Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trinity Sunday and Narnia

Every day at sunset the table was renewed with a king's feast. A new day, a new feast. But the same song was sung, first by the Old Man and his daughter and then it was twittered by the birds as they fell like snow upon the island. According to Lucy, it was "a cold kind of song, an early morning kind of song." All the while, the Eastern sky revealed the rising sun growing larger than it had before on their journey. This was the moment they truly understood that they had finally reached the beginning of the end of the world. The Dawn Treader had reached Ramandu's (the old man) island. Like many good things in stories, this one happened around a table, Aslan's table no less. While Lucy stood there and watched the birds, she noticed "one bird fly to the Old Man with something in its beak that looked like a little fruit, unless it was a live coal, which it might have been, for it was too bright to look at. And the bird laid it on the mouth of the Old Man." Then the birds stopped their singing and the table was cleared as quickly as it had been prepared the evening before.

As I read Isaiah 6 - the OT reading for Trinity Sunday - I couldn't help but recall this scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. While it may appear that Narnia and Trinity Sunday have little in common, that is only an thinly veiled appearance. It's more than just the presence of winged creatures and holy songs. There's more.

Isaiah is given a vision of the throne room of Yahweh, a throne that could barely contain the train of his robes, much less his holiness. There were the six-winged creatures, the seraphim, covering their face and feet as they flew about the Holy One and said to one another (although I happen to think they were singing, not chatting):

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

Isaiah needed that live coal from heaven. It was Yahweh's sacrament of cleansing for him: a Word and a sign. Isaiah was a man of unclean lips. And if the lips were unclean that meant the heart was too. That's why he is "undone" or silent, or better yet dead, before Yahweh of hosts. Without that coal, Yahweh's holiness was Isaiah's undoing. But with that live coal came atonement, cleansing, forgiveness.

Perhaps that is why the Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Reepicheep do not immediately approach the table to eat - and even when they knew it to be Aslan's table they paused. There was something set apart, consecrated - something holy - about this table. Everything around the table sang: "you are on holy ground." The sun, the nearness of the end of the world, the Old Man and his daughter and the chanting birds. The same birds who set the table and took the feast away each day were the same birds that brought the live coal fruit to the Old Man. And just like Isaiah, he needed it. These were fire-berries, as he told the children later, from the valley in the sun. Each fire-berry took away a little of his age. "And when I have become as young as a baby born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again and once more tread the great dance," said Ramandu. He was cleansed, day by day. His lips purified. And like Isaiah, he was made ready for service. "Here I am, send me!"

Only in this case, it was Ramandu who sent The Dawn Treader to the utter east, to leave one behind and undo the enchantment of the sleepers at the table (three of the Narnian lords).

And before they headed to the end of the world and the beginning of Aslan's country there was a feast awaiting the sea-weary adventurers. The table was set. All was ready. But you don't just waltz up to Aslan's table (any more than you simply walk into Mordor). A table, you see, can look a lot like an altar (and vice-versa). That's where Isaiah was: before the altar of the Lord. The place of Yahweh's presence. and this presence was both destructive and creative, both Isaiah's undoing and his pardon, both terrifying and overwhelmingly joyful.

There is only one way to approach this table, in faith. Not the faith that looks to our own holiness before God (coram Deo). But the faith of Isaiah: "Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips." The faith that comes from unclean lips turned holy: "Send me!" The faith that joins Reepicheep in trusting the message: "Sire, of your courtesy, fill my cup with wine from that flagon; it is too big for me to lift." There's always room for beggars and dogs at this table.

At the Lord's table, things are not much different, although it is infinitely better.There is one difference of course, when the baptized approach the Lord's Table, there is no wondering: will it be good or bad for me? There is no need to fear the holiness he brings you at his Altar. It is good for you. Doubt not Jesus' words: take eat; take drink. This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you. This is the same body broken on the cross, the same blood shed for your atonement. Behold, the body and blood of Christ have touched your lips and your iniquity is taken away and your sin purged. This Supper is a feast of the King of kings. The Lord's Supper is your live-coal, your fire-berry. It is your life-giving meal. Pardon. Restoration. Forgiveness. Atonement. Cleansing. And like Ramandu, it turns us old sons of Adam into children born from above, born again, just like Jesus tells Nicodemus, with water and the Spirit.

Thankfully, you don't have to sail to the beginning of the end of the world to go to Aslan's table. The Lord's Table is weekly renewed for a feast. And the old song of the winged creatures remains the same:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth...heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. And blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.


  1. Replies
    1. Kurt, thanks so much for reading and for the encouraging word! Looking forward traveling south later this summer for a bit of Narnia-nerdom!