Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"The Realities of Two Worlds"

Here is an interpretation of the meaning of Easter for average men and women by Paul Jenkins: Has this ancient festival ever had any real spiritual significance for you?
TEXT--Jesus saith unto them, come and break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.--John 21:12.

      Unless you remember the circumstances involved in the situation described in the text, its words will seem to you unimportant and meaningless, perhaps utterly absurd as the text of an Easter sermon. But if you remember the circumstances involved, those simple words will describe to you a situation that which you can find none more significant, more startling, more dramatic, more thrilling, more glorious, between the first chapter of Matthew and the last chapter of Revelation. 
      To bring the true situation before you, let me describe a picture of the scene, from the marvelous brush of the French master painter of the Christ so much of whose lifetime has been given to the production of those wonderful paintings of the life of Christ that have been the marvel of the artistic and the delight of the Christian world for more than a decade, And of all the hundreds of canvases the J. James Tissot has delighted to fill with charming, passionate, dramatic and spiritual depictions of movements in the earthly life of the Savior, that which shows the moment described in our text is one of his masterpieces indeed.
      The picture makes the hour of the scene to be, as we know that it was, the most charming hour of the loveliest season of the year, just as sunrise of a cloudless day in spring. Beneath the azure sky and clear in the sunrise glow of that hour, the lake of Galilee shines translucent from turquoise to pearl.
      Resting at the water's edge are the two boats, the large and the small, of which we read, simple and clumsy specimens of the boat builder's craft of that day. Oars, poles, and nets in them tell their use. Upon the pebbles lies a hastily discarded net, still damp and dark from the water, and close by lies the heap of splendid fish, fresh, wet, gleaming and silvery in the sun. The coals of fire glow ruddy in a little heap, and a tiny thread of opal smoke rises straight in the air of the windless dawn. On an outer garment, placed blanket-wise for him, perhaps by the tenderness of a disciple, sits the Lord. In even so simple a pose the noble and commanding presence of his personality is yet unmistakable. At his right hand lie heaped up a dozen flat cakes of the newly baked bread whose luscious brown almost suggests their fragrant aroma. On a simple split stick a fish is spitted, and the Lord holds it in one hand above the coals to brown, with the other hand moving in simple gesture and with uplifted face, as he speaks naturally, familiarly, and with most evident fascination to the spellbound men that squat in oriental fashion facing him across the fire. "Spellbound," did we say? You should see the picture to know with what divine power they are held. Motionless as statues, the most of them yet lean eagerly, amazedly, passionately forward, their eyes centered on his face as if no looking would ever satisfy the hearts that feed on the joy of seeing him, hearing him, participating in the heavenly marvel of the hour.
"J. James Tissot has delighted to fill with charming, passionate, dramatic and spiritual depictions of movements in the earthly life of the Savior."
      Such is the scene. I cannot know just what it means to you. But may I not tell you what it means to me?
      It has been my privilege, now and again, to sit as friend or guest at the tables of the rich, where snowy damask gave joy alike to the appreciative eye and the touching hand, where countless silver gleamed, where glass sparkled like the diamonds that is approached in value, and where the daintiest china of France supported fish, flesh and fowl of two continents and two seas. It has been my honor, and now and again, to sit at the tables of the great, where men of intellect and fame and women of intellect and charm have made an hour unforgetable and have taught one more than a whole university of mere classrooms could do. It has been my profit to sit at banquets where hundreds sat about the tables and listened to the worlds of heroes, heroes of war and heroes of peace, captains of soldiery and captains of industry, and felt the while they listened, that they were in touch with the men and the forces that move the world. It has been my benefit to sit at meat in the homes of the humble, in log cabins and huts, dining off metal plates and plain fare, and there to learn that not circumstances, but characters make men and women. It has been my delight to sit about the table of the grass, in forests and wildernesses, the campfire at hand and the viands won from stream or forest only by gun or rod. But when I contemplate the circumstances of that morning meal beside the lake of Galilee and realize the realities that were there present--things, emotions, sights, that surpass words to describe-- I know that I had rather have been one of those men that ate the bread that Lord baked, the fish his hands caught and cooked for them, that saw what they saw and heard what they heard, than to have attended any other banquet that wealth ever bought or meal that the friends of one's bosom prepared for friendship's tribute!
      "Why so? Tell me, who were there. Tell me whom that group consisted of!" "Oh, a group of coarse fishermen, fagged out by a night's work, listening to a chance rabbi who is getting breakfast for them while he talks." Yes; you can make that answer if you have succeeded in wiping Easter day out of your calendar.
      Who were there? "Oh, let's see, wasn't that the time when Jesus met his disciples and the miracle of the great draft of fishes occurred.?"
      It was one of many occasions of which Jesus shared fish with his disciples, I answer, and this is about the way the average churchgoer (shall I have to say the average Christian?) would answer.
      Who was there? Listen! Men were there that had seen the man in their midst die in pain on the horrid cross of a Roman criminal execution, had witnessed his writhings of agony had seen the sweat of blood, had heard from those lips at which their eyes now gazed as if enchanted the last scream as the body sank lifeless in the nail-suspended collapse of death. Men sat there who had taken that body down in tears and dismay and in the shock of disillusioned hopes had buried it and gone away feeling as if their universe had tumbled in wreck about their heads, murmuring to one another as they went: "And this is the end of him whom we hoped that it had been he that should have redeemed Israel!" And that man sat there before them alive! Alive? He had caught fish and made a fire and baked bread and helped them to make one of the great hauls of their fishermen's experience, and now while they at stunned, amazed, astounded, incapable almost of realizing what had occurred-incapable, as they afterward wrote, of speaking a syllable of inquiry--he calmly served and fed them while he talked to their white faces!
      "Oh, impossible, incredible! false, never to be believed! a myth, a lie, a dream, a delusion, a frenzy or fantasy of disappointed, overwrought and fanatical brains." Yes, and if you can think of any other terms of denial to write against it, set it down! And when you have said and done it all, the plain statement of these men who sat there will challenge you to your face to hear them tell you that it happened, that he whom they had laid in that sealed-up grave sat in their midst in the same body that they had known, and cooked for them and ate and served them as he catted the while! God be praised for heaven's sweet simplicity, that it was not in some awful, supernal shape, "trailing clouds of glory," that he came back to them, but that if was in the shape of the man whom they had known, had lived with, walked with, talked, slept and eaten with--and lo! before their eyes he moved and breathed and walked and ate and talked, the unmistakable and now incredible, but still actual being that he was before! Oh, if you will let these things, these truths, even this simple scene, get into your head and your heart--what an amazing Easter this day would be to you! "Why?" Because, I care not who and what you have been before, if you have never realized that mighty meaning of this simple scene, you may have known a dead Jesus, but you have never known the risen Savior!
      We have asked who were there? Let us take a final moment to ask what else was there? There, in that hour, all the mighty realities of the two worlds were gathered; this world of which they were catching faint but dazzling, astounding glimpses as they gazed on him; the world that he had been born in, lived in, worked in, died in--and the world that he was living in at the time that he ate and talked before their eyes!
      The realities of this world were there. Labor was there--they of the toil-worn hands, calloused by the wet net cords, they of the many a night of fruitless toil, they know what the weariness and uncertainty of labor is as few others know. Hunger was there, the meal that his love prepared to meet their famished bodies, doubly worn with abstinence and disappointment. Death was there, the end fo all earth--or why the meal to keep the body going, the labor for one's loved ones, and why the amazement at seeing one over whom the omnipotence of death had no power?
      And the realities of the world beyond were there. Life was there--such life as never a soul had dreamed of since Adam cowered beneath his sentence of mortality. The body was there; and now we know why it is called the "Apostle's Creed," that says: "I believe in the resurrection of the body!" What other faith, what other verdict, what other creed could they have that saw the nail marks in the hands that served him, who, though already in the life beyond so loved them that he could reward their work-a-day toil and could prepare for them the food that was affection's tribute itself. And the Christ was there!
      Language fails. Words can say no more. But this--all this--is the true Gospel of Easter day. Mount Vernon Signal.

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