Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Perhaps the best modern retelling of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is found in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You probably know the basics. The White Witch has, apparently, successfully negotiated with Aslan, the great Lion who is the true King of Narnia. Aslan will “stand in” for the traitor Edmund, die in Edmund’s place. He lies shaved and bound on the Stone Table while the Witch taunts him: “And how, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.” And with that, Aslan is slain.
The Witch’s taunt reminds me of the religious leaders who looked up at the crucified Christ and mocked him. “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). Jesus, despair and die.
But death does not get the last word. The Stone Table cracks apart, and Aslan rises. Two children from our world, Susan and Lucy, had witnessed Aslan’s final moments, and now they encounter him – alive, filled with joy. “’Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!’ cried Lucy and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses. ‘But what does it all mean?’ asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. ‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”’”
Years after Jesus’ resurrection, St. John the Divine – now in exile on the prison island of Patmos – reports a vision of the Risen Lord. Jesus tells him, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Death itself is working backwards. The One who died in our stead now lives forever, and invites us to share in his victory over death.
I write this on the cusp on Holy Week and Easter, the story that stands at the heart of the Christian faith. The Book of Common Prayer outlines a wonderfully rich re-telling of the story, from Palm Sunday to the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter to the Great Fifty Days in which we bask in the glow of the resurrection. Our role is akin to Susan and Lucy’s. Like them, we are awestruck witnesses of the events around which all history from the dawn of time revolve, grateful recipients of the gift of new life.
May your celebration of the holiest week of the year draw you more deeply into the heart of Jesus himself!
Yours in Christ,