Thursday, May 17, 2012

Narnia and Jesus' Ascension

Many of Scripture's events are painted by Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia from its creation to its close. In preparation for tonight's Ascension Day service I searched my memory for an ascension in Narnia. In one way, Aslan's coming and going, along with his sending of the children, is like the ascension of Jesus in some ways. Although it is unlike it in many ways since Aslan frequently reappears for different purposes. Perhaps those are mini, or quasi-ascensions.

At any rate, I do think there are (at least) two major events in Narnia that illustrate Jesus Ascension for us here in the Shadowlands. While they appear to be two separate events, in the end, they are rather similar. One is from earth's perspective and the other, from heaven's perspective.

Dr. Peter Scaer brought this first illustration to mind in the most recent issue of the Concordia Pulpit exchange where he writes:

"One of my favorite children's stories is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Many of you have read the book or seen the movie. In fairy-tale fashion, Lewis tells the story of our salvation. The ruler of Narnia, a majestic Lion, laid down his life to break the dark magic. In the end, Narnia is restored, and four children are crowned and seated on thrones of the kingdom. And when you think about it, we are those children. We are destined to rule."

What a marvelous picture of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension; the Lion conquers death victoriously and gives his throne to us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Jesus conquered death and risen from the grave and completed his saving work and ascends to the throne at God's right hand. On the cross, his saving work is finished. And yet in another sense, his work is never done. He sits at the right hand of God we confess in the Creed. Present tense. He rules. He reigns. And He lives for us, interceding, preparing and drawing near to us with his crucified, risen and ascended body. The head once crowned with thorns is crowned in glory. He wore those thorns so we could be crowned in glory. He made his throne on the cross so we would be given the kingdom and the glory forever and ever. All that belongs to Jesus is now given to you.

He who once made the manger his throne and exalted humanity in his incarnation, now returns to his rightful throne still bearing our humanity. God became Man to rescue fallen humanity and bring mankind back to God. Christ’s ascension glorifies our humanity. In Christ, Our human nature is now exalted at God’s right hand, enthroned in glory. We are all kings and queens in the King of kings and Lord of lords. We behold it now by faith and by sight in the resurrection to come. For the God-Man rules heaven and earth.

But it wasn't just the four Pevensie children who ruled Narnia. In The Last Battle, the whole cast of main characters - a great procession of Narnian saints - enter the gates of Aslan's country, the true Narnia with Reepicheep's shrill voice: "Welcome in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in."  There they meet Lord Digory and Lady Polly, Fledge,  Glimfeather, Puddleglum and Rilian, Caspian, Lord Drinian and Lord Berne, the Beavers, and Mr. Tumnus among so many other beloved characters. (Characters seems such a harsh word after reading the stories; they're almost more like friends or close family members really). But there's also King Frank and Queen Helen, the first of the kings and queens of Narnia. And they all moved further up and further in until King Frank's horn sounded: "We must all go up."

"And soon they found themselves all walking together - and a great, bright procession it was - up toward the mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be seen...the light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored cliffs led up in front of them like a giant's staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty."

This sequence in Narnia takes place at the end of the world - which is the promise of the ascension, that Christ will come again as he parted, in the flesh and in glory for our homecoming - and recalls the way that Revelation and Daniel describe the Son of Man ascending to the throne giving us a glimpse, at least in a small way, of our own resurrection and reunion with Christ in heaven. Christ's ascension also points us forward to the resurrection of the dead. As we sing in the ascension hymn:

He has raised our human nature
On the clouds to God's right hand;
There we sit in heav'nly places,
There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord's ascension
We by faith behold our own.

This is the ascension from heaven's perspective. Jesus goes further up and further in to the glory of his gracious rule and reign. In The Last Battle we get a glimpse of that from the other side of things: the Lion on his throne, ruling and preparing a place, bounding from corner to corner of his mansion, readying all things for you, his children, his kings and queens. Your homecoming is prepared. In Christ, the dark magic is defeated. In his sacrifice, death works backwards. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah rises from the dead victorious and he gives his crown of victory to you. Where he goes you go. In Baptism you are buried with him, you rise with him. And His ascension is the guarantee of our own.

For if there is more joy with the angels in heaven over one sinner who repents on earth, imagine the joy in heaven over the stream of sinners welcomed as saints robed in white, going further up and further in, being seated at the Lamb's high feast with a place set for each one of us.

Lewis captures that joy like few others with words that cause me to weep every time I read them:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."
Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. You have sent us back into our own world so often."
"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope arose within them.
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and your mother and all of you are - as you used to call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

I was wrong. There are (at least) three ways Narnia shows us the hope of Jesus' ascension. For Jesus' ascension is both the culmination and the beginning. To paraphrase Lewis, all of his life in this world, his teaching and preaching, healing, casting out demons, suffering, dying and rising had only been a cover and the title page. For now at last, in his ascension, Jesus begins Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

And because Christ was crucified, risen and ascended, that is also our story. A blessed Ascension Day to you all.

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