Sunday, April 24, 2011

Winning

T The Resurrection of our Lord – April 24th, 2011 T
Text: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:11-18
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

            But for poor Mary, on that first Easter, nothing could seem further from the truth.  When the Marys came to the tomb toward dawn that first day of the week (– the 8th day by others’ reckoning –) there was no song of victory, no glorious triumph, not yet – the Hosannas of Palm Sunday were muted by the darkness of Good Friday; the Alleluias were drown out by the sting of fearful tears.  They were on their way to the tomb, the same road we travel.  It’s the same old story.  All that was left to do was weep out their grief at the tomb and devotedly anoint Jesus’ body with spices, one last act of love for the One who had loved them unto death.
Everything’d happened so fast.  The arrest. The trial. The beatings. The jeering.  The whip. The death march.  The spikes. The crucifixion.  What horror.  What agony.
            It appeared that Death – the last enemy - had won the battle; the Pharaoh of Hell had finally shackled his prize slave.  Maybe the crowds were right that Friday afternoon – “he saved others but He can’t save Himself.” 
            Is there anything more real than a cold, miserable cemetery?  What is there to be more sure of than the grave?  Nothing like looking at a headstone to put the fear of God into you.  Nothing more bleak and cheerless.  But they thought Jesus was different.  He healed the blind, cured the lame, raised the dead, loved the outcast.  And now Jesus was crucified, dead and buried.  So there was a body to prepare not a feast to celebrate – not yet.  What sort of Messiah dies?  Where was God in all of that?  And what’re we gonna do about that stone? 
But all the questions, concerns, doubts, fears, worries, tears – are interrupted.  An angel appears.
            A jolting earthquake. A flash of light…Is it the end of the world?  No, actually the beginning.  Let there be light.  Let there be resurrection. Let there be life.  “Do not be afraid.”  The angel rolls the stone away.  But there are no dead men in this tomb.  The only ones dead were the guards, well, not quite dead yet, but stunned.  Wouldn’t you?!  That’s why an angel’s first words are almost always, “Do not be afraid!” 
            “Do not be afraid.  I know that you seek Jesus, the Crucified One.  He is not here.  He is risen, just as He said.”  The angel knows what Mary is just beginning to realize.  The strife is over.  The horse and his rider are thrown into the abyss.  Jesus has won.  Come, see the place where He lay. 
Strange as it may sound the God who died is now alive.  Suffering – then glory.  Good Friday battle - Resurrection feast and victory. You can’t have one without the other. 
             “It was a strange and dreadful fight when Life and Death contended.   “Strange alright…Only in Jesus’ playbook is death victory.  The religions of the world require you to ascend, attain and climb up to God; but this God descends for you.  The gods of this world demand your sacrifice in any hopes of raising anything from the ashes; but this God sacrifices Himself to raise you from the dust of Adam.  The gods of this world are still lying dead in their tombs – mythical or real – it matters not, for this God dies and lives to tell about it.  This God walks out of His tomb as easily as you walk to the fridge for a snack.  This is the God of flesh and blood and history. 
            In Jesus, Life prevails.  Death has lost.  Call it the greatest comeback ever.  A magnificent foolishness thought of only by God Himself.  You can call it divine madness or simply a joyous catastrophe of death and life, heavenly hysteria.  God conquers death by death itself.  Death devoured this Paschal Lamb, Jesus.  But sunk its teeth in too deep, bit off more than he could chew.  Death choked on the Lamb.  And now Death has lost its grip on Jesus forever.  The Last Enemy is destroyed For Jesus died and rose for you.  Christ’s victory over Death is Mary’s victory, your victory over death. 
            What is more certain than grave?  Jesus’ victory over it!  Is there anything more sure than death?  Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.  I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, Death and his rider are thrown into chains forever.  Where is God in all of that?  He is not in His tomb.  He is risen.  Today, all things rest under Jesus’ feet.  He has settled the score once and for all.  Once again He leads His children through water into the promised Land.  A New Exodus through death into life.  Jesus’ hands and feet have shattered the bitter yolk of your slavery.  Satan’s captivity is over.  You are free.  You are redeemed. 
            Jesus’ victory has cosmic proportions.  God has gone down into hell and cut down the nets.  The game is over.  The rafters of heaven shake with Alleluias; the angelic roar is deafening.  The foundations of hell are cracked – everywhere the enemy is in retreat.  Christ has pillaged hell.  Satan is bound and gagged.  Sin is ambushed.  Death is conquered.  Christ shouts into the empty tomb – where is your victory?...is that the best you’ve got?   There is no echo in reponse…Nothing but deathly silence.
            This morning we join Mary and the disciples – not looking into the empty tomb, but out of it.  We hear their song of glorious triumph: We saw Him, touched Him, we ate with Him.  We heard His voice.  He is risen from the dead.
For the sign of Easter is not the empty tomb, or the folded burial clothes or an empty cross – but a body, Jesus’ body – a seed sown in the earth for three days, now sprouts with new life… Jesus steps forth from the tomb wounded, but undefeated, forever scarred by, but alive!  Jesus lives and so do you. 
            It’s not until Mary runs and falls worshipping those eternal scars on Jesus’ feet that she truly believes.  Fear. Doubt. Sin. Death.  The former things are gone. Leave your sins, your fear, your doubt – leave it all behind with Jesus in His tomb.  Your sins are paid for.  Your pain has been endured.  You fear and death have been swallowed up forever.  So, go quickly with Mary to worship at Jesus’ feet.  What else could you do?
             It’s the beginning of every knee and every tongue confessing, holding on for dear life to Jesus’ feet.  The feet that plunged into Jordan’s Baptismal streams for you; the feet that journeyed the wilderness for you; the feet that walked trembling to Calvary to be pierced for you; the feet that walked out of the grave for you.  How beautiful are the feet that bear Good News, for Mary, for the disciples, for you.  There, at the feet of Jesus, Mary finally understood.
            And this Easter day, we run with Mary and the disciples – not to the empty tomb; He’s not here; He is risen – don’t walk, run to the place where Jesus now stands alive and well for you: to the waters of Baptism, where Satan’s chariots lie in ruins and Jesus splashes His resurrection on your forehead.  To His Word, where His resurrection is  preached, sung, shouted into your ears.  To His Altar, Where the Lamb Slain and Risen comes and spreads His Easter victory feast. 
            For the night of mourning is muted with shouts of joy.  Our fearful, grieving tears are drown in Alleluias.  A shameful morning walk that once began in the cool of the Garden now ends with the dawn of the first day of the week – the never-ending day.  Mary, who sat doubtful and afraid, now worships Jesus and can’t help but tell the Good News.  Weep not, o sinner – today is no day for sorrowful tears.  For the Marys found no body to anoint with spices, no cold flesh to warm with their tears.  The tomb was swept clean, ready for occupancy, but not for our God.  The grave could not hold Jesus and neither will it hold you.  Come quickly.  Christ is risen, He is here, just as He promised. 
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Holy Saturday

As Lewis reminds us in Miracles, every good general, every good chess player, takes the strength of his opponent's plan and makes it the pivot of his own plan.  Just ask Custer.  So it is with our Lord Jesus Christ, our "Bobby Fischer" of the grave and our "Patton" over sin death and devil; He is the Supreme Commander of angels, archangels and all the host of heaven, defeating death by death and bringing light and life to immortality through His Gospel.  Consider the following selection from Miracles on the Grand Miracle that leads to Good Friday that leads to the Great Eucatastrophe.


It ought to be noticed at this stage that the Christian doctrine, if accepted, involves a particular vie of Death.  There are two attitudes towards Death which the human mind naturally adopts.  One is the lofty view, which reached its greatest intensity among the Stoics, that Death 'doesn't matter', that it is 'kind nature's signal for retreat', and that we ought to regard it with indifference.  The other is the 'natural' point of view, implicit in nearly all private conversations on the subject, and in much modern thought about the survival of the human species, that Death is the greatest of all evils: Hobbes is perhaps the only philosopher who erected a system on this basis.  The first idea simply negates, the second simply affirms, our instinct for self-preservation; neither throws any new light on Nature, and Christianity countenances neither.  Its doctrine is subtler.  On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the fall, and the last enemy.  Christ shed  tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.  On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it.  We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the fall.  Death is, in fact, what some modern people call 'ambivalent'.  It is Satan's great weapon and also God's great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.


A blessed Easter Vigil to you all.  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

An Easter Vigil Entmoot

In Middle-Earth, some trees do make noise when no one else is around.  There are trees of all kinds, but the most peculiar are the kinds of trees that are mysterious even to elves, such as Legolas.  The Two Towers is where we meet these delightfully peculiar trees, the Ents.  But they are more than trees.  This is no earth day-once-removed ploy.  These are the fabled trees of Fanghorn Forest.  Many tales were told concerning these aged timber, relics of the Elder Days.  The Ents are an important - and yet often neglected part - of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  They make their appearances in the movies well enough.  However, there time on screen is too hasty.  And nothing can be done too hasty if you are an Ent, or wish to understand the Entish way of things. 

And so, the Holy Triduum trek continues tonight with the Vigil of Easter.  It is a service done in the Old Entish way.  What this means, you shall soon behold.  But if you do not have an Easter Vigil at your church, find one that does and demand (in Christian love, of course, wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean?) that your pastor and church begin one next year.  And if you are blessed to have one, by all means, go to the Easter Vigil, the great Entmoot of the church.  Hoo, hum...what is an Entmoot?  Well, let's tune in and find out.  For we live in a world that is all too hasty - and in this regard, we can learn a great deal from the Ents how to celebrate Easter Vigil as the church groans together awaiting the Resurrection.  Hoom, hm, room tum, room tum.

"We're half-grown hobbits, the hole-dwellers," sung Pippin...Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see' said Treebeard (one of the chief Ents).  'I am honoured by your confidence; but you should not be too free all at once.  There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain't, as you might say.  I'll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please - nice names.  For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate...For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I've lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.  Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say.  It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to."


Treebeard is right. Any good story, anything that's worth saying, takes a long time to say, and to listen to.  That, my friends, is Easter Vigil.  We tell the story and we listen.  And if any story is worth telling it does take a long while to tell it.  For this is not just any old story, not some fable of men's dreams.  Easter Vigil is the night where the seal of the grave cracks open.  But the story takes a while; you must hear the story of the Lord's salvation from Genesis to Jonah and beyond, to the resurrection.  Hoom, hm, hum.  It begins in the cool of the Garden, where Eden's light is covered in shadow by the wicked serpent, by disobedience; where man is overcome by means of a tree.  But in that first darkness there is light.  A child is promised.  One will be born of woman in order to crush the head of this wicked "wizard."  Hoom, ho, ha. The story continues, the Light grows stronger, from the moisten flood plains of Noah to the dry ground where Israel trod from death to life through water the Lord works His victory for His people with the strength of His right arm and the Word of Yahweh leading the way.  Hm, hum, roomy toom tum.  The Shadow of Death appears to be gaining a foothold, hell's wizard appears to conjure up new tricks at every turn, wicked people, dry bones, faithless prophets, traitors and murderers all of them.  It seems that even God's servants, like Job, are not safe from battle scars.  But the story continues.  The people of Nineveh were saved.  The dry bones were raised.  Job's redeemer is clothed in crucified and resurrected flesh, his own flesh, yet redeemed!  Of course, this acount is all too hasty.  But that is why Easter Vigil is, by far, my favorite service of the church year.  The church takes time to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of Yahweh's salvation.  Like the Ents, the church gathers for Easter Vigil, like the great Entmoot in Two Towers, in order to mark the history and future of things in the story.  Thankfully, for us, the story told is true, and not only true, but we know the ending.  Like the song of the Entwives...it ends goes from sadness to joy, from sorrow to redemption.

For the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom.  The saints are streaming out of their graves into the Holy City, New Jerusalem.  The gates of Paradise are unlocked.  Noah's ark has survived the flood and takes us up to Ararat.  Pharaoh and his host have been drown in the Red Sea.  The Passover Lamb has been slain, raised from the dead and eaten by the conquering army.  Even now, we are led through on dry land, Jordan is backed up like a heap and Canaan is in our grasp.  Jerusalem is in view.  The EntmootEntwives, 466 LOTR).

Much like the church, on her pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem, Treebeard and the Ents were heading to an Entmoot, a gathering of Ents.  They gathered in the shadow of Isengard, where the wicked wizard, Saruman had already begun to hatch his evil plot.  But it would not prevail.  And neither did the devil's hordes or death's dark shadow. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against our Lord, who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life might also rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.

"To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone; Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone, We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door; For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars - we go to war!  To land of gloom with tramps of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come; To Isengard with doom we come!"

So it, is - hum, hoom, ho - to the Vigil we go.  Christ leads his bride to the great Easter Entmoot.  To dance on the devil's grave; to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we live!  Night lies over Isengard and the dawn of Christ lies over the entire world.  The age of Adam is over.  The age of Christ has now begun. Christ is Risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!


P.S. Super nerd-tastic thanks to Pastor William Weedon for dropping this great gem of an idea on an Issues Etc. interview a few years ago.

Friday, April 22, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Good Friday

So many seem to be saddened by Good Friday.  Recall the drama and anxiety from many Christians as they watch (and perhaps still to this day when they do) Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.  There is, to be sure, sorrow on Good Friday.  But do not feel sorry for Jesus.  He knew exactly what He was doing.  He loves you; He goes to the cross for you.  How could He have done anything less?  And if there must be tears, weep not for Jesus, but for your sins and greater still for His love.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us in the quotation below, He is - especially on this day - the epitome, the very definition - of love.  Love incarnate.  Love lived.  Love Crucified.  Love Resurrected.  Today Christ says to His church and all dear sinners: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: I was born; I grew in wisdom and knowledge you did; I learned from my parents the Scriptures; I walked in your shoes - in the very soles of your own flesh; I know your pain; I know your disease; I know your temptation - even greater than you can imagine; I know your sin and most of all, today, I know your death.  But that is not all I know about you.  I know that you are loved, unending.  And for you I go to create and fill the very word "love" with my own flesh and blood - never will this word mean anything greater than what I AM, and have done, for you."  This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4).  What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss, to bear our dreadful curse?  Good Friday is, quite simply, the clearest picture of who God is for you, Love Himself. 

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say 'seeing'? there are no tenses in God - the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is 'host' who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and 'take advantage of' Him.  Herein is love.   This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves. - The Four Loves.

Forsaken, but not Forever


+ Good Friday – April 22nd, 2011 +

Text: John 18:1 – 19:42

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

It’s one thing to have your parents upset with you – to have done something to anger them or deserve their punishment.  It’s another thing – and usually we say it’s more painful to hear - “I am disappointed in you.”  But it’s far worse to be abandoned, forsaken, and rejected.

And if children feel the pain of punishment, disappointment or loneliness – how do you think parents feel when the tables are turned?  When the children are faithless and disobedient?  When they have rejected you?

Welcome to Good Friday.  Jesus is abandoned, rejected, forsaken.  First by His very own disciples, then by His Father.  But Judas wasn’t the only one to betray Jesus.  Peter wasn’t the only one to deny our Lord.  The High Priest and the Sanhedrin weren’t the only ones to wag their tongues in mockery and spray their hatred upon His face.  The Jewish crowds weren’t the only ones screaming bloody murder, “Free Barabbas…Crucify Him; Crucify Him!”  And the Roman soldiers weren’t the only ones twisting the thorns, rolling the dice and driving the nails. 

We are all accomplices - you are the betrayer, the denier, the jester, the murderer, the executioner.  The hammer, the reed, the thorns, the cloak, the innocent blood is in our hands too.  There’s only one kind of water that can wash out that damned spot.

 And the most remarkable thing is that Jesus is not even the least bit angry with you, no disappointment.  Not a word of it. No regret in His voice.  Jesus goes to the cross bearing your betrayal, your rejection, your forsakenness.  He takes it all on Himself.  Jesus does not – He will not - come down from the cross that we’ve fastened Him to.  He loves you too much.  He will suffer sin, death and hell rather than let you go. 

 Jesus prays for us who persecute Him.  He is cursed for us who crucify Him.  He trades mockery for mercy. Betrayal for blessing.  Foolishness for forgiveness.  Jesus’ death for your life.  All that He says and all that He does is accomplished for you.  Listen to His bitter cry: “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?”  God against God.  The prayer of the God-forsaken believer.  The Father does not with hold His Son, His only Son for the love of you, His abandoned-for-dead, rejected-in-sin, children.  There on Golgotha, the Light no darkness can overcome is plunged into the darkness.  The Radiance of the Father’s glory is swallowed up by a black hole of death – covered in a bloody baptismal flood. 

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.”  What is truth?  The truth is that even though you have angered and disappointed your Heavenly Father, He will never abandon you; even though you are the betrayer and the denier and the murderer …Jesus has not – and never will -forsake you. 
            For all that you are Christ became…the traitor, the sinner, the thief and the scoundrel; all of that is drown in His blood.  Your sin is stamped into His forehead, inscribed into His palms and buried in His tomb.  And from His riven side He pours sacred blood and water for you.  Jesus’ death is your life.  Life in the water.  Life in the body. Life in the blood.  Life has come with life for all.  Now there’s a living font that never runs dry, life through the water that washes your hands, head and conscience in a saving flood; where Christ the Ark of life ferries us across death’s raging flood.  He leads us past death’s fearsome scowl to a table where He feeds us; where His baptism of blood is drained into the chalice, poured out to quench your sin in His life-giving Supper, a cup from which you’ll never thirst again. 
           
            That’s what makes today not just Good Friday, but “Good-for-you-Friday.”  Sin has spent itself on Jesus.  Death is dead.  Hell throws everything it has at Jesus and still loses.  Beat by its own game.
            Jesus hangs there for you, making all things new, reconciling all things to the Father, embracing you in His death never to let you go.  In His darkness is your light; in His death is your life; in His lonely forsakenness, you find the Father’s eternal acceptance and your peace.  This death of God is your life.  Behold the Man.  The God-Man who bleeds for you, suffers for you.  Arrested.  Deserted.  Betrayed. Slandered. Pierced. Cursed. Damned and Dead – for you.
            This is the kind of love that can’t be stopped by nails, spears or thorns; the kind of love that overcomes rejection, betrayal and death by virtue of His own.  The kind of love not even the grave can hold down.  Jesus is forsaken, but not forever.  Creation shudders.  Darkness deepens.  Heaven weeps; angels hide their eyes.  Disciples and women mourn and cry with pain too agonizing to be heard.  All human words are hushed in utter silence.  It is finished.  All of this - for you.




On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ


Remember that old myth?  You know the one. "Jesus was not really dead; he just swooned or fainted or passed out from all the pain and later resuscitated in the tomb.  Then his disciples went around making up stories that he had risen from the dead."  That is malarky with a capital M! While it is true, as St. Paul says, that if Christ has not risen we (Christians) are most to be pitied, much worse, we are frauds, our faith is in vain and we are still in our sin (1 Corinthians 15) - it is definitely not accurate to say that Jesus was anything less than dead on the cross on Good Friday, a point the eye-witness accounts go at great lengths to make, accurately and lucidly, right down to the breaking of the legs and the spear that unleashed a cascade of blood and water.   There was no, "I'm not dead yet!" on Good Friday.  Jesus was most certainly dead.  And that is why this is Good for you Friday.  And just in case you need some good ammunition to take into the apologetic trenches, here's one good source to begin with, an article from the Journal of American Medical Association; that's right, not the penmanship of some bapticostalfundagelical religious nut, but a peer-review academic journal.  Take that swoon-theory; your kryptonite is powerless on this Superman.

On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ
William D. Edwards, MD;
Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv;
Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI
Here's the abstract:  http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/255/11/1455.short

Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus' death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.
(JAMA 1986;255:1455-1463)

And here's a link to the article that you can download/view in Word.

www.jesus-did-it-all.com/Crux.doc

A Blessed Good Friday to you all.  It is finished!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

C.S. Lewis On Maundy Thursday

The following is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 19.  Lewis attempts - and even struggles - to understand the language of the Lord's Supper.  He is imprecise and vague, yet honest at the same time.  He never claims to be a theologian, which is one of his greatest strengths, and yet at times a great weakness.  Although he doesn't give adequate time to divulge his entire sacramentology all at once in this short letter, he seems to attempt navigating between the Scylla of Aristotelian philosophy and the Charybdis of Zwinglian remembrance.  And, while I certainly would have liked him to have said more in this letter (and perhaps there is more to be read elsewhere by Lewis on the Lord's Supper - and that for another day) he is right after all; our Lord did say, Take eat; not, Take, understand.  Sometimes the simplest words are the best explanation; we are left to our Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord's divine hand of "strong magic" when Jesus says exactly what He means to say and gives what He means to give: This is My body...this is My blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. As Dr. Rod Rosenbladt once told us in class, "Risen Jesuses can do whatever they want!"

I don't know and can't imagine what the disciples understood our Lord to mean when, His body still unbroken and His blood unshed, He handed them the bread and wine, saying they were His body and blood...I find 'substance' (in Aristotle's sense), when stripped of its own accidents and endowed with the accidents of some other substance, an object I cannot think...On the other hand, I get no better with those who tell me that the elements are mere bread and mere wine, used symbolically to remind me of the death of Christ.  They are, on the natural level, such a very odd symbol of that...and I cannot see why this particular reminder - a hundred other things may, psychologically, remind me of Christ's death, equally, or perhaps more - should be so uniquely important as all Christendom (and my own heart) unhesitatingly declare...Yet I find no difficulty in believing that the veil between the worlds, nowhere else (for me) so opaque to the intellect, is nowhere else so thin and permeable to divine operation.  Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul but my body.  Here the prig, the don, the modern , in me have no privilege over the savage or the child.  Here is big medicine and strong magic...the command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand.

Thursday, Bloody Thursday

T Maundy Thursday – April 21st, 2011 T
Text: Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-22; Matthew 26:17-30


In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  Blood purifies.  Blood atones for sin.  Blood cries out for justice.  Blood is a substitute.  A life shed for a life lived.  A crimson canopy for shameful sinners. Where there’s a covenant – there’s blood.  Hurled upon the altar.  Sprinkled on the priest – covering his vestments, placed on his ears, his lips, his forehead, his heart – he entered the holy place by means of the sacrificial blood.  Blood even poured out upon the people.  “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.”  Forgiveness is a bloody affair. 
            You might think that the paraments should be red tonight.  What a blessed irony that they are white.  For though your sins were as scarlet, in Christ, you are white as snow.  And this scarlet river of forgiveness flows downstream to the cross.

            This is the night of the Passover. A night of remembrance. A night of forgiveness.  The eve of Israel’s passage though blood-stained doorways into freedom and life. 
            This is the night in which God remembers the blood of the first sacrifice, shed to clothe Adam and Eve in their naked, sinful shame.
            This is the night in which God remembers the blood of circumcision as the sign of His promise to the faithful remnant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
            This is the night in which the blood of Isaac is spared as the Lord provides Himself a Lamb.
            This is the Paschal night, the night of the remembrance meal - the hard, unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the lamb roasted to dry toughness.  The Lamb’s blood painted on the doorposts.  It is the night of judgment and death as God seeks out the blood.  Under the blood of the lamb, you are safe.  Death passes over.  Without the blood you are dead.  For it is neither safe nor salutary to deal with God apart from the blood of the Lamb.  He’s not a tame God after all.  So, the life is in the blood.  It was true for Israel and it’s true for you today.
           
            Because, contrary to what the Israelites promised – “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will be obedient” – they did not do what the Lord asked.  They were not obedient.  And neither are we.  Look no further than the mirror and your dresser.  Clothing is our daily reminder that we too walk in the shameful footsteps of our forefathers in the wilderness. 
            Even our daily bread is a constant echo: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain shall you eat of it all the days of your life – thorns, thistles and sweat.  Bread is the food of the fall - toil, labor and death.  Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”  And there we stand: naked before God in the sin of Adam.  Uncovered. Ashamed. Humiliated. Dead. Nothing to cling to except our mortality.

            But, this night isn’t only about our remembrance.  For as much as the Israelites remembered God’s salvation at Passover, more importantly, God remembered them, remembered His covenant, His promise.  And although we remember many things on this night nothing is more important than God remembering us, His chosen people.

            For this is also the night in which Jesus was betrayed.  The eve of Jesus’ passage under the blood-stained cross into freedom and life, your freedom, your life.  But first, the Passover.  The table is set.  The meal is prepared. The disciples are gathered.  The betrayal plot is already hatched.  The cup is ready; the bread is broken.  Everything is there.  But where, O Lord, is the Passover Lamb?  The Lord Himself will provide the Lamb.
            Jesus takes the unleavened bread – the bread of affliction and suffering.  Take eat.  This is my body.  In simple, yet significant words – His life and salvation – His soon to be Crucified and risen body – into the bread.  And in this meal, bread is redeemed.  The food of the fall is reclaimed by our Lord for a meal of forgiveness.  Bread now serves the most holy purpose of bringing Jesus’ body to our bodies.  Take eat.  This Lamb of God is good – good for you who have been so bad.  So good, in fact, that in this Sacrament you are what you eat.  By taking this body into your body, you receive all the good that He is.  The Bread of Life is our life.  The Manna from above feeds His wandering sin-starved people.

            And then Jesus takes the cup.  He gives thanks.  “Drink of it all of you, this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  He pours His life giving blood into the cup.  Here wine finds its perfect culmination – to gladden the hearts of sinful men with the forgiving blood of Jesus.  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  And with the shedding of His blood – in this cup, on these lips – Jesus pours out a new and better covenant sealed with His own precious, life-giving blood.  And wherever the blood of the Lamb is – death passes over.
            Through the veil of Jesus’ flesh, you are brought to the holy place sprinkled with the blood in Baptism – over your forehead, upon your heart; His New Covenant - take drink, this is His blood.  Paint it, not on your doorways, but on your lips, in your mouth, on your tongue and on your heart.

            Jesus not only institutes this New Covenant – He is the New Covenant.  Just as He did in His incarnation, so too, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus exalts creation by bringing the glory of heaven down to you in the lowly, simple things of earth.  The food of immortality.  Eat and drink and live forever!

            Yes, the Lord provides Himself a Lamb.  The Priest becomes the sacrifice. The Life of the World is the death of death itself.   Jesus goes to ratify His last will and testament in His own flesh and blood on the cross – forgiveness, life and salvation – a covenant eternally inscribed in His hands and feet.  For a will takes effect only at death.  Jesus’ death.  And so this night is the eve of your passage, your exodus from death to life, under the doorposts of Calvary where you pass into freedom and life through the blood of the Lamb.  Death passes over you and onto Jesus.  Your Last-Will-and-Testament, the true Testator – is Crucified and with Him all of your sin.

Behold the Lamb of God, skewered on the beams of that cruel tree, all the flames of hell blaze beneath him, stoked by the firewood of our sins. He is the God who makes His glory visible in servitude.  He is the God who bends down to wash the feet of His disciples.  He is the God who gives His cheek to the betraying lips of Judas, to the slapping hand of the High Priest and the spit of the Sanhedrin.  He is the God who gives His head to the thorns, His feet and hands to the spikes, His side to the Romans.  He is the God who endures pain and suffering, guilt, bitter shame and death – all for you.   
Everything is taken away.  Jesus is stripped. Laid bare. Betrayed.  Garments removed.  There He stands: nailed to the tree.  Naked before God in the sin of all mankind. Uncovered. Ashamed. Humiliated. Forsaken.  Nothing to cling to except our sin and His cross.  All of this He does for you.

And so, tonight, in a way, the Church reflects Her Lord.  Everything is taken away.  The chancel is emptied.  The altar is stripped.  Garments, paraments all gone.  Laid bare.    Tonight the church is naked.  Uncovered.  Ashamed.  Humiliated.  Forsaken.  Nothing to cling to except our Lord Jesus and His New Covenant. 

His Table is set.  He’s gathered His disciples. The Paschal feast is ready.  The Cup is full. The Bread is broken.  Everything is here.  Behold the Lamb, poured out for the forgiveness of your sins.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.




Monday, April 18, 2011

The Journey's End

I couldn't concentrate on writing a sermon for Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) without emptying my head of a few thoughts from Palm Sunday, even if they are a day late.  If the season of Lent is a journey and the Christian life is a pilgrimage then Palm Sunday is Jesus' answer to the cry of the saints on earth: "How long, O, Lord?!"  Indeed, a journey of death and life and life and death.  An avid reader of Tolkien or Lewis cannot help but see how they were inspired by reality of Christ's journey to the cross when writing epic adventures of the Lord of the Rings or Narnia.  That is one of the main themes after all, a journey of death and life, redemption and pilgrimage.  And at long last it seems that Holy Week could not have come soon enough.  How we have looked on the horizon for its advent, for Jesus' advent.  And so, Palm Sunday (and Holy Week for that matter) is Jesus's answer to our constant pining: "Are we there yet?"  There's nothing wrong with the journey language.  It fits Lent and the Christian life well, so long as we understand who is going where and how we arrive at the destination.  Lent - and the Christian life and the Church Year - is not so much about us traveling along side Jesus as it is Jesus, the Lord and Bridegroom of the Church, leading His bride through His own life, death and resurrection bestowing on her the very presence and gifts of His life, death and resurrection, step by bitter and weary step.  He bleeds.  He suffers.  He dies. He rises.  He fills the cup.  He drinks the cup.  He pours out the cup.  You eat.  You drink.  Are we there yet?  And our patient Lord replies: "Yes, we are here; the hour has come.  From before the foundation of the world I have set my face toward Jerusalem, for you. We are here, the dawn is not far off; not long now and the hour is complete.  Fear not, for I have brought you here with me."  Palm Sunday points us to the cross, to the blood, to His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to the silence, to the darkness and the tomb, to the end of the world and the beginning of a new journey, a new day, a new creation.  On Palm Sunday we lay our cloaks of sin before our lowly Savior who enters Jerusalem to robe us in glorious robes made white and washed in the blood of the Lamb.  On Palm Sunday we wave the Palms before the Christ who goes to Jerusalem bearing our cross, your cross, my cross.  There is no cross heavier to bear than Jesus', no journey more arduous and painful and yet more glorious as His pilgrimage of Passion.  On Palm Sunday we cry out Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord as Jesus, Lord-Save-Us in the flesh goes to do exactly what He has promised: to heal, to save, to Hosanna you.  Hosanna.  The very words uttered on the journey to the cross are the same words sung and chanted on our way to the Sacrament.  Hosanna, Lord save us by Your body and blood - it was true in Jerusalem and it's true everywhere His table is spread.  On Palm Sunday, we go to feast on this Lamb as we sing our traveling song:

Ride in ride on in majesty!
Harl! All the tribes Hosanna cry.
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin
O'er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on ride on in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wond'ring eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh.
The Father on His sapphire throne
Awaits His own annointed Son.

Ride on ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
And take, O God, Thy pow'r and reign.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Toward An Apologetic of Mercy

The following article is a bit of a work in progress, begun for the May newsletter here in Huntington Beach.

Apologia and Diakonia.  Two Biblical Greek words that seem to have nothing in common with each other.  And yet, they have increasingly become a part of Christian vocabulary lately – and for good reason.  Apologetics, loosely defined, is defending the faith.  Diakonia (or mercy), broadly speaking, is the Church’s work of mercy in body and soul. 
When it comes to apologetics, many of the arguments and debates are familiar: How can a loving God allow pain and suffering?  Did Jesus of Nazareth really rise from the dead?  Are the New Testament Documents historically reliable? And so forth and so on.  Redeemer continues to tackle many of these issues in the ongoing Declare and Defend series.  These questions come from the realm of the skeptics: everyone from the hard-line atheists to the ‘average-Joe’; from the cynic who revels in questioning authority to the individual with genuine questions about the Christian faith.  And this is an entirely necessary field.  Christians ought not to shy away from hard-nosed, tough-minded intellectual debate and discourse so rabidly needed in our day and age, not only an age of skepticism, but out right anti-truth.  The Church is challenged from both alleged scholarly and genuine intellectual arguments, everything from popular writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to ridiculous op-ed films, such as “Religulous” by Bill Maher.
However, there is another side to apologetics.  Call it right-brained apologetics.  For some the logic and academic setting of discourse is less engaging.  Maybe they don’t wrestle with particular intellectual questions about the Christian faith.  For some, reading the works of the Oxford Inklings (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, et al), discussing the finer points of the Chronicles of Narnia, listening to a majestic Bach Cantata, or browsing Lucas Cranach’s collection of Reformation artwork can be just as winsome of a defense for the Christian faith as the hard-nosed argumentation is for others.  To paraphrase St. Paul, “O, People of the theatre, bookstore, and concert hall, I see that you are very artistic!  Let me tell you about the Word made flesh, by whom all things were made.”  The works of music, art, literature, film (and so forth) are not only God–pleasing vocations, whereby we serve God and the neighbor, they also form a “softer” under-belly to the watchful dragons of unbelief.  The people are no less unbelievers.  And the Holy Spirit is no less in charge – conversion is His from beginning to completion.  Yet, in the midst of these various means, the goal is the same.  One, if not the primary goal, of apologetics, is to break down barriers and answer objections that people have put in the way of the cross so that the Gospel might be heard clearly, all done out of compassion and care for the neighbor in need, body and soul, whether that neighbor is looking for an intellectual discussion or a good book to read, there is always a way to speak the truth in love.
And it is here – in the realm of compassion and care – where diakonia meets apologia, where there is an apologetic of mercy at work in the life of the Church.  To be sure, mercy is not primarily interested in defending the Christian faith.  That however does not mean the Church’s life of mercy is somehow separated from a faithful witness to the truth of the Christian faith.  It is, rather, quite the opposite.  The two are inseparably related – an indissoluble union - to Christ Crucified and perhaps it is through love and care for the neighbor that apologetics sneaks in through the back door of mercy in the end.
Mercy is chiefly concerned with loving, caring for, showing compassion to the neighbor in body and soul.  And because the Christian is set free from sin and death, the Christian is free to love the neighbor as Christ loved us.  Or, in the words of St. John, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).  Nowhere is this love more apparent, more fleshly and visceral - even tangible - than in the ongoing reality of the Crucified and Risen present in His Church in the sacraments, the Eucharist in particular.  Christ's Mercy flows from the altar and returns us back to it.  And all of life revolves around the flesh and blood mercy in our Lord's flesh and blood.  For the early church - as it should be to day - any discussion, defense, discource or actual diakonia must begin and return us to the same flesh and blood Diakonia that our Lord has poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
In light of this all-encompassing reality, the early Christians had a Biblical understanding of a diakonic worldview.  A worldview different not only from Greco-Roman (and modern) paganism, but different, distinct and unique when compared to any other world religion.  Already in the book of Acts we see this developing as deacons (notice the root word diakonia) were appointed to care for the widows and the needy so that the preaching of the Gospel would continue (Acts 6).  They – like the church father Tertullian (ca. 220 A.D.) and even Luther, later in the 16th century – had a common treasury, a voluntary fund set up to provide for the needs for the poor in the congregation but also outside as well.  Mercy, like salvation is given indiscriminately – there is no one Christ did not suffer and die for; there is no one to whom Christians do not show mercy.  This was – and still is – profoundly different from the common attitude in the world outside the Church.  Mercy given to all from Christ; mercy shown for all in Christ.
“The early Christians practiced what is called, caritas – or charity – as opposed to the liberalitas of the Greco-Roman world.  Caritas meant giving to relieve the recipient’s economic or physical distress without expecting anything in return, whereas liberalitas meant giving to please the recipient, who later would bestow a favor on the giver.”[1]  There was nothing inherent in the Roman pagan culture that motivated, taught or established any permanent work of mercy for those in need.  Whereas, among Christians, all the needy, sick, suffering, and dying – pagan or Christian – had intrinsic value.  Life meant something entirely different to the early Christians when contrasted with their pagan neighbors, so much, that when Tertullian wrote his Apology of the Christian faith to the Romans, he answers the accusation that Christian congregations and assemblies were gathered together with the collection of common funds, not for drunken feasts and parties as the Romans did, but rather for the support of the poor, the sick, the orphans and widows.
Our secular, materialistic society – the spirit of this age – is somewhat similar to that of the pagan Romans.  Today the tendency is to live within the self.  Just look at the top selling books at your local Barnes and Noble, even the Christian shelves are stocked with titles such as, “Your Best Life Now.”  This is nothing other than a new monasticism.  Rather than retreating into the monastery where imaginary good works were done for one’s own spiritual edification and salvation, now, Christians retreat to the care of self at expense of the care – read caritas and diakonia, mercy – of the neighbor.  To be sure, the secular world has myriads of charity organizations.  But, I would argue, that were it not for the life of Christ and the work of mercy done by the early Christians (where Christ is living in and through His Church) there would be no concept or glimmer of mercy in any meaningful capacity in the world around us, even to this day.  This is not to say that the evolutionist, humanistic (nominally - or even hard-core) secularist has no morals, is amoral or is incapable of morality.  We would be ridiculous to argue otherwise.  But the question must be asked: if there is no objective standard, no transcendant authority, where and who - does the standard come from?  If all we are is atomic particles in the wind - and all the universe is, is randomly molecules, and if survival of the fittest is really pushed to its logical conclusion - where is the motivation, the foundation, the goal and the purpose of morality, much less mercy to the neighbor in need?  There is a necessary distinction between secular and divine morality (a longer topic for another day).  As Lewis mentions in Mere Christianity the person who makes the claim that he believes in no objective moral authority will, in the next breath, deny that when you cut him in line on the bus.  Where will the standard come from - inside or outside of us?

A particularly insightful example of this kind of philosophy can be found in ancient Rome: when epidemics broke out they were the first ones to flee.  It was the Christians that stayed, even to their own risk, in order to help others in need.  Mercy is simply not in the secular vocabulary.  Just look at the language of materialism and atheism (i.e. look no further than Communist regimes the world over!)  To speak of misery and suffering we must speak clearly and candidly about the origin of suffering, misery and death.  Secularism – and pure materialism – cannot and will not entertain such discussions.  In fact, Christians are in the best possible situation to give a foundation for understanding – not just the source of misery and suffering – but infinitely greater, the answer to such evil in the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the Great Physician of soul and body. 
Secular atheism and materialism provide no intellectual foundation for the combating of suffering, misery and death.  They have no meaningful categories to discuss the objective reality of “good and evil” or “right and wrong.”  To go back in history, Rome – for all the grandeur of their architecture, military prowess and socio-political/philosophical advances – had nothing to contribute to society by way of care for the needy.  Yes, the Coliseum was (and still is) an amazing feet of human engineering, but good luck finding a hospital along those finely constructed Roman roads.  What few hospitals they did have were primarily for soldiers.  It was the Christian Church that filled the void by caring for the poor, sick, needy, widows, orphans and the dying by establishing the diakonia (Acts 6), lists of poor and needy in their congregation (matriculum), hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, care the for the mentally ill – the list is overwhelming and comprehensive, not to mention merciful.  For centuries – from Acts 6 to the YMCA – Christians have been on the forefront of showing mercy and caring for those in need, living in the good works that Christ has prepared for them (Ephesians 2) and along the way many have seen their good deeds and glorified their Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5).
Because Christ has set us free, faithful Christians throughout the centuries have taken Jesus’ words in Matthew seriously: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25).  Notice the righteous have no idea that they were serving Jesus.  That’s the way mercy works.  It just happens.  How can you not help but serve, love and care for the neighbor?  How can a good tree not do anything but bear good fruit?
Mercy, like apologetics is wholly predicated upon the truthfulness and saving efficacy of who Christ is and what He has done on the cross to save sinners from sin, death and hell.  And although mercy – like apologetics is not the Gospel – it is never divorced from the Gospel.  Just as the Gospel is never divorced from diakonia and apologia.  Otherwise mercy ceases to be the mercy shown in faith and apologetics ceases to be a defense of the faith.  Mercy is defined and embodied by Him who is mercy in the flesh for a fallen world.  Mercy is tangible, a means whereby God comes to help the helpless, the poor and the destitute.  Mercy is noticeable.  Merciful Christians stick out in this world and that’s a good thing.  The Romans sure took notice of those “pesky” Christians.
Today, an apologetic of mercy looks like this: a Muslim woman in Indonesia, ten years after the tsunami, saying to a LCMS relief worker, “You came back” – after all the other aid organizations had left.   An apologetic of mercy looks like this: a nursing school, trade school and an agricultural school run by the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Madagascar), an orphanage in the Kibera slums of Kenya, dollars and people going to Japan in the wake of disaster, a hospital in the bush (wherever that bush may be!).  But an apologetic of mercy also looks like this: visiting the sick and shut-in at Redeemer, the youth making food bags for the homeless, the Priscilla Circle women making cards of encouragement and comfort for local nursing homes and I could fill the newsletter with examples that are presently ongoing.  What could be a better witness to a world so enveloped in misery?  An apologetic of mercy is done, not for mercy’s sake, not even for the sake of increased membership, building campaigns, community presence, or anything else, save that of Christ’s sake.  Christ is mercy and so is His church.  Christ loved us and we love you, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled” (James 2:15-16)  It’s Christ working in His Church, in His people for the Church and for the world in need.  It is a clear witness through caring service.


[1] Schmidt, Alvin.  How Christianity Changed the World. p. 126. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Resurrected Lion


Although Easter is still a few days away, you will by now, no doubt, have begun to think about it.  After all, how could you not help it?  The Sunday readings have been escorting your journey through Lent to the Great Week – Palm Sunday to the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord.  Spare us, good Lord!  As the forty days wind down this is our persistent Lenten prayer: “Let Easter come quickly.  Shorten the days we must endure, not the days of the fast, we do not long for simply another feast, a reprieve from hardship, we want more. We are bold to ask for the end, for the Resurrection of all the dead, for the consummation of all our Easters, the perfection of our bodies and souls, the sealing in bliss, the end of temptation, the removal of guilt and sin, the freedom and joy of heaven.  Or, in the words of Aslan, “we have a long journey to go, you must ride with me.”  Come quickly, Lord Jesus. 
And in a peculiar, yet hallowed way, the closer we get to Easter the more time slows down.  Like the dramatic climax in a film, building and building.  Language becomes more intensified.  Dialogue slows down.  The cameras zoom in.  The focus is sharpened.  Events almost appear to move in slow motion in order that every passing detail might not overwhelm but envelope us into the story.  This is the way good stories are told – both the true ones and the ones grounded in reality.  Such is the case with the Chronicles of Narnia.  Nowhere is this relationship more apparent than in the passion and Easter narratives of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. 
In many and various ways the narrative closely parallels the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection.  Since the dawn of Easter light is quickly rising in the east, it is fitting that the narrative slow down that we might catch a glimpse of the detailed splendor found in Narnia’s Easter.  Lewis’ account of Aslan’s passion and resurrection so vividly captures the reality to which it points: the resurrected Lion of the tribe of Judah, Christ our Lord. 
But before Easter Sunday came Good Friday.  And, there “standing by the foot of the Jesus’ cross were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”  Just as Lucy and Susan Pevensie had stood from a safe distance watching the witch inflict her worst upon their beloved Aslan.  They dragged him to the Stone Table, shaved his mighty mane, bound him in cords and muzzled him and mocked him all the while: “you fool of a cat.”  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb (or lion) led to the slaughter, and like sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”  And neither did Aslan make a noise, not even a growl.
The Pevensie girls – like the women – had seen the horror and treachery of the passion.  And Susan and Lucy – like the Marys – would come to the Stone Table to tend to Aslan’s body, wipe the blood and remove the muzzle – a merciful deposition.  They tended to Aslan as they cried until they could cry no more.  As the morning light began to pierce the cold darkness there was a loud noise – a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant plate.  How closely Lewis parallels the Gospel’s resurrection account.  The women come to the tomb (Luke 24:1) and an earthquake cracked the still morning air as an angel of the Lord unsealed the tomb (Matthew 28:2).  Yet there was weeping again.  “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13).  So too, in Narnia: “the rising of the sun made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing.  Then they did.  The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.”[1]
Who’s done it?” cried Susan.  “What does it mean?  Is it magic?”
“Yes!” cried a great voice behind their backs.  “It is more magic.”  They looked around.  There shining in the sunrise, large than they had seen him before, shaking his mane stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan.
“You’re not – not a - ?” asked Susan in a shaky voice.  She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ghost.  Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead.  The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.
“Do I look it?” he said.
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real!  Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.[2]

It is almost as if Lewis – in fact he quite intentionally – repaints, even translates, that glorious Easter dawn perfectly, only in Narnian colors.  For we hear in John’s Gospel a similar account of Mary weeping at the tomb only to have the risen Lord come behind her and say, “"Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!"

There was no doubt; Jesus was real – just as Lucy cried: “Oh, you’re real!  Despite any previous doubts, Jesus confirmed his physical resurrection for Thomas and later the disciples in Emmaus:  “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24). With a playful cat-like lick and a shake of his newly restored gulden mane, Aslan had risen.  Thankfully, Susan asks the good confirmation question: “what does this all mean?”
The Witch, you see, was right about the Deep Magic, all traitors belonged to her with the right to kill.  But, Aslan reminds the girls that there is a deeper magic which she did not know for her knowledge was limited.  “If she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, 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.”[3]
Chosen by Christ – written in the Lamb’s book of life – before the foundations of the world.  Easter morning is the dawn of this new creation, this everlasting Sabbath, Aslan’s romp, behold, I make all things new.  The resurrection is a great reversal, death works backwards because Good Friday and Easter have come for you in the waters of Baptism; there you were buried with Christ and there you rise with Christ.  The great Lion of the Tribe of Judah has roared: It is finished.  Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed,   Alleluia!


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Harper Collins, 2001. p. 184.
[2] Ibid, p. 184-185.
[3] Ibid, p. 185.