And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:…
I have taken for my Easter text the account which Christ gives of Himself after His resurrection and ascension. See what Christ says of Himself then. First, "I am He that liveth." That word, "liveth," is a word of continuous, perpetual life. It describes the external existence which has no beginning and no end; which, considered in its purity and perfectness, has no present and no past, but one eternal and unbroken present — one eternal now. If anything has come to us to make us feel what a fragmentary thing our human life is, I think there is no greater knowledge for us to win than that the life of one who loves us as Christ loves us is an eternal life, with the continuance and the unchangeableness of eternity. See how we alter; how we make plans and finish them, or give them up; how we slip on from one stage of our career into another; how past, present, and future are for ever confusing our existence; how we die, and others come on in our places. How our heads ache and our hearts ache with it all sometimes. "Is this living?" we exclaim. "This is merely touching upon life. Is it living? Is it not like the touching of an insect on the surface of a river that is hundreds of miles long? His wing just brushes it at one point in its long course, and ruffles it for a second, and then is gone again, and that is all he has to do with it. And that is all we have to do with life. Is this living?" And then there comes this voice from Christ: "I am He that liveth," He declares — continuous, eternal life. See what a wonderful thing comes next. "I am He that liveth, and was dead." We do not begin to know how wonderful that is. Remember the eternally living, the very life of all lives. And yet into that life of lives death has come — as an episode, an incident. That spiritual existence which had been going on for ever, on which the short existences of men had been strung into consistency, now came and submitted itself to that which men had always been submitting to. And lo! instead of being what men had feared it was, what men had hardly dared to hope that it was not, the putting out of life, it was seen to be only the changing of the circumstances of life, without any real power over the real principle of life; any more power than the cloud has over the sun that it obscures. That was the wonder of Christ's death. "It is an experience of life, not an end of life. Life goes on through it and comes out unharmed. Look at Me. I am He that liveth, and was dead!" But this is not all. Still the description goes on and unfolds itself. "He that liveth, and was dead," Christ says, "and behold I am alive for evermore." This existence after death is special, and different. It is not a mere reassertion of what had been already included in His great Word, "I am He that liveth." It is something added. It is an assurance that in the continued life which has once passed through the experience of death there is something new, another sympathy, the only one which before could have been lacking, with his brethren whose lot it is to die, and so a helpfulness to them which could not otherwise have been, even in His perfect love. And now think what that great self-description of the Saviour means, and what it is to us. "He that liveth!" And at once your fragment of life falls into its place in the eternity of life that is bridged by His being. "He that was dead!" And at once death changes from the terrible end of life into a most mysterious but no longer terrible experience of life. "He that is alive for ever-more!" And not merely there is a future beyond the grave, but it is inhabited by One who speaks to us, who went there by the way that we must go, who sees us and can help us as we make our way along, and will receive us when we come there. Is not all changed? The devils of discontent, despair, selfishness, sensuality, how they are scattered before that voice, really heard, of the risen and everlasting Christ. But see how He goes on: "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore. And I have the keys of hell and of death." It is because He died that He holds the keys of death. Can we not understand that? Do we not know how any soul that has passed through a great experience holds the keys of that experience, so that as he sees another coming up to it just as ignorantly and fearfully as he came, he can run up to this new-comer and open the door for him, show him on what side this experience is best entered, lead him through the dark passages of it where he could not easily find his way alone, and at last bring him out into the splendour of the light beyond? There are no nobler lives on earth than those of men and women who have passed through many experiences of many sorts, and who now go about with calm and happy and sober faces, holding their keys, some golden and some iron, and finding their joy in opening the gates of these experiences to younger souls, and sending them into them full of intelligence and hope and trust. Such lives, I think, we may all pray to grow into as we grow older, and pass through more and more of the experiences of life. And now this is just exactly what Jesus does for us by His resurrection. Having the keys of death and hell, He comes to us as we are drawing near to death, and He opens the door on both sides of it, and lets us look through it, and shows us immortality. Now you see we have passed over from Himself to us. Not merely He lives for ever, but so shall we; for us, too, death shall be not an end, but an experience; and beyond it for us, just as for Him, stretches immortality. Because He lives, we shall live also. And now shall we try to tell to one another what it is to be immortal, and to know it; what it is to have death broken down so that life stretches out beyond it, the same life as this, opening, expanding, but for ever the same essentially; just as to Him that always liveth the life that He liveth evermore is the same after the death on Calvary, though with some entrance of something — some new knowledge, and the sympathy of a new experience — that was not there before? First of all I think of the immense and noble freedom from many of the most trying and vexatious of our temptations which come to a man to whom the curtain has been lifted and the veil rent in twain. Sometimes when one is travelling through a foreign country it happens that he stops a day or two, a week or two, in some small village, where everything is local, which has little communication with the outside world; where the people are born and grow up, and grow old and die without thinking of leaving their little nest among the mountains. The traveller shares for a little while their local life, shuts himself in to their limitations. But all the while he is freer than they are; he is not tyrannised over by the small prescriptions and petty standards that are despots to them. He knows of, and belongs to, a larger world. He is kept free by the sense of the world beyond the mountains, from which he came and to which he is going back again. And so when a man, strong in the conviction of immortality, really counts himself a stranger and a pilgrim among the multitudes who know no home, no world but this, then he is free among them; free from the worldly tyrannies that bind them; free from their temptations to be cowardly and mean. The wall of death, beyond which they never look, is to him only a mountain that can be crossed, from whose top he shall see eternity, where he belongs. This is the freedom of the best childhood and the best old age, these two ends of life in which the sense of immortality is most real and most true. And so, again, the whole position of duty is elevated by the thought, the knowledge of immortality. It seems to me that this day is a day for strong and cheerful resolutions, because it is a day when, with the spiritual world open before us, we can all catch sight of the destiny of duty — of how, some time or other, every good habit is to conquer and every good deed wear its crown. Duty is the one thing on earth that is so vital that it can go through death and come to glory. Duty is the one seed that has such life in it that it can lie as long as God will in the mummy hand of death, and yet be ready any moment to start into new growth in the new soil where He shall set it. So let us all consecrate our Easter Day by resolutely taking up some new duty which we know we ought to do. We bind ourselves so by a new chain to eternity, to the eternity of Him who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at God's right hand.
(Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: