Easter ought to leave in every Christian heart—new inspirations, a new uplift, new revealing of hope. It ought to be easier for us to live nobly and victoriously after we have enjoyed another Easter with its great lessons. A wave of comfort should roll over the world, as the day bears everywhere its news of resurrection. Death has been conquered. A grave is no longer a hopelessly sealed prison—its doors have been broken. This is the message which Easter carries to every home of sorrow, to every lonely, bereft heart.
But that is not the whole meaning of the Easter lesson. Perhaps we narrow it too much. We keep its comfort for the days when death is in our home, when we are standing beside the graves of our loved ones. Blessed is its message then! It tells us that what to our blinded eyes seems death—is life; and that the grave is but a little chamber of peace where our dear godly one shall sleep until the morning.
But the lesson reaches out and covers all life. It sheds a glory over every sorrow. It whispers hope in every experience of loss. It tells of victory, not only over death—but over everything in which men seem to suffer defeat, over all grief, pain, and trial. Jesus himself stated the great principle of the resurrection victory when he said, “Except a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies—it abides by itself alone; but if it dies—it bears much fruit.” The dropping of the grain into the earth, to perish there, is not misfortune, not the wasting, the losing, the perishing, of the grain; it is but the way by which it reaches its full development and comes to its greatest fruitfulness.
The little parable had its first interpretation in the death of Christ himself. Dying would be no misfortune for him; it was but the way to the higher, larger life into which it would introduce him. He was standing then face to face with the problem of his cross. It certainly seemed a terrible waste of precious life, that was demanded. Would it not be better for him to avoid the sacrifice and live on, seeking refuge, perhaps, in another land? Quickly came the answer. The grain of wheat might be withheld from the sowing—but it would be only one clean, whole, shining grain then—without any increase, without any unfolding of its wondrous secret of life and fruitfulness. The only way for that blessed life to reach its full beauty, and for its mystery of good and glory to be wrought out—was for it to accept the cross. “If it dies—it bears much fruit.”
It is easy to understand how this came true in Christ’s life after he arose. No doubt his friends grieved over his dying, thinking it a terrible mistake. If only he had lived on to old age, continuing his ministry of love through the years—what blessings he would have left in the world! But his death in the blackness of crucifixion, had quenched the light of his holy life. That was the end. What a waste! But we know how mistaken were all these grievings and regrettings of love. If Jesus had withheld himself from the cross—there would have been one beautiful life prolonged for a few years more of holy teaching and of loving ministry. But he gave his life—the grain of wheat fell into the ground and died—and we see the harvest today in Christianity, with all its blessings.
While this great law received its highest illustration in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is also the law of all spiritual life. Just after he had spoken his parable of the grain of wheat, the Master added, “He who loves his life—shall lose it; and he who hates his life in this world—shall keep it unto life eternal.” Thus the law is made to apply to all men and to all experiences. The way to fullness of life—is through death! We may save ourselves from loss and cost and sacrifice, if we will; we may refuse to make the self-denials which love demands of us; we may indulge ourselves, and decline to do the things for others which we are called to do, and which would require toil and pain. It will seem that we are saving our life—but really we are losing it. The way to our best in character and in fruitfulness, is through death. We must die—to live. We must lose—to gain.
This is the great lesson of Christian life. It is not one which applies only to death and the hope of immortality: it applies to all life’s experiences. It does not come in merely once a year, with its brightness and its joy; it is a lesson for every day, and it has its inspiration for us in every phase of living. We are continually coming up to graves in which we must lay away some hope, some treasure, some joy—but from which the thing laid away, rises again in newness of life and beauty.
Every call for self-denial is such a grave. We come to a point where the law of love demands that we give up a pleasure on which we had set our heart. If we are not ready for the sacrifice, if we cannot make it—the grain of wheat abides alone, with no increase, no fruit. But if we, in quiet love and faith, do the hard duty, accept the self-denial; render the costly service—the golden grain falls out of our hand into the earth, and dies. Yet it does not perish. It lives again, springing up from its burial in new and richer life. We lost our coveted ease, or our cherished possession, we gave up our pleasure—and spent our strength in helping another; we forewent our evening’s rest—and hastened out into the storm to do good—but we have a spiritual blessing whose value to us—far surpasses the little ease, comfort, enjoyment, or rest—which we gave up and buried away in our garden sepulcher.
Every call to a hard or costly duty—is a seed. It lies in our hand—what shall we do with it? Shall we keep our little ease, our piece of money, our pleasure, our quiet hour? Or shall we let it fall into the ground and die? Some one puts it thus: “I was given a seed to keep as mine. When I most loved it, I was bidden to bury it in the ground. I buried it, not knowing that I was sowing.” We know what comes from sowing—the seed springs up into a plant, beautiful, fragrant; or into grain that waves in a golden harvest; or into a tree on which grow luscious fruits.
But it is not easy to drop our seed into the ground. It appears to us like wasting it, losing it, throwing it away. We want to keep it! Well, if we do—it will be nothing more than it is today—a pleasure, a coin, an hour of ease. But if we give it up in answer to love’s call or need—it will grow into a great harvest of blessing.
We do not like the word “duty.” It seems to mean something hard and unpleasant. But when we accept it from our Master and take it up with love in our heart—it is transformed for us into something beautiful. A traveler in South Africa tells of picking up a rough pebble. As he turned it over in his hand—his trained eye saw the gleaming diamond. Just so, duty may have a rough and unattractive crust—but he who accepts it and looks at it through eyes of love—sees it in a service for Christ which will yield the heavenly treasure of peace and joy.
This is the law of unselfish living. We are apt to pity those who are called to deny themselves for the sake of others—but every call to self-denial is a call to a new enrichment of our own life—as well as to a new service of love which shall do good to others. The lower is to be sacrificed, for the sake of obtaining the higher. As in the grain of wheat is hidden, a secret of value and growth which can be realized only through the dying of the grain in the earth; just so, in every fragment of human happiness and comfort, there is covered up a secret of blessing and of good, which can be brought out only through the losing of it, and the giving it up.
Phillips Brooks has put this truth well in these words: “You are called on to give up a luxury—and you do it. The little piece of comfortable living, is quietly buried away underground. But that is not the last of it. The small indulgence which would have made your bodily life easier for a day or two, or a year or two, undergoes some strange alteration in its burial—and comes out a spiritual quality that blesses and enriches your soul forever and ever. You surrender some ambition that had exercised a proud power over you, in whose train and shadow you had hoped to live with something of its glory cast on you. You send that down into its grave, but that too will not remain there.”
Thus everywhere this truth of the gospel comes to us with its divine revealing. We deceive ourselves, whenever we try to save our own life, keeping it back from hard duty, from costly service, or from sacrifice. The only way to the best and the highest—is through the losing of the lower. The rose leaf must be bruised—to get its fragrance. Love must suffer—to reveal its richest tenderness and beauty.
Life is always double. There is an outer form in which it presents itself to our senses; and there is an inner spirit which is the vital quality. But this inner, spiritual, immortal element—can be found only through the dying of the outer and temporary form. The golden grain must be buried in service or sacrifice of love—that from its grave may rise that which is unseen and eternal!