Easter Day

Of all the theology books I have read the one which has had the most profound influence on me is probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

When I first read it at the age of 7 I had no idea of the Christian allegory behind it. But even without that knowledge it was clear that the heart of the story was Aslan’s death and coming to life again on the stone table. And I was always intrigued and mystified by this famous passage:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offence was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property…”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it…Fall back, all of you,” said Aslan, “and I will talk to the Witch alone…”

Then we skip a couple of chapters forward. Aslan has been put to death and Lucy and Susan have kept watch with his dead body during the night.

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It Is Finished

Each of the four gospels gives us a different picture of Christ on the cross.

In Mark and Matthew, Jesus’ last words are dark and questioning: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

In Luke, his last words are confident and trusting: ‘Father, in your hands I commend my spirit.’ 

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ last saying is a single Greek word: ‘tetelestai’. In English it can mean either ‘It is finished’ – it’s all over. Or ‘it is accomplished’ – it is fulfilled.

And that is typical of John’s gospel. It is as though two perspectives of the same story are going on at the same time – the world’s perspective, and God’s perspective. In John’s gospel, Jesus talks about being ‘lifted up’. On the one hand this refers to the crucifixion, a terrible thing done to him through the wickedness of humanity. On the other hand, it refers to his glorification, a work of grace and salvation by God, by means of which we ourselves are drawn into communion: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth’ he said, ‘I will draw all people to myself.’(1)

This is what is called literary irony. There are two levels of meaning. The characters in the story can only see one level, but the reader is invited to see another, deeper level of understanding.

So when Pilate says to him, ‘Behold your king’(2) and when the soldiers dress Jesus in a purple robe and place a crown of thorns on his head, they think they are mocking him – but we know their words and actions carry a much deeper truth than they realise. For we know he is not merely the king of the Jews but king of the universe.

So there are two levels of meaning to Jesus’ final words: It is finished – it is accomplished.  

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References   [ + ]

1. John 12.32; see also John 3.14
2. John 19.14

Maundy Thursday

Today of all days is about communion. It is the day Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples which became the template for the Eucharist.

It is the day Jesus, knowing he was leaving his disciples, prayed for them: ‘Father, may they be one.’ And the unity they have with each other comes from communion with God: ‘even as you, Father are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us … that they may become perfectly one’

John 17.11,21

You could say that the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about gathering people into communion. His first act was to gather disciples. He constantly sought out the excluded and the marginalised to bring them back in. So he lived out the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep.

On one occasion when he healed a man who was blind and dumb he was criticised by the Pharisees. His reply is significant:

‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’

Matthew 12.30
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