Lancelot Andrewes was both a highly creative and a deeply orthodox preacher. These things—so often treated as if mutually exclusive—are ultimately interdependent. Creativity in preaching when disconnected from orthodoxy results in heresy, cults-of-personality, and the dead end of idiosyncrasy. Orthodoxy without creativity leads to emotional sterility, contempt for mystery, and intellectual narrowness. When reading Andrewes’ sermons, one is struck by the way his grounding in the catholic faith frees him from contemporary obsessions (so much the character of current preaching in the Episcopal Church) to find a vital message in the ancient-yet-ever-new text of Scripture.
This section of the Easter Day sermon looks at the angels in the tomb, bringing up the fact that such a juxtaposition of God’s presence and death is a novel feature of the Resurrection, made explicit in this image. The color of the angels’ vesture is linked to the wider narrative of salvation, and their placement—one at the head and one at the feet—is likened to everything from the cherubim in the Temple to the way Christians are meant to live lives of humility as well as leadership.
The end of this section makes a tremendous point: the Christian may not rest on his or her laurels: we must always be growing in holiness with God. When Andrewes’ wrote this sermon, many in the Church held a strict Calvinist doctrine of Predestination, making sanctification almost irrelevant. Here Andrewes argues that true Apostolic faith requires both right response as well as the gift New Life in Christ. In our own day, when the so-called “gospel of inclusion” has been applied like a wrecking ball to the whole fabric of the Faith, we see many ignoring just this point: being called into fellowship with Christ requires a corresponding holiness of response. Without it, the Cross and Empty Tomb become mere tokens, taken for granted, as we go on living lives more in league with sin and death than redemption and eternal life.
Ver. 16. 'And saw two Angels in white, sitting, the one at the head, the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.'
For what came of this? Thus staying by it, and thus looking again and again, though she saw not Christ at first, she sees His Angels. For so it pleased Christ to come by degrees, His Angels before Him. And it is no vulgar honour this, to see but an Angel; what would one of us give to see but the like sight?
We are now at the Angels' part, their appearing in this verse. There are four points in it:
1. Their place;
2. Their habit [vesture];
3. Their site;
4. and their order.
1. Place, in the grave;
2. Habit, in white;
3. site--they were sitting;
4. and their order in sitting, one at the head, the other at the feet.
The place. In the grave she saw them; and Angels in a grave, is a strange site, a sight never seen before; not till Christ's body had been there, never till this day; this the first news of Angels in that place. For a grave is no place for Angels, one would think, for worms rather; blessed Angels, not but in a blessed place. But since Christ lay there, that place is blessed. There was a voice heard from Heaven, 'Blessed be the dead:' 'Precious the death,' 'Glorious the memory' now, 'of them that die in the Lord.' And even this, that the Angels disdained not now to come thither, and to sit there, is an auspicium of a great change to ensue in the state of that place. Quid gloriosius Angelo? quid vilius vermiculo? saith Augustine. Qui fuit vermiculorum locus, est et Angelorum. 'That which was the place for worms, is become a place for Angels.'
Their habit. 'In white.' So were there divers of them, divers times this day, seen 'in white,' all; in that colour. It seems to be their Easter-day colour, for at this feast they all do their service in it. Their Easter-day colour, for it is the colour of the Resurrection. The state whereof when Christ would represent upon the Mount, 'is raiment was all white, no fuller in the earth could come near it.' And our colour it will be, when rising again 'we shall walk in white robes,' and 'follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.'
Heaven mourned on Good-Friday, the eclipse made all then in black. Easter-day it rejoiceth, Heaven and Angels, all in white. Solomon tells us, it is the colour of joy. And that is the state of joy, and this the day of the first joyful tidings of it, with joy ever celebrated, even in albis, eight days together, by them who found Christ.
'In white,' and 'sitting.' As the colour of joy, so the situation of rest. So we say, Sit down, and rest. And so is the grave made, by this morning's work, a place of rest. Rest not from our labours only--so do the beasts rest when they die; but as it is in the sixteenth Psalm, a Psalm of the Resurrection, a 'rest in hope' 'hope' of rising again, the members in the virtue of their Head Who this day is risen. So to enter into the 'rest,' which yet 'remaineth for the people of God,' even the Sabbath eternal.
'Sitting,' and in this order, 'sitting;' at the head one, at the feet another, where His body had lain.
1. Which order may well refer to Christ Himself, Whose body was the true ark indeed, 'in which it pleased the Godhead to dwell bodily;' and is therefore here between two Angels, as was the ark, the type of it, 'between the two cherubim.'
2. May also refer to Mary Magdalene. She had anointed His head, she had anointed His feet: at these two places sit the two angels, as it were to acknowledge so much for her sake.
3. In mystery, they refer it thus. Because caput Christi Deus, 'the Godhead is the head of Christ;' and His feet which the serpent did bruise, His manhood; that either of these has his Angel. That to Christ man no less than to Christ God, the Angels do now their service. In principio erat Verbum, His Godhead; there, an Angel. Verbum caro factum, his manhood; there another. 'And let all the angels of God worship Him' in both. Even in His manhood, at His cradle the head of it, a choir of Angels; at His grave, the feet of it, Angels likewise.
4. And lastly, for our comfort thus. That henceforth even such will our graves be, if we be so happy as 'to have our parts in the first resurrection,' which is of the soul from sin. We shall go to our graves in white, in the comfort and colour of hope, lie between two Angels there; they guard our bodies dead, and present them alive again at the Resurrection.
1.Yet before we leave them, to learn somewhat of the Angels; specially, of 'the Angel that sat at the feet.' That between them there was no striving for places. He 'that sat at the feet,' as well content with his place as he that 'at the head.' We to be so by their example. For with us, both the Angels would have been 'at the head,' never an one 'at the feet;' with us none would be at the feet by his good will, head-Angels all.
2. Again, from them both. That inasmuch as the head ever stands for the beginning, and the feet for the end, that we be careful that our beginning only be not glorious--O an angel at the head in any wise--but that we look to the feet, there be another there too. Ne turpiter atrum desinat, 'that it end not in a black Angel,' that began in a white. And this for the Angels' appearing.