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THE HOLY WOMEN AT THE SEPULCHRE.
PREACHED ON EASTER EVE.
ST. LUKE xxiii. 55, 56. “ The women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre and how his body was laid : and
they returned, and prepared spices and ointments, and rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment.”
The history of our Lord's death and passion may be called, in a certain sense, the religious history of the whole world. It might, perhaps, be true to say, that all the persons gathered round his
whether as friends or as enemies, do as it were stand for so many sorts of people, and their several ways of behaving to him, not in those times only, but in our times and in all times. There were Jews to represent the open enemies of Christ and his gospel; Pilate, to be a sample of those (not a few) who, being convinced in their hearts that the Christian way is the only right way, yet deliberately
up for fear of doing themselves harm in this world ; Judas, a type of those most miserable ones, who, being specially entrusted by Jesus Christ, fall into such sins as to give the devil an opportunity of entering into them, and tempting them to betray their trust; the Roman soldiers, of unthinking persons, who do as the world bids them, right or wrong, though it be never so much against their Savior. On the other hand, by God's great mercy, there were also a few faithful and pious servants of our Lord : there was St. John the beloved disciple, and the blessed virgin mother, emblems of the highest degree of faith and love ; there was the penitent thief, who died confessing him; there was St.
Peter, who was even then weeping, probably at a distance, as counting himself unworthy to draw near the cross of him whom he had so lately denied; there was the centurion, owning, like a thoughtful heathen on the way to Christian belief, “ Truly this man was the son of God;" there were Joseph and Nicodemus, rich men both, and both disciples of Christ, but in secret for fear of the Jews; there were, lastly, the pious women of whom the text makes mention ; on whose examples, and the blessing they received, I wish to say something today.
It is not for nothing, depend upon it, that the history and names of those women are so mixed up with the accounts of our Lord's burial and resurrection. What is said of them was, no doubt, meant as an encouragement to all quiet and simple persons, who should follow them in doing good and waiting on their Savior. They are patterns of two things which God especially delights to honor: humble, unpretending, yet earnest devotion, and quiet exercise of the duties of their calling, according to their condition and station in the world.
They were patterns of devotion ; for they followed Christ from Galilee, which must have been great selfdenial. It was much for men, such as the apostles, to forsake home and parent, kinsfolk and friends, for the sake of keeping close to our Lord; for women to do so, was a still greater thing, in proportion to the feebleness of their nature. Again, they ministered to him of their substance; Mary Magdalene especially, and Joanna, who were wealthy persons, St. Luke (c. xviii. 2) had told us long before, that such was their practice toward our Lord. They acknowledged in that way his inestimable mercy in healing them of infirmities, or casting out evil spirits. Therefore their continuing near him, even in his death, was no sudden impulse of natural pity or any other strong feeling. It was just persevering in a course of duty which they had entered on long before. Christ, it seems, had accepted their services, offered in grateful acknowledgment of his mercy, although he had refused to permit the person, out of whom a legion of devils had gone, to stay with him, when he earnestly besought leave to do so. These women, more highly favored, were allowed to wait still on our Savior; and so waiting, they grew in faith, so as not to shrink from attending even on his very cross.
Neither fear of the Jews, nor any kind of shrinking, so natural to weak frames when death is near, more especially death in torment ; neither, I
say, of these feelings kept them back or drove them away from their Lord's departing moments. While indifferent people “smote their breasts,” and returned, “his acquaintance, and the women that followed from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.'
It was no more than might be expected, that the same affectionate temper should cause them to be deeply and religiously anxious for his blessed body after his death. When Joseph and Nicodemus came, and took him down from the cross (where it is noted as an instance of boldness in Joseph, that he feared not to go in unto Pilate with such a request), the women followed after, without any doubt or scruple ; they seem to have had no thought of fearing the Jews. Neither would they consent to leave to Nicodemus and Joseph the whole trouble and expense of our Savior's funeral ; though they both could well afford it, and were ready to do much; for the one had already bought one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, the other had given up his own new tomb for the purpose. Nevertheless, the holy women would by no means endure to be bereaved of their part in the blessed and pious work; they noted carefully how and where the body was laid, with a view to get one more task of love—the last, as they imagined, which they could undertake for Christ. They made haste and prepared spices and ointments, in order to do him such farther honor as they could, as soon as ever the Sabbath should be past.
But here comes in that other point, in which, as I said, the Holy Spirit appears to hold them out as patterns to us.
With all their earnest and courageous love, they still preserved the quietness and simplicity of the character which properly belongs to women.
do not read of their breaking out into any kind of wailing or lamentation; they waited, it seems, by the cross, in silence and resignation, noticing everything, with that presence of mind, which God often gives to his faithful servants, for their own and others' good, even in times of deepest distress. Having seen the blessed body in the grave, they do not stay by it, to mourn and lament, but they lose no time in buying and preparing spices; recollecting (which is another instance of their thoughtfulness) that the Sabbath was near at hand, and then they could not have bought the spices.
How it was so near at hand you may easily perceive, if you
bear in mind that the Jews counted their days to begin from six in the evening of the day before. For instance, when it was now six on Friday afternoon, they would reckon Saturday, or the Sabbath, as actually begun. Now, it was three in the afternoon before our Lord
gave up the ghost, and we find that Joseph was much hurried to finish the laying of the body in the grave before the Sabbath should begin ; therefore it must have been very near six when the women set about preparing the spices: and having so done, says St. Luke,
they rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment.”
The use I would make of this is, to observe that the holy women did not suffer their earnest zeal and affec. tion for the honor of their Master to prevent their keeping, as far as was possible, the outward and ceremonial commandments of God also ; they did not permit their deep feeling, even on such an occasion as this, to carry them away as sometimes is the case, and cause them unnecessarily to leave undone any ordinary and regular duties. And this I take to be a great instance of that kind of self-denial which is peculiarly to be practised by women: namely, constraining themselves, in the midst of deep care and affliction, to remember even lesser duties at proper times; much more such duties as the observance of God's day of rest. A thing to be much considered by those who allow themselves too easily to be excused for slighting our day of rest, the Lord's
day. And it is slighted, remember, not only by unnecessary work, but as much or more by neglect of public worship; by refusing to acknowledge God in the assembling of ourselves together.
Observe this, you who so quietly miss the prayers and communions of the church, on every slight excuse of household business or other inconvenience; you who will not rise a little earlier, or otherwise put yourselves out of the way, in order to get things forward, that you may present yourselves the more regularly before your Savior, to beg his blessing and receive his grace. Observe, the holy women, who were likeliest to know what would please our Savior, having been waiting on him so many months; they would not, if they could possibly help it, permit even their attendance on his sacred body, the highest of all labors of love—they would not even permit it to cause them to break the rest of their Sabbath. They made haste; they put themselves out of the way, to get the spices and ointments prepared before Friday was over, that they might leave the whole Saturday free for holy rest.
But the moment that rest was over, very early in the morning of the first day of the week, their affectionate reverence for our Lord had made them active again. They came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. They came as soon as ever they could, “ bringing the spices which they had prepared ; and certain others with them,” moved, perhaps, by their good example, and in reward for their following it now to be made partakers of their blessing.
They brought the spices which they had prepared, although they were by no means certain that their doing so would be of any use ; for, on the way to the tomb, we find them speaking with the same thoughtful anxiety as before, about the great stone, which Joseph in their sight had rolled to the door of the sepulchre." As they went, they said, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre; for it was very great." This, with many other circumstances, shows that they had not the least notion of the wonders which God had