As His anguish deepened to its close, something of the darkness within was spread over the scene without. When it came to be noon, there was darkness for the three remaining hours of the Passion. It should have been broad daylight: but the sun, that has looked smiling down on red battle-field and sacked city, was not permitted to look down on sinners crucifying their Saviour. All these, and far more, it had seen: but it did not see Jesus of Nazareth die.

There were three crosses on Calvary. They had thought to do despite to the holy Redeemer by casting Him amid evil company: by numbering Him among sinners,—as if He could here have been numbered with any who were not. He was crucified between those two unnamed thieves.

One joined in the people’s railing; irresponsible, we trust, through the wine and myrrh, and through unbearable agony. God’s Spirit had apprehended the other; and he rebukes his fellow. Through the gloom of that day, the dying thief looked to the dying Saviour. (Look unto Me and be ye saved : ’ God be thanked for the sure promise. Great was that sinking sinner’s faith. No human words are better remembered than those he said, 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.’ Down to that day, no man had ever entreated Christ in vain: will He in this hour of anguish spare thought for another? Yes, the Saviour was dying, but he was still the same. The heart was turning feeble and faint, but it was kind as ever. Through the darkened air, weighed down with anguish we cannot understand, He would say one more gracious word, and do one last deed of mercy. No Christian ever forgets that third saying of the seven: *To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise/ The Saviour had spoken. Godhead gleamed out a moment in His words: and there again is the dying man. But he had said enough. After that, the crucified malefactor’s end was one of triumph. We hear no more of him, save that his death on the cross was too slow for the scrupulous Jews, and so his end was hastened, lest his parting agonies should pollute their Sabbath-day. But we have heard enough. That day is past more than eighteen centuries since: and we know where he was to be before its close. He is one of the few human beings of whose eternal state we are perfectly certain. He is in heaven. Adam may not be there: Solomon may not be there: sages and martyrs and fathers of the Church may have failed of an entrance: but we know assuredly that the penitent thief is there. It was perhaps presumption, when a good man, speaking of certain saints, said, 'Be my soul with such' It is not presumption to say of the penitent thief, Be our souls with him!

The dark three hours drag on. Our words, of course, are vain to express the fact. But we can discern that the Saviour's anguish deepens into something too much for even Him to bear. It was not the mere bodily agony of crucifixion: others have borne it all, without a cry or tear. It was not piercing thorns, nor deadly thirst: it was an inner woe, such as never before and never since has been known in this world. It was now ‘ Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us: 'Now‘ He bore our sins in His own body on the tree:'Now God' made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all.' Now, as the Church understands, but does not comprehend, He was enduring all the anguish which all His redeemed would have endured throughout all eternity, had He not died. The eighth hour had past: and under the weight of a world's sin and of the Father's desertion, the mortal nature of Christ was sinking fast. For we are to be cautious how we receive the notion, true in one sense, that not by natural suffering but only by His own will He died. Deeper and deeper still His anguish grew: as the darkest hour is that before the dawn. And as now He perceived in the cup He was drinking a something bitterer by far than all the rest, He speaks of Himself at last: the fourth saying from the cross: the words of a prophetic psalm: 'My. God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?' Even we can so far understand what it would be if some awful atheistic doubt crossed the martyr's mind as they kindled the fires. We do not presume to say more here. But the worst is over. He is yet deep in dark; but He sees light on the other side. He is preparing now to go. There is just one little thing to do. Many a year before, it had been foretold that in His burning thirst He should have vinegar given Him to drink : He says, 'I thirst:' the fifth saying of the seven and the prophecy comes literally true. And now it was over. The Work was done that had been doing through long and sorrowful ages. With *a loud voice*—not like the last whisper of mortality, which you scarce can hear—He exclaimed,€ It is finished the sixth saying from the cross. And as the darkened sun would have indicated that ninth hour,—three o'clock in the afternoon,—so long the sacred hour of prayer; and as it began to look forth again from the eclipse upon a saved and ransomed world, the Redeemer uttered the last words of all, His seventh saying—‘ Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit!' And then He yielded up the weary spirit: He bowed His head and died.

But not too soon. 'It was finished/ There was not a word more left to say: not a thing more to do : not a pang more to bear. Dying as mortals die, He yet died a death separate and alone in divers solemn respects: and in none more notably than in this —that tie was able to say in departing, that it was absolutely and completely finished : that in very deed there was nothing left undone that He would wish to do. He had accomplished all for which He came from His heavenly home to this lower world. His own humiliation and suffering were over: the great redemption was complete 2 the elder dispensation was gone, and the Gospel-day had dawned : and as the massive veil of the Temple parted asunder, and revealed that mystic Holy of Holies which for ages had been hid from common view: as the earth trembled, and the rocks rent, and some dead arose: as amid material portents which fixed the attention of those who knew nothing of our Lord, His spirit departed: surely then the praises above swelled forth in a sevenfold burst of jubilant hosannahs, to welcome Him Who had endured the cross, and vanquished the power of evil, and taken sin away.

You have once more beheld Christ crucified : crucified for each of you. We cannot pretend to understand the reason of what transcends reason; or to know all He did then. One thing is certain : He opened our way to holiness and rest. How shall we regard these things this day? I name two lessons— each in a sentence. See here how evil sin is, and how God punishes it. If God so punished sin, even when the woe fell upon His dear Son, what will befall us, what heavy stripes, if we abide in it! See how God loved the world—loves all. It was for us and our salvation Christ died: it was His love for us that impelled Him to bear all that anguish. We say it humbly: but fathers of the Church have told how God's glory might have been vindicated by our destruction: how the Redeemer might have saved Himself all that anguish and death by leaving us to die. But His love for us was stronger than death ; and bore Him through death. Now this is exactly one of those things we often hear said, without really taking in. God’s Spirit make us feel it now!

They tell us that when the first Christian missionaries went to preach Christ’s Gospel in the wild tracts of Greenland to the barbarous people there, they carefully considered the matter, and came to the conclusion that it might be as well in speaking to those ignorant heathen, who had never been educated into any appreciation of moral sublimity, to say nothing at all (just at first) about the manner in which Christ died. They thought, these good missionaries, that there was something in the story which would rather prejudice against a religion, whose Founder had passed through such sorrow and shame: and so that it would be better to seek to win men over to believe in Jesus (if they could), keeping back, till the faith of the converts was confirmed, the ?tory of an end so unworthy and wretched, as that departure upon the accursed tree. But they taught and preached in vain, till their instruction was begun, continued, and ended, in Christ crucified! It did no harm—it did all good—to bid all men know at once that it was on the cross He died. Lifted up thereon, He draws all men to Him. In His death He triumphed: and from the shame the glory grew. Chiefest amid the praises of heaven is, * Worthy is the Lamb that was slain/ And reckoning up, reckoning up in our imperfection, what that death has done, and is doing, and will do for evermore, we side with a wiser judge than the good Moravians of the right way in which to regard it, and say,c God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! *

And now unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, His Father: to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever Amen.

After Sermon there is sung Paraphrase LIV,

1 I'm not ashamed to own my Lord,
or to defend His cause,
Maintain the glory of His cross,
and honour all His laws.

2. Jesus, my Lord! I know His name,
His name is all my boast;
Nor will He put my soul to shame,
nor let my hope be lost.

3 I know that safe with Him remains,
protected by His power,
What Pve committed to His trust,
till the decisive hour.

4 Then will He own His servant's name
before His Father's face,
And in the New Jerusalem
appoint my soul a place.

Let us pray.

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that words which we have at this time heard with our outward ears, in so far as they are consistent with Thy mind and will, may be impressed on our memory" and heart by the grace of Thy Holy Spirit.

And now, O Lord, that Thou art graciously inviting us to make confession of our Saviour at a Communion Table, we desire with all solemnity to declare our faith in those sure and precious doctrines which have been revealed to us in His Gospel: saving, in the fellowship of the Universal Church :

We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was ^ucified, dead, and buried, He descended into hell; T'he third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Ghost; The Holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the life everlasting.

In the faith of these most blessed truths we desire at this time to compass Thy holy table. Lord, we believe: Help Thou our unbelief. We are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and evermore. Amen.


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