Note, that the Collect appointed for every Sunday, or for any Holy-day that hath a Vigil or Eve, shall be said at the Evening Service next before.
THis is the highest of all Feasts, says Epiphanius upon the day. This day Christ opened to us the door of Life, being the first-fruits of those that rose from the dead: whose Resurrection was our life, for he rose again for our justification, Rom. 4. 45.
Instead of the usual Invitatory, O come let us sing unto the Lord, holy Church uses special Hymns or Anthems concerning Christs Resurrection. Christ rising again from the dead, &c. And, Christ is risen, &c. set down before the Collect on Easter-day. Having kept company with the Apostles and first Believers, in standing by the Cross weeping upon Good-Friday, and kept a Fast upon the Saturday following to comply with the Apostles and Catholick Church who were that day sad and pensive, because their Lord was taken away from them, we are directed this day to rejoyce with them for the Rising again of our Lord, and to express our joy in the same words that they then did, and the Church ever since hath done, Christ is risen, S. Luke 24. 34. the usual Morning salutation this day, all the Church over; to which the Answer in some places was, Christ is risen indeed; and in others, this, And hath appeared to Simon.
Holy Church her aim is in all these chief days, to represent as full as may be the very business of the day, and to put us into the same holy affections that the Apostles and other Christians were, when they were first done; she represents Christ born at Christmas, and would have us so affected that day yearly, as the first believers were at the first tidings delivered by the Angel. So at his Passion she would have us so affected with sorrow, as they were that stood by the Cross. And now at his Resurrection she desires to represent it to us, as may put us into the same rejoycing, that those dejected Christians were, when the Angel told them, He is not here, but is risen, S. Luke 24. 6. Holy Church supposes us to have fasted and wept upon Good-Friday, and the day following, because our Lord was taken away according to that of our Saviour, The time shall come that the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then shall they fast in those daies, and now calls upon us to weep no more, for Christ is risen. And that she may keep time also with the first tidings of the Resurrection, she observes the Angels direction to the Women, S. Matt. 26. 7. Go quickly and tell his Disciples that he is risen. Supposing us as eager of the joyful news of Christs Resurrection, as they were, she withholds not the joy, but immediately after Confession and Absolution, she begins her Office with Christ is risen.
Proper Psalms at Morn. are 2. 57. 111. The first of these is a Triumphant Song for Christs victory over all his Enemies that so furiously raged against him, Ver. 6. Yet I have set my King upon my holy hill of Sion. Notwithstanding all the fury of his Enemies that persecuted and murdered him, Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Sion, by his glorious Resurrection from the dead, as it is expounded, Acts 13:33.
The 57. Psalm is of the same nature. It mentions Christs Triumph over Hell and Death. My Soul is among Lions, Verse 4. And the children of men have laid a net for my feet, and pressed down my soul, crucifying the Lord of glory, but God sent from Heaven, Ver. 3. and saved him from the Lions, both Devils and Men by a glorious Resurrection. And therefore he breaks forth, Ver. 9. Awake up my glory, awake Lute and Harp, I my self will awake right early: I will give thanks unto thee O Lord, &c.
The 3. Psal. is a Psalm of Thanksgiving for marvellous works of redemption Ver. 9. works worthy to be praised and had in honour, Ver. 3. And therefore though it be not set particularly for the Resurrection, but may serve for any marvellous work of mercy, yet is it most fit for this day and the work of this: for amongst all the marvellous works of Redemption, this of Christs Resurrection is the chief, and most worthy by us to be had in honour. For If Christ be not risen, we are yet in our sins, we are utterly lost, 1 Cor. 15. But Christ is risen, The merciful and gracious Lord hath so done his marvellous work of Christs Resurrection, that it ought to be had in remembrance. For which holy Church teaches us to sing, as we are bound, I will give thanks unto the Lord with my whole heart, secretly amongst the faithful, and in the Congregation, Ver. 1.
Evening Psalms are 113. 114. 118. The first is a Psalm of Thanksgiving especially for raising up Christ, Ver. 6, 7. Taking him out of the dust, and lifting him out of the mire, to set him with and above the Princes, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all Principalities and powers, and Might and Dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, Ephes. 1. 21.
The 118. Psal. is (part of it at least) of Christs Resurrection, as it is expounded S. Matt. 21. and Acts 4. 11. The stone which the builders refused, is become the head of the corner, this day. And therefore This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoyce and be glad in it. ver. 27.
The 114. Psal. may seem at first sight not so applyable to Christs Resurrection: for it is a Thanksgiving for the Jews deliverance out of Egypt. Yet notwithstanding if we look well into it, we shall find it proper enough for the day. For as the Apostle teaches us, All things hapned to them in types and figures; not only words but actions were typical. Egypt was a type of Hell, and their captivity there, a type of our captivity under sin and the Devil. Their deliverance from thence, a type and figure of our deliverance from Hell: and that which the Psalmist here gives thanks for as past, in the History, is understood to be meant as much or more in the prophesie of Christs Redemption of his Church, (the true Israelites, that walk in the steps of the Faith of our Father Abraham, (from sin and Hell, by the power of his glorious Resurrection this day.
The first Lesson Morn. is Exod. 12. in which is mentioned the Institution of the Passeover, proper for this day, the feast of the Passeover: For as S. Aug. observes, Ep. 119. We do in this Feast not only call to mind the history of our Saviours Resurrection, but also celebrate the mystery of ours. That as Christ this day rose again from death to life, so by Christ and the vertue of his Resurrection shall we be made alive, and rise from death to life eternal. Christ is therefore our true Passeover, whereof the other was a type. The Lesson then is proper for the day.
So is the first Lesson Even. Exod. 14. For it is concerning the Israelites deliverance out of Egypt, a type of our deliverance from Hell this day by Christs glorious resurrection. As that day Israel saw that great work, which the Lord did upon Egypt, Ver. 31. So this day we see the great conquest over Hell and Death finished, by Christs triumphant Resurrection from the dead.
The Second Lessons are plain. The Gospel gives us the full evidence of Christs Resurrection: The Epistle tells what use we should make of it, If Christ be risen, seek those things that are above, &c. The Collect prayes for grace, to make that use of it which the Epistle directs.
Thus holy Church is careful to teach and instruct all her children in the matter of the Feast, preaching Christs Resurrection to us, both in the type and Prophesie out of the Old Test. and in the History of it out of the New. And she does not only teach us to know what God hath done for us this day, but also she is careful that we may do our duty to God for this his marvellous goodness, commanding and directing us to pray for grace to do our duty, prescribing us excellent forms of adoring and blessing God for his mercy, this day such methods as the Holy Ghost hath set down, in which we may be sure to pray and praise God by the Spirit.
For the Antiquity of this Feast, heaps of Testimonies might be brought, but these two following may suffice.
First, because it was the most general custome of the Churches.
Secendly, because they would not in this particular comply with the Jews, for though in some other cases they did it on purpose to sweeten them and make them plyable to Christianity, as our Lord himself did and his Apostles, Acts 21. 24. retaining many of their laudable and useful Rites, as of Excommunication, Benediction, Imposition of hands, with many more which you may see in Grotius Annot. in S. Matth. 18. and Append. p. 54. (for they loved not Innovation, nor measured the goodness of their Religion by their distance from the Jews in things lawful and useful) though I say the Primitive Christians did not like the Jewish Rites ever the worse because they were Theirs, i. e. of Gods Institution, but did use as many of them that were useful as they had occasion for, yet in this of the time of keeping Easter they would not, because it was of ill signification and scandalous, for the Jews keep their Easter as typical and prefiguring Christ to come; the Christians kept their Easter in thankful remembrance of Christ Come, and Risen from the dead: and therefore differing so much in the main of the Feast, they would not comply with them, no not so much as in the Time, lest by that they might have been thought to have complyed also in the very Feast, and so have seemed to have denied their Lord as the Jews did.
Thirdly, because after the Jews fashion of keeping of Easter (they following at that time an Erroneous Account which had not due regard to the time of the Equinox) it might happen that there might be two Easters in one year, (viz. one in the first Month and another in the last) and none in the next year.
After our English Account Easter is found by finding out Shrove-Tuesday; which is always the first Tuesday in the New Moon after Candlemas; the Sunday six weeks after, is Easter.
P. Easter day.] This was the birthday of our Saviour in His state of glory and exaltation, as His first nativity was the birthday to His state of humiliation. It was anciently called μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα, “the great day ;” by Gregory Nazianzen ἑορτῶν ἑορτὴ, ‘ the feast of feasts.” How could it be less, it being the day κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, (by way of eminence,) “ which the Lord hath made,” Psalm cxviil. 24; for of this day do the fathers unanimously expound that place, and therefore with them, as it is with us, that psalm was always part of the office of this day.
For the antiquity of the observation of this day, innumerable authors might be produced, but in a matter not at all controverted it would edify little. I shall therefore supersede from others, and content myself with a reference to that known contest betwixt the Churches of the east and west about it, whether it should be observed on the fourteenth of the first new moon in March, as they of the east pretended, or on the Lord’s day, as the western custom was, wherein both pleaded, and justly too as I conceive, Apostolical tradition. The quartadecimani, or “they who kept the fourteenth day,” derived their practice from St. John, the other from St. Peter. The matter being adiaphorous, they of the Levant, the east, might in this, as they did in other things, condescend to the customs of the Jews their cohabitants, on design to win upon them in higher matters. And the western Churches, more conversant with Gentiles, having not the same occasion, might rather make choice of the Lord’s day, it being the very day of Christ’s resurrection, in memory whereof that feast was observed.
That the celebration of this day was Apostolical, is a truth as radiant as if it were written with the beams of the sun, and needs no further demonstration than the consideration how early this question invaded the Church. The first news we hear of it is from Polycarpus’s journey to the Roman bishop Anicetus, propter quasdam super die Pascha questiones, “by reason of some questions raised about Easter day.” So Jerome and Eusebius. Polycarpus was St. John’s disciple, and when Anicetus endeavoured to gain him to the western usage, his answer was, “he would never desert that custom which he had received from St. John.” So that though Polycarpus and Anicetus argued the question, yet, like stout champions, both kept their ground; and, which is most laudable, like good Christians, kept also the peace of the Church. So did not Victor bishop of Rome a while after; for being a man composed of fire and tow, and inflamed with an epistle of Policrates, then bishop of Ephesus, to him he grew so choleric, that he renounced communion with all Asia upon that sole account ; for which Irenzeus, of Victor’s persuasion, not of his spirit, sent him a sound rattle. Let this suffice for the antiquity of this grand festival.
This day, with Christ’s Nativity, Epiphany and Pentecost, were days of so high solemnity, as all the clergy were bound, upon pain of excommunication for three years, not to be absent from their cures at any of them. And that such was the practice for Easter, St.Cyprian giveth us early account, for being desired by Fortunatus and others to consult with his confraternity about the reception of persons lapsed through torture, he referreth them for his answer to another time, because, saith he, nunc omnes inter Pasche prima solemnia apud se cum fratribus demorantur, “now all my colleagues are tied to their proper cures until the Easter holydays be over.”
The anthems appointed by our Church are pure canonical Scripture, whereof the last beginning thus, “ Christ is risen again,” being taken out of 1 Cor. xv. 20, seemeth to be an imitation of the ancient practice of the primitive Christians, who were accustomed to greet one another every Easter morning, one saying Κύριος ἀνέστη, “ the Lord is risen,” and the other answered ὀρθῶς ἀνέστη, “ He is risen indeed ;” and im the now Greek Church some memorial of that custom remains in their solemn hymn, beginning Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν, θανάτῳ θανάτον πατήσας, “ Christ is risen from the dead, triumphing over and trampling one deathwith another.”
THese two Holy days are added as Attendants upon Easter-day in honour of this high Feast and the more solemnity of it. And we find S. Austin upon occasion mentioning them De civit. Dei l. 22. c. 8. although both from him (elsewhere) and others we may gather that these two days were not all which at that time were added to the Feast: For of old, this Queen of Feasts, as the Fathers call it, was so highly esteemed, that it was in a manner solemnized fifty days together, even from Easter to Whitsuntide. See Ambr. Ser. 61. Per hos quinquaginta dies nobis est jugis & continuata Festivitas, &c. See also Euseb. de vit. Constant. l. 4. c. 64. And Tertul. de Iejuniis. And in his Book de Idol. where he affirms that all the Heathen Festivals put together could not equal this one great and solemn Feast of the Christians. From these and the like places some conclude, and most probably, That every day of that time the Christians met together in publick to sing with greatest joy Psalms and Allelujah to God Almighty, and to take the Cup of Salvation, the holy Communion, praising the Name of the Lord. All which time they did not kneel at their prayers which was accounted a posture of mourners, but Stand, (as upon Sundays they were wont) in token of joy, thus making every of those days equal in a manner to Sundays. The reason of this so great and long Festivity at this time, was principally because it was the Feast of Easter, or of our blessed Lords Resurrection, a principal Article of our faith: for as S. Paul says, 1 Cor. 15. If Christ be not risen we are yet in our sins, and we Christians of all men most miserable. Now that Christ is risen, needs must there be in Christians hearts an overflowing of joy, which in those times they expressed by such dayly publick exercises of Religion, principally of receiving the holy communion, the pledge of our resurrection (as our Saviour says S. John 6. He that eats my flesh shall live for ever) that by this means the memory of the resurrection might be fixt deeply in their minds. We must not think that the Christians then did keep all this Time holy, so as to cease from labour (for the poverty of many, and the care and charity required in all, would not permit that) but only as to religious exercises and services. As devotion abated, the Feast was shortned; yet long after Tertullian, even till Gratians time and downward, the whole week of Easter, as also of Whitsuntide, were reckoned among Holy-days. Gratian. de Consec. Dist. 3. And our Church, though she enjoyns only Munday and Tuesday of this week for Holy-days, yet seems to me to commend the keeping holy of this whole week, as also of the whole week after Christmas, Ascension, and Pentecost: For she directs the proper Prefaces for Christmas, Easter, Ascen. and Pentecost to be used every day the week after; Which Prefaces are to be used only at the Communion, as appears by the Rubricks; so that by prescribing the Prefaces to be used upon every day of the week, she doth withal prescribe the Communion every day likewise, which is properly the keeping of a day Solemnly Holy; and this weeks solemnity is principally, as we have said, for the expressing of our joy for our Lords Resurrection, and the honour of the Feast, which Christians were not willing to make shorter than the Jews Feast of unleavened Bread.
Among the Ancients there was another peculiar Reason for the keeping of the whole week of Easter Holy, besides that of the Resurrection. For they ministring Baptism (except in case of necessity) at no other times but the Eves of Easter and Whitsunday, did make it a part of their Festivity, the week following to congratulate the access of a new Christian progeny; the New Baptized coming each day to Church in white vestures with lights before them: where Thanksgivings and Prayers were made for them, with Instructions also to those that were of years of discretion (for at that time, there were many such that came in from Heathenism) in the principles and ways of Christianity. But afterwards, when most of the baptized were Infants, and so not capable of such solemnities, this custome was altered, and Baptism administred all times of the year, as at the beginning of Christianity. Tertul. de Bapt. S. Chrysost. Hom. 1. in Act. Apost.
Q. Easter Monday and Tuesday.] All this week, which we call Easter week, was anciently kept holy, but above others these two days were of highest remark; so that artificers, who made bold with the other four, did not exercise their mechanical crafts upon either of these, as Theodorus Balsamon noteth: therefore Gregorius Thaumaturgus styleth the Easter festivals τριήμερος προθεσμία, “the three holy days ordained by the Church.” St. Augustine also mentions, tertium festi diem, “the third day of the feast ;” and to ascend higher, St. Cyprian in all probability meant no less, where he spake of prima solemnia Pasche, “ the first solemn days of Easter.”
In some particulars, the whole interval betwixt Easter and Pentecost was honoured with an esteem adequate to the Lord’s day, and the principal of them, Easter itself: that is, in not fasting and praying standing. I shall only content myself with urging two of very many authorities. For the western Church, Tertullian: die Dominico jejunium nefas ducimus, vel de geniculis adorare; eadem immunitate a die Pasche in Pentecosten usque gaudeamus: “we count it a great offence either to fast or kneel at prayer on the Lord’s day; and the same custom do we observe from Easter to Pentecost.” For the east, the council of Nice: ἔδοξε τῇ ayia συνόδῳ ἑστῶτας ἐν TH κυριακῇ, καὶ ἐν ταῖς τῆς πεντεκοστῆς ἡμέραις τὰς εὐχὰς ἀποδιδόναι τῷ θεῷ : “the holy synod decreeth that on the Lord’s day, and from Easter to Pentecost, prayers be made standing:” where also learned men suppose an interdict from fasting also to be implied.
The ground of this practice was the sudden transition of the Church from one contrary passion to another; that is, from grief to joy, which operated contrary motions in the body. All Lent long, Lord’s days excepted, not only the penitents which were under the Church’s censures, but the very faithful themselves were ὑποπίπτοντες, cast upon their knees as in a state of humiliation. But the resurrection day, the day of jubilee once come, the visage of the Church was changed, and nothing to be seen but whatsignified excess of joy. St. Basil, no man better, unfolds the mystery, καθ᾽ ἑκάστην γονυκλισίαν καὶ διανάστασιν ἔργῳ δείκνυμεν, ὅτι καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας εἰς γὴν κατεῤῥύημεν καὶ διὰ τῆς φιλανθρωπίας τοῦ κτίσαντος ἡμᾶς εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀνεκλήθημεν : “by our keeling and rising upright, we signify that we are cast down to the earth by our sins, and that we are raised again to heaven by the clemency of our Maker.” So that the posture of standing was not only a ceremony significant of our Saviour’s resurrection, but also an emblem of the Church’s rising with Him, which was most graphically described in their stationary mode, which Tertullian represents thus: in celum suspicientes, manibus expansis, “looking up to heaven with their arms extended at length.” St. Chrysostom more fully, and like what I formerly observed out of Clemens Alexandrinus : οἶδα πολλοὺς ἄνδρας ἐγὼ σχεδὸν κρεμαμένους ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς, καὶ πέρα τοῦ μέτρου τὰς χεῖρας ἀνατείνοντας, καὶ ἀθυμοῦντας ὅτι μὴ δυνατὸν μετεωρισθήναι, καὶ οὕτως εὐχομένους μετὰ προθυμίας: i.e. “I have known myself many men, almost elevated quite from the earth, stretching out their hands as wide as possibly they could, and as if they weremalcontents that they could not fly even up to heaven, and in that posture of ardent devotion to behave themselves at prayer.”
It was the custome of our fore-fathers to observe the Octave or Vtas of their high and principal Feasts: and this is the Octave or eighth day after Easter. Upon every Octave, the use was to repeat some part of that Service, which was perform'd upon the Feast it self; and this is the reason that the Collect used upon Easter, is renewed upon this day.
The Epistle exhorts the new baptized persons that are born of God, to labour to overcome the World, which at their baptism they vowed to do. The Gospel shews how Christ conversed with his Disciples after his Resurrection; instructing and confirming them in the faith of the Resurrection.
This Sunday is called Low-Sunday, because it is Easter-day repeated, the Octave of Easter, but the Sunday before is high Easter, and this is a lower Feast, Low Easter: in Latin Dominica in albis, or rather, Post Albas (sc. depositas) as some old Rituals call it: because those that were baptized on Easter-eve, wore, seven days after, white garments, called Chrysoms; signs of the purity which they received in Baptism; which white clothes they this day put off.
R. First Sunday after Easter.] This Sunday had several appellations in antiquity; the Latins called it Dominica in albis, in relation to the white vestments of the neophytes, or new-made Christians. But why im albis, and not rather post albas? “the Sunday after white vestments,” as Alcuin more truly calleth it? considering that they deposited and laid aside those whites upon the eve of this day, called clausum Pascha, “the close of Easter,” as the same Alcuin’ testifieth elsewhere, and is confirmed by St. Augustine, Paschalis solemnitas hodierna festivitate concluditur, et ideo neophytorum habitus mutatur : “the Paschal solemnity is this day,” speaking of the Easter octave, “ determined, and therefore the new Christians change their habits this day. The Greek called it καινὴν κυριακὴν, the reason is given by Gregory Nazianzen', because it is τῆς σωτηρίας γενέθλιον, “the birthday of that salvation,” which had its commencement the Sunday before. By us it is vulgarly called Low-Sunday, probably, as our rationalist hath observed, as it succeeds and stands in relation to Easter day, which was κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, a high day.
As the last Sunday instructed the young and new-born Christians, how they should imitate Christ in a Resurrection from sin and death to life; so this Sunday instructs the Shepherds of the flock, how to imitate their great Shepherd. And the Epistle sets before us his great patience and goodness in the work of our redemption. The Collect prayes for thankfulness and imitation of his holy life.
Hitherto since Easter the Church hath been as it were overwhelmed in the joyful meditation of Christs Resurrection from the dead, or chiefly about it, and that hath been the subject of all the Collects since then. Now in this Collect (as somewhat also in one of the Readings aforegoing) the Church reflects upon that other ancient Paschal Solemnity, the general Baptism that was used at that time; so that this Collect is for the new baptized or new Regenerates by Baptism: desiring Almighty God who shews the light of his truth, to them that be in error, (enlightning them by baptism, which was therefore called illumination, and the baptized the Enlightened) to grant them that be admitted into the fellowship of Christs religion, namely by baptism, that they may eschew those things that be contrary to their profession, or vow in baptism, &c. Though this custome of general baptism at Easter be not in use now, yet this Collect is still seasonable, as a general anniversary Commemoration of the great blessings received from God by our baptism, and our solemn vow and profession made to him therein.
The Ancients were wont to observe Pascha annotinum, an anniversary commemoration of their baptism; they that were baptized at Easter the year before, came the year following the same day to the Church, and solemnly with oblations and other religious offices commemorated the anniversary day of their new birth. Though our Church does not in every particular observe the same custome, yet she draws near to the ancient practice, in this solemn, though general Anniversary Commemoration of baptism this day, minding us all this day of our baptism, and our vow made therein, and praying to God to enable us all to keep it. And for this very reason does she appoint children to be baptized upon Sundays and other Holy-days when most people are present, that they may be put in remembrance of their own profession made to God in baptism; Preface before Baptism: and happy were it for us, if we would made good use of this care of the Church, and be often remembring that solemn vow; by which we have dedicated our selves to God to be an holy people, the wilful breach of which vow is horrid Sacriledge.
In the Gospel our Saviour tells his Disciples, that though they should weep and lament (by reason of his death) their sorrow should be turned into joy, which no man should take from them (namely after his Resurrection.) And such joy belongs to this time and to us in it, if we be also his true Disciples and followers; which how we may be, the Epistle shews by minding us of (what we promised and vowed, when admitted into Christs School, and gave up our names to him) the abstaining from fleshly lusts, and having honest conversation in all our Relations. And this is the main drift of the whole Epistle (the first of S. Peter) out of which this is taken, to perswade them that were born again, and lately become Christians, to walk suitably to such an holy profession and that chiefly in regard of the lively hope unto which they were begotten again by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and so is most agreeable to the Churches meditations this day and season.
This Collect is fit for this Paschal time from Easter to Pentecost, a time of greatest joy, the Church therefore prays that we may rightly observe the time; be full of joy in a joyful time; withal that our joy may be a true and real joy, that our hearts may surely there be fixt, where true joyes are to be found: Such joyes as Christs Resurrection, and the promised Comforter affords. And one or both of these two grand occasions of Joy and Exultation (to wit, Christs Resurrection, and the promise of a Comforter) are the principal Subject of the Gospels from Easter to Whitsuntide; but lest our joy should grow presumptious and luxuriant (as joy is apt to exceed) the Epistles for the same time admonish us of duties answerable, as to believe in Christ, to rise from the grave of sin, to be patient, loving, meek, charitable, &c. having our Lord for an example, and the promise of his Spirit for our guide, strength and comfort.
The Gospel before promised a Comforter. The Epistle and Gospel this day direct us what to do to obtain that promise. Two conditions are required on our parts for the receiving of that promised Comforter: First prayers or Rogations, this the Gospel teaches, Ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full. Secondly to love God and keep his Comandments, S. John 14. 15. This the Epistle exhorts to, See that ye be doers of the Word, &c. The Collect prayes that we may feel the fruits and comforts of this holy Spirit in our hearts by good thoughts and abilities to perform them.
S. The fifth Sunday after Easter.] This Sunday is called Rogation Sunday, because it precedeth the three days of Rogation before Ascension day. These three fast days were first instituted by Mamercus bishop of Vienna, upon occasion of a great earthquake, and incursion of wolves and wild beasts, to the extreme terror of the people. He knowing no better expedient to divert so severe a chastisement than fasting and humiliation, ordered these days for that intent, and contrived a litany apt and suitable for such humble addresses. This pious course taking good effect, succeeding times continued that fast in their anniversary practice, so as the council of Aurelia established it by a decree. Which custom having had so long footing in the Church, our reformers were loath to be singular in rescinding it, and the rather because they observed it fell casually and beyond its first intention upon such a season as might be very agreeable to the service of those days. For this being that critical time of the year when all the fruits of the earth are in greatest hazard of miscarrying by frosts and unseasonable weather, it is therefore exceeding proper to supplicate God for the withholding of His judgments, and to implore His blessing upon the labours of the husbandman. And although our liturgy hath no set office, yet hath our Church set homilies for it. And in the injunctions anno 1559, and advertisements anno Eliz. it was ordered, “ that in the rogation days of procession, the curate sing or say in English the two psalms beginning, Benedic Anima mea, &c., with the litany and suffrages thereunto belonging.”
THis day was Christs perfect triumph over the Devil, Leading captivity captive, Ephes. 4. 8. This day He opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers, as we say daily in the Te Deum. See S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 23. His flesh opened that passage, in that he deserved to enter there first: For when he was taken up on high, then he opened the Gates of Heaven Chrysost. upon that place of the Hebrews. Therefore the Church appoints for this day the 24. Psalm. Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. This day gives us hopes of Heaven, in that our flesh in the first-fruits is thither ascended. For if God had not intended some great good to our nature, he would not have received the first-fruits up on high: Christ taking the first-fruits of our nature, this day carried it up to God, and by those first-fruits, hath made the whole stock to be sanctified. And the Father highly esteemed the gift, both for the worthiness of him that offered it up, and for the purity of the offering, so as to receive it with his own hands, and to set it at his right hand. To what Nature was it that God said, Sit thou on my right hand? To the same, to which formerly he had said, dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. This gift went far beyond the loss; Paradise was the place from which we fell; but we were this day carried up to heaven, and mansions are there provided for us, Chrys. in diem. Christ ascended up into heaven in the sight of his Disciples, that they and we might assuredly believe, that we should follow, and not deem it impossible for us body and soul, to be translated thither; Cypr. in diem.
This day hath proper Lessons and Psalms. The First Lesson at Morning Service is Deut. 10. Wherein is recorded Moses going up into the Mount to receive the Law from God, to deliver it to the Jews, a type of Christs ascension into Heaven to send down the new Law, the Law of Faith: For when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men, Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, to publish the new Law to the world, Ephes. 4. 8.
The First Lesson at Even. is 2 Kings 2. Wherein Elias his ascending into Heaven was a type of Christs Ascension, but Christ went far beyond his type in many particulars. Elias went up with a single Chariot, but Christ was attended with thousands, Psal. 68. 17. The Chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of Angels, and the Lord ascending is among them. Elias upon his ascension doubles his Spirit upon Elisha; But Christ gave such an abundance of the holy Spirit to his Disciples upon his Ascension, that they not only were filled with it themselves, but it ran over upon others from them, by laying on of hands they imparted it to others, Acts 8. 17.
We have no proper Second Lessons appointed; but in Edw. 6. Liturgy were appointed, S. John 14. Ephes. 4. both very fit for the day.
Psalms for the Morn. are 8. 15. 21. Psalms. The 8. Psal. begins, O Lord our Governour how excellent is thy name in all the world, thou that has set thy glory above the heavens. This was fulfilled this day. For this day he set his glory above the Heavens, ascending from earthly humility to heavenly glory. This made thy Name wonderful in all the world: For hereby it appears, that thou that didst before descend so low, and wert for a time so vile reputed, art greater than all Principalities and Powers in Heaven and Earth; since some saw, and all men now believe, that thou didst ascend into Heaven, whereby thou hast gotten A name above all names, That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, both of things in Heaven, and earth, Phil. 2. 9, 10.
Psal. 15. Who shall dwell in thy Tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? even he that hath clean hands, &c. shews both how just it was that Christ should ascend and rest upon the holy Hill, the highest Heaven, of which Mount Sion was a type: for he of all others had clean hands and a pure heart, and withal tells us the way which we must walk, viz. the way of righteousness and holiness, if we desire to follow Christ to heaven.
The 21. Psal. is to be understood of Christ. S. Aug. in loc, Ver. 4. Thou gavest him a long life, even for ever and ever, his honour is great in thy salvation. The raising him from death, hath made his honour great, and all the world to believe in him. Glory and great worship shalt thou lay upon him, by setting him at thy right hand in Heaven. The rest of the Psalm is to the same purpose, of Christs absolute triumph over his enemies, which was this day fulfilled, when he led captivity captive.
The Even. Psalms are 24. 68. 108. Psalms. The 24. was sung this day at Christs Ascension, by a Quire of Angels, some going before the Lord Christ, knocking, as it were, at Heaven gates, and singing, Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in: to whom other Angels in Heaven, desirous to know, who this King of glory was, sing the next words, Who is the King of glory? The first Angels, that waited upon our Lord in his Ascension answer, The Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battel, as ye may see by the prisoners that he leads captive in his triumph. Therefore Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that never were yet opened to humane nature, where never man yet entred, S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 20. The other Angels as yet, as it were, amazed at the glory of the triumph, ask again, Who is the King of glory? what Lord is it that is so mighty? His heavenly Guard answer again, The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory; Theodor. in Psal. Then Heaven gates were opened, and our dear Lord entred, and took possession for us, and prepared places for us S. John 14. 2.
The 68. Psal. at the 18. ver. is by the Apostle applyed to the Ascension of Christ, Ephes. 4. 8. Thou hast ascended up on high, and led captivity captive. It is not to be denied, but that it may be applyed to others also, (for the Scripture is full of sense,) as to Moses. For he from the bottom of the Red Sea, went up to the top of Sinai, leading with him the people of Israel, that long had been captive to Pharaoh: and there received gifts, the Law, the Priesthood, but above all, the Ark of the Covenant to be the pledge of Gods presence amongst them: this is the literal sense.
This of Moses, by analogy, doth King David apply to himself, to his going up to mount Sion, and carrying up the Ark thither. For all agree, this Psalm was set upon that occasion. The very beginning of it (Let God arise,) shews as much; the acclamation ever to be used at the Arks removing, Num. 10. 35. This was done immediately upon his conquest of the Iohnsites, whom he had taken captives, what time for the honour of the solemnity, he dealt gifts, bread and wine to the people, 1 Chron. 15. But in the prophetical sense, this Psalm belongs to Christ, to the Testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of all prophesie, Rev. 19. 10. For that was the greatest captivity that ever was led captive; his the highest up-going, higher than Sion or Sinai far: that the most gracious and glorious triumph, when Christ made a shew of Principalities and Powers of Hell, triumphing over them in his own person, Col. 2. 19. which was this days triumph. Bishop Andrews Serm 7. in Pentecost.
In the 108. Psal. The Prophet awakes himself and his Instruments of Musick, to give thanks to God among the people, and among the Nations, for setting himself above the heavens, and his glory above all the earth, which was most litterally fulfilled in his Ascension into Heaven, and sitting down at the right hand of God. It is true, this Psalm is thought to be set upon another occasion, viz. Gods promise of subduing the Ammonites and Idumeans under David, for which, he here vowes his best thanks: yet for all this, it may be, and that principally, meant of Christ and his triumphant Ascension. For God Almighty did so direct the mind of the Prophets, that, that which was spoken by them of other persons and actions, is oft-times more exactly fulfilled in and by Christ. Osee 11. 1. Out of Egypt have I called my Son, was there spoken of the deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt, fulfilled in Christ, S. Matth, 2. 15. What David sayes of himself, I will open my mouth in a payable, was fulfilled by Christ, S. Matth. 13. 35. The 72. Psalm was written for Solomon, as the title shews, but more exactly fulfilled of Christ. Davids complaint or his own misery, Psal. 35. 19. verified in Christ. S. John 15 25. Nay more, (which is worth our observation) some things David speaks of himself, which do not agree to him, but in a figure, which agree to Christ in the letter; as, They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture, Psalm 22. 17, 18. Nay, in the same Psalm, (and sometimes in the same verse) some words will not agree to Christ, as Psal. 69. 5. My faults are not hid from thee: These cannot be spoken of Christ who knew no sin. Some words again most properly belong to Christ, as verse 22. They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.
Thus holy Church hath in the Lessons and Gospel preached to us the Ascension of Christ, in the type and antitype. In the Epistle she teaches us our duty not to stand gazing up to Heaven, wondring at the strangeness of the sight, but to take heed to demean our selves so, as that we may with comfort behold him at his second coming, his coming to judgment, Act. 1. 11. Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? there is other business to be done, fit your selves for another coming, for this same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, even as ye have seen him go into heaven.
In the Collect we are taught to pray, that we, as far as may be, may conform to our Lord in his Ascension, that like as we believe him to have ascended into the Heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell. In the special Psal. and Hymn we adore and bless God for our Saviours glorious Ascension. It is pleasant to behold the rare beauty of the Churches offices, as on others, so on this day, how each part suits the other.
The Gospel to the Lessons, the Epistle to the Gospel, the Collect and Psalms and Hymns, all fitted to the same, and all to the day.
For the Antiquity of this day, See S. Aug. Epist. 118. cited upon Easter day, Epiphan. and Chrys. upon the day.
T. Ascension day.] I do not meet in any of the fathers before St. Augustine’s time, mention of this as of a holy day, yet doubtless it was of as ancient standing as the other four dominical days, for Augustine reckons it amongst those days which toto terrarum orbe observantur, “ now observed all over the world, and which are supposed to have been instituted by the Apostles themselves, or general councils.” A little after St. Augustine, Proclus, archbishop of Constantinople, enumerating the five grand festivals, maketh this the fourth: ἡ τετάρτη τῆς ἡμετέρας ἀπαρχῆς τὴν εἰς οὐρανοὺς : ἄνοδον κηρύσσει: “the fourth,” saith he, ‘declares the ascent into heaven of Him who was our first fruit.” And after all adds, αὑταί εἰσιν ai ἑορταὶ as ἐποίησιν ὁ Κύριος, “these are the solemnities which the Lord hath made.” Now to take off the wonder why there is so little news of it before St. Augustine, it must be considered, that anciently all the interim between Easter and Whit-Sunday was called by the name of Pentecost, and was kept as one entire festival, which moved Tertullian to oppose against the pagans, excerpe singulas nationum solemnitates, et in ordinem texe, Pentecosten implere non possunt, “ gather all the festivals of the Gentiles, and put them together into one sum, the festival of Pentecost will outvie them all.” As Tertullian delivered this for the western, so for the Greek Church, the first council of Antioch, anno 341, speaking of the synods to be yearly assembled, decreeth that the first convene, μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἑβδομάδα τῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ Πάσχα, τῇ τετάρτῃ ἑβδομάδι τῆς Πεντεκοστῆς, “after the third week following Easter, in the fourth week of Pentecost.” And so the canons” denominated from the Apostles limit the first synod, ty τετάρτῃ ἑβδομάδι τῆς Πεντεκοστῆς, “to the fourth week of Pentecost.” And so was the practice of those times, for St. Cyprian’s ides of May, wherein the council he treateth of, Epist. 55, was held, might probably fall upon that very week.
To apply what hath now been said to my present purpose, it may very rationally be supposed that those seven weeks being comprehended under the single denomination of one festival, what other days of sacred account did chance to happen within that time, were the less distinguished, or considered otherwise than as parcels of the great solemnity.
This is called Expectation-week; for now the Apostles were earnestly expecting the fulfilling of that promise of our Lord. If I go away I will send the Comforter to you, S. John 16. 7. The Epistle exhorts to earnest prayer. for the Comforter promised in the Gospel; which the Church performs in the Collect.
THis day the HOLY GHOST came down from heaven upon his Church, as the Epistle tells; according to the promise of the Gospel.
As in a long war it happens; when the war is ended, and peace concluded, Pledges and Hostages are mutually sent, both as tokens of, and securities for, the mutual agreement and peace: so was it betwixt God and Man. After our Lord Jesus had ended the long war betwixt God and Man, and finished the reconciliation, he sent up, or rather he carried up himself, our Hostage, our flesh and nature ennobled by the union with his Divine Person, as a royal pledge to his Father: on the other side, God sent this day his royal Hostage, his holy Spirit, a security for our future peace. 1. S. John 4. 12, 13. Chrys. Hom. 1. in Pentecost. Edit. Savil. tom. 5. The Devil had taken us captive, our Lord Christ undertakes the quarrel, his death was his battel, but then he seem'd to be overcome: but up he got again at his Resurrection; that was his victory; his Ascension was his triumph: and as the ancient custome was for Conquerours to scatter gifts amongst the beholders, especially on the last and great day of the triumph: so does our Lord, in this last day of the Feast, the Conclusion of his triumph, he doth, as it were, make the Conduits run with Wine; he poured out his Spirit so upon all flesh, that some mockers said, they were full of new wine, Acts 2. 12. He casts abroad his new wine, new gifts and graces of the world, giving to some the word of wisdome, to others the gift of knowledge, to others faith, to others the gift of healing, to others the working of miracles, to others prophesie, to others discerning of spirits, to others divers kinds of tongue, to others the interpretations of tongues: all these worketh one and the same spirit, the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12. 4.) whom the Lord Christ as he promised, sent down this day with these gifts, in honour of whom and his gifts we keep this day holy.
This time was also appointed of old for solemn baptism. The reason was: 1. Because this day the Apostles were baptized with the holy Ghost and fire, Acts 2. 3. 2. Because this day three thousand were baptized by the Apostle, Acts 2. 40. In memory of which, the Church ever after held a solemn custome of baptizing at this Feast. Gratian. de Consec. Dis. 3. c. 13.
This day is called Pentecost, because it is fifty days betwixt the true Passeover and Whitsunday. As there were fifty days from the Jews Passeover to the giving of the Law to Moses in Mount Sina, which Law was written with the finger of God: (for from the 14. day of the first month, the day of the Passeover, to the third day of the third month, the day of the Laws giving, Exod. 19. are fifty days) so from the true Passeover which was celebrated, when Christ was offered up for us, are fifty days to this time when the Holy Ghost came down upon the Church, to write the new Law of Charity in their hearts. Upon this meditation S. Aug. breaks out thus, Who would not prefer the joy and pleasure of these mysteries, before all Empires of the world? Do you not see, that as the two Seraphins cry one to another, holy, holy, holy, Esay. 6. 3. So the two Testaments Old and New faithfully agreeing, convince the sacred truth of God? S. Aug. Ep. 119. Note that we must not count the fifty days from the very day of the Passeover, but from the Sunday following; and so God directed the Jews Lev. 23. 15. speaking of their Pentecost or Feasts of Weeks, And ye shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath, from that day seven weeks shall be compleat.
It is also called Whitsunday from the glorious Light of Heaven which was then sent down upon the Earth, from the Father of Lights: so many tongues, so many Lights, which kindled such a light in the world on this day, as never shall be put out to the worlds end: as also because the new baptized, which were many at that Feast (Whitsunday and Easter, being the two solemn times of baptism) and of old called Illuminati, the Enlightned, Heb. 6. 6. from the spiritual light they received in baptism, were then cloathed in white garments, as types both of that spiritual whiteness and purity of soul, which they received in baptism, and were carefully to preserve all their life after, As also of their joy for being made then by baptism members of Christ, Children of God, and Heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. White is the colour of joy, says Eccles. 9. 8. Let thy garments be always white, for God now accepts of thy works. S. Cyril in his 4. Cat. myst. alluding to this ancient custome of the new baptized, of putting off their old garments, and clothing themselves in pure white, hath words to this effect.
This white clothing is to mind you, that you should always hereafter go in white. I speak not this to perswade you always to wear white clothes, but that you should ever be clothed with spiritual white, brightness and purity o soul. that so you may say with divine Esay 61. 10. I will greatly rejoyce in the Lord, for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. Of which robe of righteousness and garment of salvation, the white vestment was a resemblance. Apoc. 19. 8. And to her was granted, that he should be arrayed in fine linnen, clean and white, for fine linen is the righteousness of the Saints.
Whitsunday then is as much as Dominica in albis, the Sunday in white. The Greeks for the same reason call Easter Κυριακὴ λαμπρὰ, the Bright Sunday, because then also the new baptized wore white. But the Latins call neither of these days from thence, but give them their names from the Resurrection, and Pentecost, and the Octave of Easter or Low Sunday is by them called Dominica in Albis, as is above said.
This Holy day hath Proper Lessons and Psalms. The Second Lessons are plain. The Morning first Lesson Deut. 16. gives us the Law of the Jews Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, which was a type of ours.
The Evening first Lesson Wisd. 1. is fit for this day. For it treats of the holy Spirit, ver. 5, 6. how it fills the world, ver. 7. which was most exactly fulfilled this day, in which they were all filled with the holy Ghost, Acts 2.
The Psalms for the morning 45. 47. are very proper to the day. The beginning of the 45. is concerning the Birth of Christ, and therefore used upon Christmas-day; but the latter part is concerning the calling of the Gentiles, ver. 10, 11. and the glory of the Church the King of Heavens Daughter, v. 14. Who is all glorious within, through the heavenly gifts and graces of the holy Ghost, sent down this day; which glorious gifts miraculously poured upon the Church brought in the Gentiles to the Christian faith, ver. 15. The Virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company; and shall be brought unto thee. For which all the people shall (as holy Church directs us to do this day) give thanks unto thee, verse 18. In holy Davids Psalms, as we do, so Theodoret in Psal. I will remember thy Name from one generation to another, therefore shall the people give thanks unto thee, world without end: That is, all people to the worlds end shall praise God for these blessings upon the Church with those Psalms which I compose, and so, (though I be dead long before) yet in my Psalms sung by them, I will remember thy Name from one generation to another.
The 47. Psalm is a song of praise for the conversion of the Gentiles, by the Gospel published this day in all Languages, Acts 2. for which the Prophet invites them to active praises, ver. 1. O clap your hands together all ye people; O sing unto God with the voice of melody, for God is gone up, in jubilo, with a merry noise, ver. 5. That was upon Ascension day. And now he is set upon his holy and royal seat, he reigns over the heathen, makes the Princes of the people joyn in one body unto the people of the God of Abraham, brings the Gentiles in to the Jews, and makes one Church of both; and that by the Gospel of the kingdom, published this day, to all Nations, and so, that was done this day, for which this Psalm gives thanks.
Evening Ps. are 104, 145. These two are thankful Commemorations of the various gifts of God the Holy Ghost, who then gave temporal, this day, spiritual gifts, which spiritual gifts of this day were shadowed out by those temporal, and all come from the same spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 4. to whom this Feast is held sacred: So that in blessing the Author of them, we bless the Author of these, the holy Spirit from whom these divers gifts. Some part of the 104. is more particularly appliable to this Feast. He maketh the clouds his chariots, that was upon Ascension day, when he went up to Heaven in a cloud, Acts 1. 9. ver. 5. Then follows ver. 30. Emittis spiritum, Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, and they shall be made, thou shalt renew the face of the earth, which is proper to this day; for this day the Holy Spirit was sent, and renewed the face of the Earth, with new Creatures, new Men of new hearts and new tongues, Acts 2. Old things passed away, and all things are become new.
The same Harmony of Epistle, Gospel and Collect, and Lessons and Psal. that we have observed upon Christmas and Easter, and Ascension, may with pleasure be meditated upon this day.
The same Ancients testifie the Antiquity of this Feast, that gave in evidence for Easter.
V. Whit-Sunday.] This day is called Pentecost, being the fiftieth day from Easter; a day observed by the very Apostles themselves, Acts ii. 1. And all the reason in the world it should be celebrated as one of the highest festivals ; it was the day whereon the law was given on mount Sinai, called therefore “ the feast of the law,” and the day whereon the Gospel was given in Sion by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and therefore venerable upon either account, but most venerable upon the last.
This day was in the Jewish practice one of their great panegyries or generals, as I may call them, to which there was an universal confluence from all nations ; and in the like manner was it observed by the Christian Church, as a great rendezvous for persons resorting to be baptized. This day is called Whit-Sunday, by reason, say some, of the white garments then put on by them who were at this time baptized ; the probability whereof, as I cannot absolutely deny, so it may be free for me to offer mine own conjecture, differmg from it, and then I would rather derive it from the French word huit, which signifieth eight, and then Whit-Sunday will be huit Sunday, the eighth Sunday accounting from Easter, which all men will yield to be the first; and that this conceit may pass the better, let me further it not only with an argument drawn from the consonancy of the word huit and whit, which sound exactly like, but also from another word of the same denomination, used in our law, I mean utis, which is no more but the huitis, in Latin the octavo of the anteceding feast.
This week was not entirely a festival, like that of Easter, the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday beimg observed as fasts and days of humiliation and supplication for a blessing upon the work of ordination, which was usually on the next Sabbath, imitating therein the Apostolic practice, mentioned Acts xiii. ὃ: “And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them.” This custom of fasting this week is as ancient as Athanasius: in hebdomade post sacram Pentecosten, populus completis jejuniis ad orandum abiit: 1. 6. “in the week following sacred Whit-Sunday, the people, having ended their fasts, went to prayer.”
THe Epistles for both relate not only to the sending of the Holy Ghost, but also to Baptism, which the Church takes often occasion to remember us of by her Readings and Usages, and would have us improve them all towards most useful Meditations. This is one of the four Ember-weeks; of which see above, after the first Sunday in Lent, p. 149.