Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Week: A Sermon on the Resurrection, part 1

Seeking the Dead and Finding the Living

Bishop Andrewes was one of the greatest preachers Anglicanism has produced. His extraordinary knowledge of the Scriptures, the Latin and Greek Fathers, medieval theology, and the Reformation-era scene allowed him to speak with authority and nuance. His poetic soul, coupled with a logical mind trained in teaching and public speaking, made his sermons fascinating on multiple levels. Reading them aloud slowly and with care reveals much each time.

One of the greatest of Andrewes’ sermons was that preached before King James on Easter Day, 1620. It is a careful and minute study of the encounter between Mary Magdalene, the Angels, and Christ. It traces a psychological as well as a spiritual journey, and it reveals an entire world of meaning from a few verses. During the Octave of Easter Day, we will make our way through this extraordinary sermon. Read it carefully, slowly, and with an open mind. Andrewes speaks in a distinct way, but if one learns to work at the text (as opposed to the modern tendency to want pre-digested, ideological encounters with Scripture and information), it feeds the soul in much the same manner as the Holy Sacrament Andrewes do deeply valued.

A note: Andrewes in this sermon avails himself of the tradition associating Mary Magdalene with the Sinful Woman in the Gospel according to Luke. This association has largely been repudiated by the Church today, but Andrewes finds new meanings and new power in this identification that raises it from the usual, unfortunate and often misogynistic use made by preachers of the period. Also, Andrewes often puts in the Latin text for a particular passage of Scripture, in addition to the English. Just keep reading, even if you do not read Latin yourself. The sense will be made clear.

A Sermon 
(in serial form) 
by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes 
Preached on Easter Day, 1620
[As transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman AD 2002]

Text John 20.11-17

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre, And saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman why weepest thou? She saith unto them, because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus said unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus said unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father, and to My God and your God.

It is Easter-day abroad, and it is so in the text. We keep Solomon's rule, Verbum diei in die suo. For all this I have read, is nothing lese but a report of Christ's rising, and of His appearing this Easter-day morning, His very first appearing of all. St. Mark is express for it, that Christ was no sooner risen this day but 'He appeared first of all to Mary Magdalene;' which first appearing of His is here by St. John extended, and is set down at large.

The sum of it is, 1. The seeking Christ dead; 2. The finding Him alive.

The manner of it is, That Mary Magdalene staying still by the sepulchre, first she saw a vision of Angels; and after, she saw Christ Himself. Saw Him, and was herself made an Angel by Him, a good Angel to carry the Evangel, the first good and joyful tidings of His rising again from the dead.

And this was a great honour, all considered, to serve in an Angel's place. To do that at His resurrection, His second birth, that at His first birth an Angel did. An Angel first published that, Mary Magdalene brought first notice of this. As he to the shepherds, so she to the Apostles, the Pastors of Christ's flock, by them to be spread abroad to the ends of the world.

To look a little into it. 1. Mary is the name of a woman; 2. Mary Magdalene of a sinful woman.

That to a woman first--it agreeth well to make even with Eve; that as by a woman came the first news of death, so by a woman also might come the first notice of the Resurrection from the dead. And the place fits well, for in a garden they came both.

That to a sinful woman first--that also agrees well. To her who most needed it; most needed it, and so first sought it. And it agrees well, He be first found of her who first sought Him; even in that respect she was to be respected.

In which two there is opened unto us 'a gate of hope,' two great leaves, as it were; one, that no infirmity of sex--for a woman we see; the other, that no enormity of sin--for a sinful woman, one who had the blemish that she went under the common name of peccatrix, as notorious and famous in that kind; that neither of these will debar any to have their part in Christ and in His resurrection; any, who will seek Him in such sort as she did. For either of these non obstante, not withstanding both these, she had the happiness to see His Angels--and that was no small favour; to see Christ Himself, and that first of all, before all others to see and salute Him; and to receive a commission from Him of vade et dic, 'to go and tell,' that is as it were to be an Apostle, and that to the Apostles themselves, to bring them the first good news of Christ's rising again.

There are three parties that take up the whole text, and if I should divide it, I would make those three parties the three parts; I. Mary Magdalene, II. the Angels, III. and Christ our Saviour.
Mary Magdalene begins her part in the first verse, but she goes along through them all.

Then the Angels' part in the verses next. 1. Their appearing, 2. and their speech to her; appearing in the twelfth, speech in the thirteenth.

And last, Christ's part in all the rest. 1. His appearing, 2. and speech likewise. Appearing first, unknown, in the fourteenth, and His speech then in the fifteenth.

After, His appearing and speech again, being known, in the sixteenth and seventeenth. 1. Forbidding her, mane et tange, to stay and touch; 2. and bidding her, vade et dic, to get her quickly to His brethren, and tell them His resurrection was past, for ascendo, He was taking thought for His Ascension, and preparing for that. Thus lieth the order and the parts.

The use will be, that we in our seeking carry ourselves as she did;--and so may we have the happiness that she had to find Christ, as He is now to be found in the virtue of His resurrection!

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