Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXVI. [CXVI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Luke xxiv. 36, "He himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, peace be unto you," etc.
1. The Lord appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, as ye have heard, and saluted them, saying, "Peace be unto you."1 This is peace indeed, and the salutation of salvation: for the very word salutation has received its name from salvation.2 And what can be better than that Salvation Itself should salute man? For Christ is our Salvation. He is our Salvation, who was wounded for us, and fixed by nails to the tree, and being taken down from the tree, was laid in the sepulchre. And from the sepulchre He arose, with His wounds healed, His scars kept. For this He judged expedient for His disciples, that His scars should be kept,where by the wounds of their hearts might be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief. For He appeared to their eyes, exhibiting real flesh, and they thought they saw a spirit. It is no light wound, this wound of the heart. Yea, they have made a malignant heresy who have abided in this wound. But do we suppose that the disciples had not been wounded, because they were so quickly healed? Only, Beloved, suppose, if they had continued in this wound, to think that the Body which had been buried, could not rise again, but that a spirit in the image of a body, deceived the eyes of men: if they had continued in this belief, yea, rather in this unbelief, not their wounds, but their death would have had to be bewailed.
2. But what said the Lord Jesus? "Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into your hearts?"3 If thoughts ascend into your heart, the thoughts come from the earth. But it iss good for a man, not that a thought should ascend.into his heart, but that his heart should itself ascend upwards, where the Apostle would have believers place their hearts, to whom he said, "If ye be risen with Christ, mind those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Seek those things which are above, not the things which are upon the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ your life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory."4 In what glory? The glory of the resurrection. In what glory? Hear the Apostle saying of this body, "It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory."5 This glory the Apostles were unwilling to assign to their Master, their Christ, their Lord: they did not believe that His Body could rise from the sepulchre: they thought Him to be a Spirit, though they saw His flesh, and they believed not their very eyes. Yet we believe them who preach but do not show Him. Lo, they believed not Christ who showed Himself to them. Malignant wound! Let the remedies for these scars come forth. "Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into your hearts? See My hands and My feet," where I was fixed with the nails. "Handle and see." But ye see, and yet do not see. "Handle and see." What? "That a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. When He had thus spoken," so it is written, "He showed them His hands and His feet."6
3. "And while they were yet in hesitation, and wondered for joy."7 Now there was joy already, and yet hesitation continued. For a thing incredible had taken place, yet taken place it had. Is it at this day a thing incredible, that the Body of the Lord rose again from the sepulchre? The whole cleansed world8 has believed it; whoso has not believed it, has remained in his uncleanness. Yet at that thee it was incredible: and persuasion was addressed not to the eyes only, but to the hands also, that by the bodily senses faith might descend into their heart, and that faith so descending into their heart might be preached throughout the world to them who neither saw nor touched, and yet without doubting believed. "Have ye," saith He, "anything to eat?" How much doeth the good Builder still to build up the edifice of faith? He did not hunger, yet He asked to eat. And He ate by an act of His power, not through necessity. So then let the disciples acknowledge the verity of His body, which the world has acknowledged at their preaching.
4. If haply there be any heretics who still in their hearts maintain that Christ exhibited Himself to sight, but that Christ's was not very flesh; let them now lay aside that error, and let the Gospel persuade them. We do but blame them for entertaining this conceit: He will damn them if they shall persevere in it. Who art thou who dost not believe that a body laid in the sepulchre could rise again? If thou art a Manichee, who dost not believe that He was crucified either, because thou dost not believe that He was even born, thou declarest that all that He showed was false. He showed what was false, and dost thou speak the truth? Thou dost not lie with thy mouth, and did He lie in His body? Lo thou dost suppose that He appeared unto the eyes of men what He really was not, that He was a spirit, not flesh. Hear Him: He loves thee, let Him not condemn thee. Hear Him speaking: lo, He speaks to thee, thou unhappy one, He speaks to thee, "Why art thou troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into thine heart?" "See," saith He, "My hands and My feet. Handle and see, because a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have." This spake the Truth, and did He deceive? It was a body then, it was flesh; that which had been buried, appeared. Let doubting perish, and meet praise ensue.
5. He showed himself then to the disciples. What is" Himself"? The Head of His Church. The Church was foreseen by Him as in thee to be throughout the world, by the disciples it was not yet seen. He showed the Head, He promised the Body. For what did He add next? "These are the words which I spake to you, while I was yet with you"9 What is this," While I was yet with you"? Was He not with them then when He was speaking to them? What is, "when I was yet with you "? was with you as mortal, which now I am not. I was with you when I had yet to die. What is, "with you"? With you who were to die, Myself to die. Now I am no more with you: for I am with those who are to die, Myself to die no more for ever. This then is what I said to you. What? "That all things must be fulfilled which are written in the Law, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me."10 I told you that all things must be fulfilled. "Then opened He their understanding."11 Come then, O Lord, employ Thy keys, open, that we may understand. Lo, Thou dost tell all things, and yet are not believed. Thou art thought to be a spirit, art touched, art rudely handled,12 and yet they who touch Thee hesitate. Thou dost admonish them out of the Scriptures, and yet they understand Thee not. Their hearts are closed, open, and enter in. He did so. "Then opened He their understanding." Open, O Lord, yea, open the heart of him who is in doubt concerning Christ. Open "his" understanding who believes that Christ was a phantom. "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures."
6. And "He said unto them." What? "That thus it behoved. That thus it is written, and thus it behoved." What? "That Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead the thirdday."13 And this they saw, they saw Him suffering, they saw Him hanging, they saw Him with them alive after His resurrection. What then did they not see? The Body, that is, the Church. Him they saw, her they saw not. They saw the Bridegroom, the Bride yet lay hid. Let him promise her too. "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." This is the Bridegroom, what of the Bride? "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."14 This the disciples did not yet see: they did not yet see the Church throughout all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. They saw the Head, and they believed the Head touching the Body. By, this which they saw, they believed that which they saw not. We too are like to them: we see something which they saw not, and something we do not see which they did see. What do we see, which they saw not? The Church throughout all nations. What do we not see, which they saw? Christ present in the flesh. As they saw Him, and believed concerning the Body, so do we see the Body; let us believe concerning the Head. Let what we have respectively seen help us. The sight of Christ helped them to believe the future Church: the sight of the Church helps us to believe that Christ has risen. Their faith was made complete, and ours is made complete also. Their faith was made complete from the sight of the Head, ours is made complete by the sight of the Body. Christ was made known to them "wholly," and to us is He so made known: but He was not seen "wholly" by them, nor by us has He been "wholly" seen. By them the Head was seen, the Body believed. By us the Body has been seen, the Head believed. Yet to none is Christ lacking: in all He is complete, though to this day His Body remains imperfect. The Apostles believed; through them many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem believed; Judaea believed. Samaria believed. Let the members be added on, the building added on to the foundation. "For no other foundation can any man lay," says the Apostle, "than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus."15 Let the Jews rage madly, and be filled with jealousy: Stephen be stoned, Saul keep the raiment of them who stone him, Saul, one day to be the Apostle Paul.16 Let Stephen be killed, the Church of Jerusalem dispersed in confusion: out of it go forth burning brands, and spread themselves and spread their flame. For in the Church of Jerusalem, as it were burning brands were set on fire by the Holy Spirit, when they had all one soul, and one heart to God-ward.17 When Stephen was stoned, that pile suffered persecution: the brands were dispersed, and the world was set on fire.
7. And then intent on his furious schemes, that Saul received letters from the chief of the priests, and began his journey in his cruel rage, breathing out slaughter, thirsting for blood, to drag bound and to hurry off to punishment whomsoever he could, and from every quarter that he could, and to satiate himself with the shedding of their blood. But where was God, where was Christ, where He that had crowned Stephen? Where, but in heaven? Let Him now look on Saul, and mock him in his fury, and call froth heaven, "`Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?'18 I am in heaven, and thou in earth, and yet thou persecutest Me. Thou dost not touch the body, but my members thou art treading down. Yet what art thou doing? What art thou gaining? `It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' Kick as thou wilt, thou only distressest thyself. Lay aside thy fury then, recover soundness. Lay aside evil counsel, seek after good succour." By that voice he was struck to the earth. Who was struck to the earth? The persecutor. Lo, by that one word was he overcome. After what wast thou going, after what was thy fury carrying thee? Those whom thou wast seeking out, now thou followest; whom thou wast persecuting, now for them thou sufferest persecution. He rises up the preacher, who was struck to the earth, the persecutor. He heard the Lord's voice. He was blinded, but in the body only, that he might be enlightened in heart. He was brought to Ananias, catechised on sundry points, baptized, and so came forth an Apostle. Speak then, preach, preach Christ, spread His doctrine, O thou goodly leader of the flock,19 but lately a wolf. See him, mark him, who once was raging. "But for me, God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world."20 Spread the Gospel: scatter with thy mouth what thou hast conceived in thine heart. Let the nations hear, let the nations believe; let the nations multiply, let the Lord's empurpled spouse spring forth from the blood of Martyrs. And from her how man), have come already, how many members have cleaved to the Head, and cleave to Him still and believe! They were baptized, and others shall be baptized, and after them shall others come. Then I say, at the end of the world shall the stones be joined to the, foundation, living stones, holy stones, that at the end the whole edifice may be built by that Church, yea by this very Church which now sings the new song, while the house is in building. For so the Psalm itself says," When the house was in building after the captivity;" and what says it, "Sing unto the Lord a new song, sing unto the Lord all the earth."21 How great a house is this! But when does it sing the new song? When it is in building. When is it dedicated? At the end of the world. Its foundation has been already dedicated, because He hath ascended into heaven, and dieth no more. When we too shall have risen to die no more, then shall we be dedicated.