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The Memorial of the Great Sacrifice.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875.


Second part of Sermon XXXI. for the Thursday before Easter.

I Cor. xi. 1734.   St. Luke xxiii.

This do in remembrance of Me.  - 1 COR. xi. 24. 

for the first part, on the Epistle.

...Thus St. Paul to-day in the Epistle, and in the Gospel his faithful companion St. Luke, bring us to the remembrance of Christ; and our notice may be confined to a few circumstances peculiar to St. Luke’s narrative, and not found in the other Gospels.  Such is that of our Blessed Lord’s being sent to Herod.  When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, He sent Him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.  Now Galilee was the place where our Blessed Saviour had shown forth mostly His mighty works, in which the Prophet’s words were fulfilled, “they that sat in darkness saw a great Light;” He had filled it with His miracles of mercy; had made it the place of His abode; surely from the ruler of that country He might find mercy and consideration?  But far otherwise; it is but to heap insult and contempt on His innocent head; it is made by Pilate a mere occasion to serve his own interests with Herod; and Herod, who was not ignorant of Him, as Pilate was, but had heard of His miracles, is exceeding glad from the idle amusement and curiosity of seeing Him.  How much must it have added to our Lord’s sufferings to be thus brought before one who was the murderer of the Baptist, false and incestuous; and now, instigated by the presence of the chief priests and scribes, so vehement in hate and cruelty.  Strange, judging as man judges, that all should so combine against Him; that not only chief priests with their servants, and fierce Roman soldiers, should so insult and mock Him, but the soldiers of Herod also in a like manner.  And Herod with his men of war set Him at nought, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe,—thus furnishing, perhaps, to the Roman soldiers a cruel hint for that their terrible mockery afterwards of the purple robe and the crown of thorns,—and having thus done they sent Him again to Pilate.  No doubt it was by the instigation of evil spirits that there was raised such a combination on all sides of exceeding cruelty, but it all tends the more to show not only the meekness and patience, but also to proclaim the innocence of Him Who was now clothed in the white robe—the spotless Lamb of God: for while the Roman judge pronounces Him blameless of the charges brought against Him, saying, “I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this Man,” he declares the same of Herod also: No, he says, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him.  Thus the same mouth which condemns Him to death declares His innocence.


Another circumstance recorded by St. Luke only is this: And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him.  But Jesus turning unto them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.  From this passage we learn what our Blessed Saviour’s heart was full of in the midst of these His sad sufferings; it was the very same subject which made Him weep when He approached Jerusalem; the weight of His sorrows was the misery which awaited that guilty city for using Him thus.  When received with Hosannahs, and when reviled and set at nought, it was one and the same burden of woe.  O inconceivable love! stronger than death, which with its own sorrows had overcome the pains and shame of that long dying!  The sufferings of men are increased by a sense of injury, by anger at the cruel treatment of themselves, but those of the Son of God by commiseration and pity for them that inflict those pains.  Surely this consideration is part of that quickening remembrance of Christ which we are to have in making the memorial of His dying; when we would be united with Him in the partaking of His Body and Blood; that we may be also of the same Spirit, may love Him Who thus loved us, and love our enemies after His example.  And again, our Blessed Saviour does not in this case deprecate nor forbid our sorrows; nay, rather bids us weep,—but it is for ourselves and those that belong to us, in the remembrance of Himself.  To remember His sorrows, and in them to consider that day when the guilty shall in vain call upon the mountains to fall on them, and the hills to cover them, to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb, Who thus died to take away sin.  This reflection we may join, then, with St. Paul’s command, that we be not unworthy partakers of that death: “let a man examine himself;” “for if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”  Thus only shall we escape being dead and dry branches prepared for the burning; and be parts of the Living Vine, grafted into the green tree.  Of that life which is in Christ this love is the sign.  For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?  O that this life might be in us, which thus in suffering suffers not, because it is with love so united!  O that His Body and Blood may quicken us unto this life!  O that this Spirit may burn up within us all that is dead, selfish, and worldly! and what fuel do we need to kindle and sustain within us this fire, but this Cross that He bears, the thorny crown, and the reed sceptre of this our King!


How precious are the words thus spoken at this time to these poor weeping women!  Before Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate He was silent; but He would not in silence and unmoved behold these mourners.  The crowd followed Him, a great company of people, but the women bewailed and lamented Him, they wept aloud at the sight of such undeserved, unequalled sorrows, as they beheld Him sinking under the Cross which He was unable to bear.  “See if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow, which is done unto Me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted Me in the day of His fierce anger.” “He hath made Me desolate and faint.  The yoke of My transgressions is bound by His hand; they are wreathed, and come up upon My neck; He hath made My strength to fall; the Lord hath delivered Me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.” [Lam. i. 12. 14.]  And from the midst of this He Himself calls upon us with these words of mercy and warning, that if He thus suffers for us, we must also suffer with Him: “Let us go forth to Him without the camp bearing His reproach, for here we have no continuing city.”  He hath left that city of the earthly Jerusalem, and nothing but destruction awaits it, that we may go forth with Him, bearing His Cross, and with Him seek a heavenly Jerusalem, weeping for ourselves which have laid on Him these sorrows for us all.


The next point, mentioned by St. Luke alone, which may be the subject of our meditation on this day, is our Lord’s prayer for His murderers, when they had now come to the place of execution, and were at that point of exquisite torture in nailing Him to the Cross.  Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.  He had been condemned to death by them because He confessed Himself to be the Son of God; and now, as the Son of God, He prays to His Father for them, that most prevailing of all prayers.  For now the High Priest is offering up Himself on the Altar of the Cross.  It is the shedding of that Blood which speaketh better things than that of Abel.  Nay, Christian Brethren, you, and I, and all of us, have a place in that prayer; in that stretching forth of His hands to God; for all of us are guilty of that death.  And often has the like been repeated for us by the mediations of our merciful High Priest, and by that Spirit which “intercedeth for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.”  But the more immediate occasion of that prayer may bring back to us all, with greater power, this remembrance of Him in the offering up of Himself.  For never was such hate and cruelty shown as then; never such love expressed, as in that prayer.  And observe how this Divine love not only forgives, and prays for forgiveness on bitterest enemies, but sees and takes hold of causes, however slight, for pity and pardon.  For they know not what they do.  How different is it with men on the ill-will which they feel for any affront or injury; how apt are we to put the worst interpretation on what is done; to imagine it more intended than it was; to assign to it worse motives, more knowledge, less excuse than really belongs to it; and so in our own minds to render forgiveness from the heart more difficult.  We magnify the evil, and then find it the more difficult to forgive.  What so conducive to a better mind as this remembrance?  Here for them do I shed My Blood, and do Thou, O Father, forgive them.  For sins of ignorance the sacrifices of the law could plead and atone, and of the high priest taken from among men it is said, “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” [Heb. v. 2.]  But He Who had no sin, and could see into all the hearts of men, in the depths of this great wickedness could behold even now a place for His forgiveness and pardon.  And to this He looked; this was His consolation in that bitter cup,—that they had not yet passed the bounds of his mercy.  There was still a place for them within His bleeding arms.  In the sacrament of His Body and Blood how earnestly should we pray for one drop of this mercy for each other; one ray of this charity.  How would it soften our hard hearts; how would it warm and light up our cold and dark tempers!  Is it possible that at such a time we should pray in vain to Him Who offered up this prayer?  No; if we are in earnest it is impossible.


In addition to these things, St. Luke alone mentions the circumstance of the penitent thief.  The Sacrifice on the Cross now began to work in the minds of men; and as if in answer to our Lord’s prayer, “Father, forgive them,” before the close of this day the Centurion glorified God at the foot of the Cross, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”  It had been mentioned, that not only the Jews and the soldiers reviled Him on the Cross, but that “the thieves that were crucified with Him cast the same in His teeth.”  But during the six hours in which our Lord was with him on the Cross, a change had come over the feelings of one, for St. Luke says, And one of the malefactors, which were hanged, railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.  But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.  And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.  They condemned Him as making Himself the Son of God, and He exerted His filial intercession for them; they condemn Him as making Himself a king, and He exercises His kingly power, by giving a place in His Kingdom.  And here let us observe, how wonderfully out of greatest evil does God bring forth greatest good; to nail thieves on a cross by His side was intended as wanton mockery, which Satan must himself have suggested to them; but here was the crowning and last act of Christ’s love for sinners; and oh! what inexpressible comfort has this been to thousands of good men on their death-beds, and in their many preparations for death.  How has this sense of God’s mercy quickened their godly fear and their repentance, when “out of the deep” they have called unto Him.  What support, what a world of consolation in every word is laid up for the dying penitent; what very “present help in trouble” when the soul is about to leave the body.  “To-day!” and to-day in Paradise, where the wicked cease from troubling; even in this day restored to the Paradise of God.  Now is the King of Terrors despoiled.  O death, where is thy sting?  that sting with which the old enemy hath armed thee in that Paradise of old.  And far more than all this are the words, “shalt thou be with Me.”  “To be with Christ” on the very day of death.  The Psalmist had said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”  We may fear to be with Christ, the All-Holy One, released from the veil of the body; who would not fear?  but to be with Christ with our sins forgiven, how great the blessedness!  It may indeed be the case that there is no greater instance of faith on record than that of this penitent thief, who believed in Christ coming in His Kingdom when the faith of Apostles failed, and when he beheld Him in the lowest depth of shame and misery, and, as it were, overcome by death itself; who attained in so short a time to such fulness of faith, such humility and love.  But yet it is part of that remembrance of Christ which should open, and enlarge, and quicken our desires and hopes to lay hold on Him all our life long, and not let Him go.


Gracious Lord, Who wert willing to be riveted with nails to Thy bed of death, keep me in my prayers from wandering thoughts, that from my cross, whatever it be, I may ever look to Thee on Thine.


Again, our Lord’s last dying words are recorded only in this Gospel of St. Luke: And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.  He cried with a loud voice, which we may well suppose to have reached to the end of created worlds; with a voice of power, which showed that voluntarily, of His own free will, and not from the necessity of dying, He laid down His life as a sacrifice for us all; a life over which sin and death had no power.  I commend into Thy hands: I commit in keeping unto Thee, in the place of the dead, that others may hereafter be enabled to do the same, though born of sinful flesh.


And we may observe, that our Lord’s first words, and so His last words on the Cross—the first at the time of the morning, the last at that of the evening sacrifice—were both of them addressed unto His Father.  “Father, forgive them;” and now, “Father, into Thine hands.”  This was His sacrifice of perfect obedience—to do His Father’s Will, to unite us to His Father, that He might be our Father and our God.