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Answered the children with troubled and faltering voice, but the old man's
Glances of kindness encouraged them soon, and the doctrines eternal
Flowed, like the waters of fountains, so clear from lips unpolluted.
Each time the answer was closed, and as oft as they named the Redeemer,
Lowly louted the boys, and lowly the maidens all courtesied.
Friendly the Teacher stood, like an angel of light there among them,
And to the children explained the holy, the highest, in few words,
Thorough, yet simple and clear, for sublimity always is simple,
Both in sermon and song, a child can seize on its meaning.
E'en as the green-growing bud unfolds when Springtide approaches,
Leaf by leaf puts forth, and warmed, by the radiant sunshine,
Blushes with purple and gold, till at last the perfected blossoin
Opens its odorous chalice, and rocks with its crown in the breezes,
So was unfolded here the Christian lore of salvation,
Line by line from the soul of childhood. The fathers and mothers
Stood behind them in tears, and were glad at the well-worded answer.
Now went the old man up to the altar ; ---- and straightway transfigured
(So did it seem unto me) was then the affectionate Teacher.
Like the Lord's Prophet sublime, and awful as Death and as Judgment
Stood he, the God-commissioned, the soul-searcher, earthward descending.
Glances, sharp as a sword, into hearts that to him were transparent
Shot he; his voice was deep, was low like the thunder afar off.
So on a sudden transfigured he stood there, he spake and he questioned.
“This is the faith of the Fathers, the faith the Apostles delivered, This is moreover the faith whereunto I baptized you, while still ye Lay on your mothers' breasts, and nearer the portals of heaven. Slumbering received you then the Holy Church in its bosom ; Wakened from sleep are ye now, and the light in its radiant splendor Downward rains from the heaven ;-to-day on the threshold of childhood Kindly she frees you again, to examine and make your election, For she knows naught of compulsion, and only conviction desireth. This is the hour of your trial, the turning-point of existence, Seed for the coming days ; without revocation departeth Now from your lips the confession ; Bethink ye, before ye make answer! Think not, 0 think not with guile to deceive the questioning Teacher. Sharp is his eye to-day, and a curse ever rests upon falsehood. Enter not with a lie on Life's journey ; the multitude hears you, Brothers and sisters and parents, what dear upon earth is and holy Standeth before your sight as a witness; the Judge everlasting Looks from the sun down upon you, and angels in waiting beside him Grave your confession in letters of fire upon tablets eternal. Thus, then, - believe ye in God, in the Father who this world created ? Him who redeemed it, the Son, and the Spirit where both are united ? Will ye promise me here, (a holy promise !) to cherish God more than all things earthly, and every man as a brother ? Will ye promise me here, to confirm your faith by your living, Th' heavenly faith of affection ! to hope, to forgive, and to suffer, Be what it may your condition, and walk before God in uprightness ? Will ye promise me this before God and man ?” — With a clear voice Answered the young men Yes! and Yes! with lips softly-breathing Answered the maidens eke. Then dissolved from the brow of the Teacher Clouds with the lightnings therein, and he spake in accents more gentle, Soft as the evening's breath, as harps by Babylon's rivers.
“Hail, then, hail to you all! To the heirdom of heaven be ye welcome ! Children no more from this day, but by covenant brothers and sisters !
Yet, — for what reason not children? Of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Here upon earth an assemblage of children, in heaven one Father,
Ruling them all as his household, - forgiving in turn and chastising,
That is of human life a picture, as Scripture has taught us.
Blest are the pure before God! Upon purity and upon virtue
Resteth the Christian Faith ; she herself from on high is descended.
Strong as a man and pure as a child, is the sum of the doctrine,
Which the Divine One taught, and suffered and died on the cross for.
O, as ye wander this day from childhood's sacred asylum
Downward and ever downward, and deeper in Age's chill valley,
O, how soon will ye come, too soon ! — and long to turn backward
Up to its hill-tops again, to the sun-illumined, where Judgment
Stood like a father before you, and Pardon, clad like a mother,
Gave you her hand to kiss, and the loving heart was forgiven,
Life was a play and your hands grasped after the roses of heaven !
Seventy years have I lived already ; the Father eternal
Gave me gladness and care ; but the loveliest hours of existence,
When I have steadfastly gazed in their eyes, I have instantly known them,
Known them all again ; – they were my childhood's acquaintance.
Therefore take from henceforth, as guides in the paths of existence,
Prayer, with her eyes raised to heaven, and Innocence, bride of man's childhood.
Innocence, child beloved, is a guest from the world of the blessed,
Beautiful, and in her hand a lily ; on life's roaring billows
Swings she in safety, she heedeth them not, in the ship she is sleeping.
Calmly she gazes around in the turmoil of men ; in the desert
Angels descend and minister unto her ; she herself knoweth
Naught of her glorious attendance ; but follows faithful and humble,
Follows so long as she may her friend ; O do not reject her,
For she cometh from God and she holdeth the keys of the heavens.
Prayer is Innocence' friend ; and willingly flieth incessant
'Twixt the earth and the sky, the carrier-pigeon of heaven.
Son of Eternity, fettered in Time, and an exile, the Spirit
Tugs at his chains evermore, and struggles like flame ever upward.
Still he recalls with emotion his Father's manifold mansions,
Thinks of the land of his fathers, where blossomed more freshly the flowerets,
Shone a more beautiful sun, and he played with the winged angels.
Then grows the earth too narrow, too close ; and homesick for heaven
Longs the wanderer again ; and the Spirit's longings are worship;
Worship is called his most beautiful hour, and its tongue is entreaty.
Ah! when the infinite burden of life descendeth upon us,
Crushes to earth our hope, and, under the earth, in the graveyard,
Then it is good to pray unto God ; for his sorrowing children
Turns he ne'er from his door, but he heals and helps and consoles them.
Yet is it better to pray when all things are prosperous with us,
Pray in fortunate days, for life's most beautiful Fortune
Kneels before the Eternal's throne ; and with hands interfolded,
Praises thankful and moved the only giver of blessings.
Or do ye know, ye children, one blessing that comes not from Heaven ?
What has mankind forsooth, the poor ! that it has not received ?
Therefore, fall in the dust and pray! The seraphs adoring
Cover with pinions six their face in the glory of him who
Hung his masonry pendent on naught, when the world he created.
Earth declareth his might, and the firmament utters his glory.
Races blossom and die, and stars fall downward from heaven,
Downward like withered leaves ; at the last stroke of midnight, millenniums
Lay themselves down at his feet, and he sees them, but counts them as nothing.
Who shall stand in his presence ? The wrath of the judge is terrific,
Casting the insolent down at a glance. When he speaks in his anger
Hillocks skip like the kid, and mountains leap like the roebuck.
Yet, - why are ye afraid, ye children? This awful avenger,
Ah! is a merciful God! God's voice was not in the earthquake,
Not in the fire, nor the storm, but it was in the whispering breezes.
Love is the root of creation ; God's essence ; worlds without number
Lie in his bosom like children ; he made them for this purpose only.
Only to love and to be loved again, he breathed forth his spirit
Into the slumbering dust, and upright standing, it laid its
Hand on its heart, and felt it was warm with a flame out of heaven.
Quench, O quench not that flame! It is the breath of your being.
Love is life, but hatred is death. Not father, nor mother
Loved you, as God has loved you ; for 't was that you may be happy
Gave he his only Son. When he bowed down his head in the death-hour
Solemnized Love its triumph; the sacrifice then was completed.
Lo! then was rent on a sudden the veil of the temple, dividing
Earth and heaven apart, and the dead from their sepulchres rising
Whispered with pallid lips and low in the ears of each other
Th' answer, but dreamed of before, to creation's enigma, — Atonement !
Depths of Love are Atonement's depths, for Love is Atonement.
Therefore, child of mortality, love thou the merciful Father ;
Wish what the Holy One wishes, and not from fear, but affection ;
Fear is the virtue of slaves ; but the heart that loveth is willing ;
Perfect was before God, and perfect is Love, and Love only.
Lovest thou God as thou oughtest, then lovest thou likewise thy brethren ;
One is the sun in heaven, and one, only one, is Love also.
Bears not each human figure the godlike stamp on his forehead ?
Readest thou not in his face thine origin? Is he not sailing
Lost like thyself on an ocean unknown, and is he not guided
By the same stars that guide thee? Why shouldst thou hate then thy brother?
Hateth he thee, forgive! For 't is sweet to stammer one letter
Of the Eternal's language ; - on earth it is called Forgiveness !
Knowest thou Him, who forgave, with the crown of thorns on his temples ?
Earnestly prayed for his foes, for his murderers ? Say, dost thou know him ?
Ah ! thou confessest his name, so follow likewise his example,
Think of thy brother no ill, but throw a veil over his failings,
Guide the erring aright ; for the good, the heavenly shepherd
Took the lost lamb in his arms, and bore it back to its mother.
This is the fruit of Love, and it is by its fruits that we know it.
Love is the creature's welfare, with God ; but Love among mortals
Is but an endless sigh! He longs, and endures, and stands waiting,
Suffers and yet rejoices, and smiles with tears on his eyelids.
Hope, so is called upon earth, his recompense, – Hope, the befriending,
Does what she can, for she points evermore up to heaven, and faithful
Plunges her anchor's peak in the depths of the grave, and beneath it
Paints a more beautiful world, a dim, but a sweet play of shadows !
Races, better than we, have leaned on her wavering promise,
Having naught else but Hope. Then praise we our Father in heaven,
Him, who has given us more ; for to us has Hope been transfigured,
Groping no longer in night; she is Faith, she is living assurance.
Faith is enlightened Hope ; she is light, is the eye of affection,
Dreams of the longing interprets, and carves their visions in marble.
Faith is the sun of life ; and her countenance shines like the Hebrew's,
For she has looked upon God; the heaven on its stable foundation
Draws she with chains down to earth, and the New Jerusalem sinketh
Splendid with porta ls twelve in golden vapors descending.
There enraptured she wanders, and looks at the figures majestic,
Fears not the winged crowd, in the midst of them all is her homestead.
Therefore love and believe ; for works will follow spontaneous
Even as day does the sun ; the Right from the Good is an offspring,
Love in a bodily shape ; and Christian works are no more than
Animate Love and faith, as flowers are the animate Springtide.
Works do follow us all unto God; there stand and bear witness
Not what they seemed, — but what they were only. Blessed is he who
Hears their confession secure ; they are mute upon earth until death's hand
Opens the mouth of the silent. Ye children, does Death e'er alarm you ?
Death is the brother of Love, twin-brother is he, and is only
More austere to behold. With a kiss upon lips that are fading
Takes he the soul and departs, and, rocked in the arms of affection,
Places the ransomed child, new born, 'fore the face of its father.
Sounds of his coming already I hear, — see dimly his pinions,
Swart as the night, but with stars strewn upon them! I fear not before him.
Death is only release, and in mercy is mute. On his bosom
Freer breathes, in its coolness, my breast; and face to face standing
Look I on God as he is, a sun unpolluted by vapors ;
Look on the light of the ages I loved, the spirits majestic,
Nobler, better than I ; they stand by the throne all transfigured,
Vested in white, and with harps of gold, and are singing an anthem,
Writ in the climate of heaven, in the language spoken by angels.
You, in like manner, ye children beloved, he one day shall gather,
Never forgets he the weary ; – then welcome, ye loved ones, hereafter !
Meanwhile forget not the keeping of vows, forget not the promise,
Wander from holiness onward to holiness; earth shall ye heed not ;
Earth is but dust and heaven is light; I have pledged you to heaven.
God of the universe, hear me ! thou fountain of Love everlasting,
Hark to the voice of thy servant ! I send up my prayer to thy heaven !
Let me hereafter not miss at thy throne one spirit of all these,
Whom thou hast given me here! I have loved them all like a father.
May they bear witness for me, that I taught them the way of salvation,
Faithful, so far as I knew, of thy word ; again may they know me,
Fall on their Teacher's breast, and before thy face may I place them,
Pure as they now are, but only more tried, and exclaiming with gladness,
Father, lo ! I am here, and the children, whom thou hast given me !"
Weeping he spake in these words ; and now at the beck of the old man
Knee against knee they knitted a wreath round the altar's enclosure.
Kneeling he read then the prayers of the consecration, and softly
With him the children read ; at the close, with tremulous accents,
Asked he the peace of Heaven, a benediction upon
Now should have ended his task for the day ; the following Sunday
Was for the young appointed to eat of the Lord's holy Supper.
Sudden, as struck from the clouds, stood the Teacher silent and laid his
Hand on his forehead, and cast his looks upward ; while thoughts high and holy
Flew through the midst of his soul, and his eyes glanced with wonderful bright
“On the next Sunday, who knows ! perhaps I shall rest in the graveyard !
Some one perhaps of yourselves, a lily broken untimely,
Bow down his head to the earth ; why delay I ? the hour is accomplished.
Warm is the heart ; – I will ! for to-day grows the harvest of heaven.
What I began accomplish I now ; what failing therein is
1, the old man, will answer to God and the reverend father.
Say to me only, ye children, ye denizens new-come in heaven,
Are ye ready this day to eat of the breal of Atonement ?
What it denoteth, that know ye full well, I have told it you often.
Of the new covenant symbol it is, of Atonement a token,
Stablished between earth and heaven. Man by his sins and transgressions
Far has wandered from God, from his essence. ’T was in the beginning
Fast by the Tree of Knowledge he fell, and it hangs its crown o'er the
Fall to this day ; in the Thought is the Fall; in the Heart the Atonement.
Infinite is the fall, – the Atonement infinite likewise.
See ! behind me, as far as the old man remembers, and forward,
Far as Hope in her flight can reach with her wearied pinions,
Sin and Atonement incessant go through the lifetime of mortals.
Sin is brought forth full-grown ; but Atonement sleeps in our bosoms
Still as the cradled babe ; and dreams of heaven and of angels,
Cannot awake to sensation ; is like the tones in the harp's strings,
Spirits imprisoned, that wait evermore the deliverer's finger.
Therefore, ye children beloved, descended the Prince of Atonement,
Woke the slumberer from sleep, and she stands now with eyes all resplendent.
Bright as the vault of the sky, and battles with Sin and o'ercomes her.
Downward to earth he came and, transfigured, thence reascended,
Not from the heart in like wise, for there he still lives in the Spirit,
Loves and atones evermore. So long as Time is, is Atonement.
Therefore with reverence take this day her visible token.
Tokens are dead if the things live not. The light everlasting
Unto the blind is not, but is born of the eye that has vision.
Neither in bread nor in wine, but in the heart that is hallowed
Lieth forgiveness enshrined ; the intention alone of amendment
Fruits of the earth ennobles to heavenly things, and removes all
Sin and the guerdon of sin. Only Love with his arms wide extended,
Penitence weeping and praying; the Will that is tried, and whose gold flows
Purified forth from the flames; in a word, mankind by Atonement
Breaketh Atonement's bread, and drinketh Atonement's wine-cup.
But he who cometh up hither, unworthy, with hate in his bosom,
Scoffing at men and at God, is guilty of Christ's blessed body,
And the Redeemer's blood! To himself he eateth and drinketh
Death and doom! And from this, preserve us, thou heavenly Father!
Are ye ready, ye children, to eat of the bread of Atonement ?”
Thus with emotion he asked, and together answered the children,
“Yes !” with deep sobs interrupted. Then read he the due supplications,
Read the Form of Communion, and in chimed the organ and anthem :
“O Holy Lamb of God, who takest away our transgressions,
Hear us? give us thy peace ! have mercy, have mercy upon us !"
Th' old man, with trembling hand, and heavenly pearls on his eyelids,
Filled now the chalice and paten, and dealt round the mystical symbols.
0, then seemed it to me as if God, with the broad eye of midday,
Clearer looked in at the windows, and all the trees in the churchyard
Bowed down their summits of green, and the grass on the graves 'gan to shiver.
But in the children (I noted it well; I knew it) there ran a
Tremor of holy rapture along through their ice-cold members.
Decked like an altar before them, there stood the green earth, and above it
Heaven opened itself, as of old before Stephen ; they saw there
Radiant in glory the Father, and on his right hand the Redeemer.
Under them hear they the clang of harpstrings, and angels from gold clouds
Beckon to them like brothers, and fan with their pinions of purple.
Closed was the Teacher's task, and with heaven in their hearts and their faces,
Up rose the children all, and each bowed him, weeping full sorely,
Downward to kiss that reverend hand, but all of them pressed he
Moved to his bosom, and laid, with a prayer, his hands full of blessings,
Now on the holy breast, and now on the innocent tresses.