Saturday, November 5, 2011

For All the Narnian Saints

With the Feast of All Saints (observed) approaching a sneaking suspicion crawled into my mind. It happened, of all things, while listening to the audio version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. What of saints and Narnia? Could such a thing be said of Lewis's magical world of Narnia? After a good deal of thought and paging through some of my favorite sections, both in Voyage and in The Last Battle, I am convinced they do exist, that is saints in Narnia. At least the Old Narnians in Prince Caspian were convinced, which is enough to convince me. After generations of persecution under foreign kings (the Telmarines), the Old Narnians - a faithful remnant - still looked to Aslan for rescue and believed in the "old tales" of the high kings and queens, the Pevensie children of  Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. These children, among the others, were the saints of old. Similar to the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 and 12. What's more, these Old Narnians had good reason to believe they would receive help them as did the saints of old, precisely on the basis of who Aslan is and how he works in Narnia. Or, to say it another way, the Narnians always did things "by the Lion's mane." For in Aslan they live and move and have their being. This is a constant theme throughout the books, from the foundation of Narnia (Magicians Nephew) to the beginning of the end of the beginning in The Last Battle.

And I believe that's not the only thing in which saints in that world look a lot like (although not perfectly alike, for otherwise it would be the real thing instead of the shadowlands) saints in this world. That is to say, the saints in heaven and on earth are one. One Church. One song. One faith. One Baptism. One Lord and Savior of us all. It is not that different in Narnia after all. One Lion. One hope. One Emperor over the sea. One Aslan's country.

All over the Scriptures one finds this striking, yet delightful paradox, that there are saints below and saints above and the thing that unites them, or rather the One that unites them, is Christ Crucified, the Lamb slain now living. The only difference between them and you is that they have already passed through death and you must still abide in it. Your day will come. Your sins will end. Your sorrow will flee. But even now, like them, you are blessed: Jesus, your Holy Lamb, is in your midst. He gives all saints their life and all saints find their life in Him, whether in heaven or on earth. So it goes in the great hymn for the festival:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
This hymn beautifully portrays what the theologians call this Scriptural paradox: the church militant and the church triumphant: "We feebly struggle; they in glory shine."The one, holy, catholic (yes, that's not a bad word) and apostolic church. Saints in heaven and on earth united by Christ, in Christ and for his sake. We are gathered around the Lamb and his Table, much like the children at the end of the world in Dawn Treader.

The children got out of the boat and waded - not towards the wave but southward with the wall of water on the left...they never felt tired. The water was warm and all the time it got shallower. At last they were on dry sand, and then on grass - a huge plain of very fine short grass, almost level with the Silver Sea and spreading in every direction without so much as a molehill...Between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagle's eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb.
"Come and have breakfast," said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
"Please, Lamb," said Lucy, "is this the way to Aslan's country?
"Not for you," said the Lamb. "For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world."
And perhaps there is no better example of this saintliness in Narnia than the valiant mouse, Reepicheep, who embodies this militant/triumphant paradox most nobly. In the early pages of the adventure, we find Reepicheep longing for Aslan's country, yearning for his "heavenly Jerusalem." For Reepicheep had a higher hope:

"As high as my spirit," said he. "Though perhaps as small as my stature. Why should we not come to the very eastern end of the world? And what might we find there? I expect to find Aslan's own country. It is always from the east, across the sea, that the great Lion comes to us."
"I say, that is an idea," said Edmund in an awed voice.
"But do you think," said Lucy, "Aslan's country would be that sort of country - I mean, the sort you could ever sail to?"
"I do not know, Madam," said Reepicheep. "But there is this. When I was in my cradle, a wood woman, a Dryad, spoke this verse over me:
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow ever sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all that you seek,
There is the utter east.
"I do not know what it means. But the spell of it has been on me all my life."

And though Reepicheep did not know at the beginning of his adventure, he would soon find out. As they approach the wave at the end of the world, Reepicheep rides his miniature boat over the wave. " where I go on alone." They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or happened before. They helped him lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword (soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest). "I shall need it no more," he said. And he flung it far away across the lilied sea. Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye, trying to be sad for their sakes; but he was quivering with happiness.

You can almost hear Reepicheep singing as he rides the wave into Aslan's country:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But that was not the end of Reepicheep. No, he comes back at the end in The Last Battle. As Tirian and the others enter the stable that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, they come to a garden of the same nature. And out of the gates came walking a Talking Mouse: "welcome, in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in." That's the way of things with God's saints. They are always pointing us to Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, whether in heaven or on earth. You too will see the faithful departed again. And it will be better than you could have ever imagined.

A blessed All Saints Day to you all as we Behold a host arrayed in Jesus, in heaven and on earth, gathered around the Lamb's high feast.

          O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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