For the First Nocturn
(from the Gospel of St. John 20:1-2)
THE first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
(from St John Chrysostom Homily LXXXV)
"The first day of the week" (that is, the Lord's day) "cometh Mary Magdalene, very early in the morning, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher." (Ch. xx. ver. 1.)
For He arose while both stone and seals lay over Him; but because it was necessary that others should be fully satisfied, the tomb was opened after the Resurrection, and thus what had come to pass was confirmed. This then was what moved Mary. For being entirely full of loving affection towards her Master, when the Sabbath was past, she could not bear to rest, but came very early in the morning, desiring to find some consolation from the place. But when she saw the place, and the stone taken away, she neither entered in nor stooped down, but ran to the disciples, in the greatness of her longing; for this was what she earnestly desired, she wished very speedily to learn what had become of the body. This was the meaning of her running, and her words declare it.
Ver. 2. "They have taken away," she saith, "my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him."
Seest thou how she knew not as yet anything clearly concerning the Resurrection, but thought there had been a removal of the body, and tells all simply to the disciples? And the Evangelist hath not deprived the woman of such a praise, nor thought it shame that they should have learnt these things first from her who had passed the night in watching. Thus everywhere doth the truth-loving nature of his disposition shine forth. When then she came and said these things, they hearing them, draw near with great eagerness to the sepulcher, and see the linen clothes lying, which was a sign of the Resurrection. For neither, if any persons had removed the body, would they before doing so have stripped it; nor if any had stolen it, would they have taken the trouble to remove the napkin, and roll it up, and lay it in a place by itself; but how? they would have taken the body as it was. On this account John tells us by anticipation that it was buried with much myrrh, which glues linen to the body not less firmly than lead; in order that when thou hearest that the napkins lay apart, thou mayest not endure those who say that He was stolen. For a thief would not have been so foolish as to spend so much trouble on a superfluous matter. For why should he undo the clothes? and how could he have escaped detection if he had done so? since he would probably have spent much time in so doing, and be found out by delaying and loitering. But why do the clothes lie apart, while the napkin was wrapped together by itself? That thou mayest learn that it was not the action of men in confusion or haste, the placing some in one place, some in another, and the wrapping them together. From this they believed in the Resurrection. On this account Christ afterwards appeared to them, when they were convinced by what they had seen. Observe too here again the absence of boastfulness in the Evangelist, how he witnesses to the exactness of Peter's search. For he himself having gotten before Peter, and having seen the linen clothes, enquired not farther, but withdrew; but that fervent one passing farther in, looked at everything carefully, and saw somewhat more, and then the other too was summoned to the sight. For he entering after Peter, saw the grave-clothes lying, and separate. Now to separate, and to place one thing by itself, and another, after rolling it up, by itself, was the act of some one doing things carefully, and not in a chance way, as if disturbed.
[5.] But do thou, when thou hearest that thy Lord arose naked, cease from thy madness about funerals; for what is the meaning of that superfluous and unprofitable expense, which brings much loss to the mourners, and no gain to the departed, or (if we must say that it brings anything) rather harm? For the costliness of burial hath often caused the breaking open of tombs, and hath caused him to be cast out naked and unburied, who had been buried with much care. But alas for vainglory! How great the tyranny which it exhibits even in sorrow! how great the folly! Many, that this may not happen, having cut in pieces those fine clothes, and filled them with many spices, so that they may be doubly useless to those who would insult the dead, then commit them to the earth. Are not these the acts of madmen? of men beside themselves? to make a show of their ambition, and then to destroy it? "Yea," saith some one, "it is in order that they may lie safely with the dead that we use all these contrivances." Well then, if the robbers do not get them, will not the moths get them, and the worms? Or if the moths and worms get them not, will not time and the moisture of putrefaction destroy them? But let us suppose that neither tomb-breakers, nor moths, nor worms, nor time, nor anything else, destroy what lies in the tomb, but that the body itself remains untouched until the Resurrection, and these things are preserved new and fresh and fine; what advantage is there from this to the departed, when the body is raised naked, while these remain here, and profit us nothing for those accounts which must be given? "Wherefore then," saith some one, "was it done in the case of Christ" First of all, do not compare these with human matters, since the harlot poured even ointment upon His holy feet. But if we must speak on these things, we say, that they were done when the doers knew not the word of the Resurrection; therefore it saith, "As was the manner of the Jews." For they who honored Christ were not of the twelve, but were those who did not honor Him greatly. The twelve honored Him not in this way, but by death and massacre and dangers for His sake. That other indeed was honor, but far inferior to this of which I have spoken. Besides, as I began by saying, we are now speaking of men, but at that time these things were done with relation to the Lord. And that thou mayest learn that Christ made no account of these things, He said, "Ye saw Me an hungered, and ye fed Me; thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; naked, and ye clothed Me" (Matt. xxv. 35); but nowhere did He say, "dead, and ye buried Me." And this I say not as taking away the custom of burial, (that be far from me,) but as cutting short its extravagance and unseasonable vanity. "But," saith some one, "feeling and grief and sympathy for the departed persuade to this practice." The practice doth not proceed from sympathy for the departed, but from vainglory. Since if thou desirest to sympathize with the dead, I will show thee another way of mourning, and will teach thee to put on him garments which shall rise again with him, and make him glorious. For these garments are not consumed by worms, nor wasted by time, nor stolen by tomb-breakers. Of what sort then are these? The clothing of alms-doing; for this is a robe that shall rise again with him, because the seal of alms-doing is with him. With these garments shine they who then hear, "Hungering ye fed Me." These make men distinguished, these make them glorious, these place them in safety; but those used now are only something for moths to consume, and a table for worms. And this I say, not forbidding to use funeral observance, but bidding you to do it with moderation, so as to cover the body, and not commit it naked to the earth. For if living He biddeth us have no more than enough to cover us, much more when dead; since the dead body hath not so much need of garments as when it is living and breathing. For when alive, on account of the cold, and for decency's sake, we need the covering of garments, but when dead we require grave-clothes for none of these reasons, but that the body may not lie naked; and better than grave-clothes we have the earth, fairest of coverings, and more suited for the nature of such bodies as ours. If then where there are so many needs we must not search for anything superfluous, much more where there is no such necessity, is the ostentation unseasonable.
[6.] "But the lookers-on will laugh," saith some one. Most certainly if there be any laughter, we need not care much for one so exceedingly foolish; but at present there are many who rather admire and accept our true wisdom. For these are not the things which deserve laughter, but those which we do at present, weeping, and wailing, and burying ourselves with the departed; these things deserve ridicule and punishment. But to show true wisdom, both in these respects and in the modesty of the attire used, prepares crowns and praises for us, and all will applaud us, and will admire the power of Christ, and will say, "Amazing! How great is the power of the Crucified One! He hath persuaded those who are perishing and wasting, that death is not death; they therefore do not act as perishing men, but as men who send the dead before them to a distant and better dwelling-place. He hath persuaded them that this corruptible and earthy body shall put on a garment more glorious than silk or cloth of gold, the garment of immortality; therefore they are not very anxious about their burial, but deem a virtuous life to be an admirable winding-sheet." These things they will say, if they see us showing true wisdom; but if they behold us bent down with grief, playing the woman, placing around troops of female mourners, they will laugh, and mock, and find fault in ten thousand ways, pulling to pieces our foolish expense, our vain labor. With these things we hear all finding fault; and very reasonably. For what excuse can we have, when we adorn a body, which is consumed by corruption and worms, and neglect Christ when thirsting, going about naked, and a stranger? Cease we then from this vain trouble. Let us perform the obsequies of the departed, as is good both for us and them, to the glory of God: let us do much alms for their sake, let us send with them the best provision for the way. For if the memory of admirable men, though dead, hath protected the living, (for, "I will defend," it saith, "this city for Mine Own. sake, and for My servant David's sake"-2 Kings xix. 34,) much more will alms-doing effect this; for this hath raised even the dead, as when the widows stood round showing what things Dorcas had made, while she was with them. (Acts ix. 39.) When therefore one is about to die, let the friend of that dying person prepare the obsequies, and persuade the departing one to leave somewhat to the needy. With these garments let him send him to the grave, leaving Christ his heir. For if they who write kings among their heirs, leave a safe portion to their relations, when one leaves Christ heir with his children, consider how great good he will draw down upon himself and all his. These are the right sort of funerals, these profit both those who remain and those who depart. If we be so buried, we shall be glorious at the Resurrection-time. But if caring for the body we neglect the soul, we then shall suffer many terrible things, and incur much ridicule. For neither is it a common unseemliness to depart without being clothed with virtue, nor is the body, though cast out without a tomb, so disgraced, as a soul appearing bare of virtue in that day. This let us put on, this let us wrap around us; it is best to do so during all our lifetime; but if we have in this life been negligent, let us at least in our end be sober, and charge our relations to help us when we depart by alms-doing; that being thus assisted by each other, we may attain to much confidence, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, dominion, and honor, now and ever and world without end. Amen.
(From the 39 Articles of Religion)
IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ. Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.
For the Second Nocturn
(from the Gospel of St. John 20:3-7)
Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together. in a place by itself.
(From Calvin's Commentaries, On the Gospel of John)
3. Peter therefore went forth. There being so little faith, or rather almost no faith, both in the disciples and in the women, it is astonishing that they had so great zeal; and, indeed, it is not possible that religious feelings led them to seek Christ. Some seed of faith, therefore, remained in their hearts, but quenched for a time, so that they were not aware of having what they had. Thus the Spirit of God often works in the elect in a secret manner. In short, we must believe that there was some concealed root, from which we see fruit produced. Though this feeling of piety, which they possessed, was confused, and was accompanied by much superstition, still I give to it — though inaccurately — the name of faith, because it was only by the doctrine of the Gospel that it was produced, and it had no tendency but towards Christ. From this seed there at length sprang a true and sincere faith, which, leaving the sepulcher, ascended to the heavenly glory of Christ.
When Scripture speaks of the feeble beginnings of faith, it says that Christ is born in us, and that we, on the other hand, are born in him; but the disciples must be placed almost below infancy, for they are ignorant of the resurrection of Christ, but yet the Lord nourishes them as a mother nourishes the child that is contained in her womb. Formerly they resembled children, and had made a little progress, but the death of Christ had rendered them so weak, that they must be again begotten and formed, as Paul says of the Galatians,
My little children, of whom I Travail In Birth again until Christ Be Formed in you, (Galatians 4:19.)
When we find that Peter, though he made less haste, is the first to enter into the sepulcher, let us learn from it that many persons have more given to them in the end than appears at the beginning. And, indeed, we sometimes see many, who were full of fervour at the commencement, give way when they come to the conflict; while others, who appeared to be slow and indolent, assume new courage when danger is at hand.
5. And seeth the linen clothes lying. The linen clothes might be regarded as the spoils, intended to lead to the belief of Christ’s resurrection; for it was not probable that his body had been stripped naked, ill order that it might be removed to another place. This would not have been done by a friend, nor even by an enemy.
7. And the napkin which was about his head. When the Evangelist says, that a napkin was wrapped about his head, this refutes the falsehood of the Papists, who pretend that the whole body was sewed up in one linen garment, which they hold out to the wretched populace, calling it “the holy winding-sheet.” I say nothing about their gross ignorance of the Latin language, which led them to suppose that the word napkin — denoting what was used for wiping the sweat from the face, such as a handkerchief— signified a covering for the whole body; nor do I say any thing about their impudence in boasting that they have this very napkin in five or six different places. But this gross falsehood is intolerable, because it openly contradicts the evangelical history. To this is added a fabulous miracle, which they have contrived, to this effect, that the likeness of Christ’s body continued to be visible in the linen cloth. I appeal to you, if such a miracle had been wrought, would nothing have been said about it by the Evangelist, who is so careful to relate events which were not of so great importance? Let us be satisfied with this simple view of the matter, that Christ, by laying aside the tokens of death, intended to testify that he had clothed himself with a blessed and immortal life.
The Sixth Reading
(from the Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom, Bishop)
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
For the Third Nocturn
(from the Gospel of St. John 20:8-10)
Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
(From Calvin's Commentaries, On the Gospel of John)
8. And he saw and believed. It is a poor exposition which some give of these words, that John believed what he had heard Mary say, namely, that Christ’s body had been carried away; for there is no passage in which the word believe bears this meaning, especially when it is used simply and without any addition. Nor is this inconsistent with the fact, that Peter and John return home, while they are still in doubt and perplexity; for in some passages John had employed this phraseology, when lie intended to describe the increase of faith. Besides, Luke 24:12 relates that Peter wondered at seeing the sepulcher :in such good order; meaning by this, that Peter thought of something greater and loftier than what Mary had told him.
9. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. They had often heard from the mouth of Christ what they now saw with their wes, but this flowed from their hearts. Being now warned by the sight of a strange spectacle, they begin to think of Christ as having something Divine, though they are still far from having a clear and accurate knowledge of him. John, therefore, accuses himself, when he acknowledges that the first time that he believed was, when he beheld the proofs of Christ’s resurrection.
Besides, he represents more strongly his own guilt and that of his brethren, by adding, that they not only had forgotten the words of Christ, but that they did not believe the Scriptures; for to this ignorance lie ascribes the deficiency of their faith. Hence, too, we may draw a useful instruction, that we ought, to ascribe it to our carelessness, when we are ignorant of what we ought to know about Christ, because we have not profited as we ought to have done by the Scriptures, which clearly reveal the excellence of Christ.
Not to go farther for an instance of this, it may be thought that the resurrection of Christ is taught in them obscurely, and only under figures; but the attentive reader will find abundantly clear testimonies. Paul proves (Acts 13:34) that Christ must have risen from the dead, because God declares by the prophet Isaiah, (Isaiah 55:3) that, under his reign, the mercy promised to David would be sure. An unskilful person might imagine that what Paul quotes is not at all to the purpose; but they who believe the principles of fkith, and are well acquainted with the Scriptures, have no difficulty in perceiving the force of this argument; for, in order theft Christ may secure to us for ever the grace of God, Christ himself; must live for ever.
There are many passages of the same kind, which it is not, now necessary to collect. Let us therefore rest satisfied with the three following. It is written,
Thou wilt not permit thy Holy One to see corruption,
Peter and Paul explain this prediction as referring to Christ, (Acts 2:27, and Acts 13:35,)and justly; for there is not one of all the sons of Adam who is not of himself liable to corruption. Consequently, the immortality of Christ is there declared. It is likewise beyond all doubt that the following passage refers to Christ,
The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool, (Psalm 110:1.)
Now, death will not be destroyed till the last day. The kingdom is titan given to Christ till the end of the world, and this kingdom cannot exist without his life. But Isaiah speaks more clearly than all the rest when, after having foretold the death of Christ, he immediately adds, that it impossible to declare his age, (Isaiah 53:8.) In short we ought to believe that the doctrine of Scripture is so full and complete in every respect that whatever is defective in our faith ought justly to be attributed to ignorance of the Scriptures.
10. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
10. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
10. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. It is possible that their minds were still in a state of doubt and uncertainty, when they returned home; for, though John says that they believed, yet their faith was not strong, but was only some confused remembrance of the miracle and resembled a trance, until it was more fully confirmed; and indeed, a strong faith could not be produced merely by the sight which they had beheld. Besides, Christ did not present himself to their view, until they had been more fully awakened from their carnal stupidity. They had indeed given a praise worthy demonstration of their zeal, in hastening to the sepulcher; yet Christ hid himself from them, because they sought him with too great superstition.
(from the Christian Year by the Blessed John Keble)
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. St. Luke xxiv. 5, 6.
OH! day of days! shall hearts set free
No "minstrel rapture" find for Thee?
Thou art the Sun of other days,
They shine by giving back thy rays:
Enthroned in thy sovereign sphere
Thou shedd’st thy light on all the year:
Sundays by Thee more glorious break,
An Easter Day in every week:
And week-days, following in their train,
The fullness of thy blessing gain,
Till all, both resting and employ
Be one Lord’s day of holy joy.
Then wake, my soul, to high desires,
And earlier light thine altar fires:
The World some hours is on her way,
Nor thinks on thee, thou blessed day:
Or, if she think, it is in scorn:
The vernal light of Easter morn
To her dark gaze no brighter seems
Than Reason’s or the Law’s pale beams.
"Where is your Lord?" she scornful asks:
"Where is his hire? we know his tasks;
"Sons of a king ye boast to be;
"Let us your crowns and treasures see."
We in the words of Truth reply,
(An angel brought them from the sky,)
"Our crown, our treasure is not here,
"’Tis stored above the highest spere:
"Methinks your wisdom guides amiss,
"To seek on earth a Christian’s bliss;
"We watch not now the lifeless stone;
"Our only Lord is risen and gone."
Yet even the lifeless stone is dear
For thoughts of Him who late lay here;
And the base world, now Christ hath died,
Ennobled is and glorified.
No more a charnel-house, to fence
The relics of lost innocence,
A vault of ruin and decay;—
Th’ imprisoning stone is roll’d away:
‘Tis now a cell, where angels use
To come and go with heavenly news,
And in the ears of mourners say,
"Come, see the place where Jesus lay:"
‘Tis now a fane, where Love can find
Christ every where embalm’d and shrin’d;
Aye gathering up memorials sweet,
Where’er she sets her duteous feet.
Oh! joy to Mary first allow’d,
When rous’d from weeping o’e his shroud,
By his own calm, soul-soothing tone,
Breathing her name, as still his own!
Joy to the faithful Three renew’d,
As their glad errand they pursued!
Happy, who so Christ’s word convey,
That he may meet them on their way!
So is it still! to holy tears,
In lonely hours, Christ risen appears:
In social hours, who Christ would see,
Must turn all tasks to Charity.