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.
‘The rising of the sun had made everything look so different … 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…
“Oh, it’s too bad,” sobbed Lucy. “They might have left the body alone.”
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger 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.
“Do I look it?” he said…
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. 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…”
“And now,” said Aslan presently, “… I feel my strength coming back to me. To business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.”
If you have read this book before, I recommend you read it again. And if you’ve never read it, I hope this extract may have whetted your appetite.
As adults we could get hung up here trying to align what Aslan calls the deeper magic to various theories of atonement. But my childhood reading was simpler and I think better. Which was that whatever is known about the laws of the universe, there is a deeper law according to which all shall be well. The forces of evil may go deep, but when you go deeper still you encounter true goodness.
This reminds me of a time when I was a school governor at my local primary school and spent the day sitting in on lessons with my link teacher. At one point in a science lesson the children had to observe what happened to different objects when they were dropped in water; some sank and some floated. But the ping pong balls did not just float – when pushed down underwater and released they thrust back up to the surface with such force they burst right out of the water. Why? Because they are full of air. And air is lighter than water and so air will always rise up through it. Water cannot hold air down. That is one of the laws of nature.
I found myself thinking about the words of the Bible: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it,” for “love is strong as death”. That, I believe, is also one of the laws of the universe.
Love endures all things. Love never ends. Love will always overcome death. Love may be weighed down, crushed, submerged and buried but it will always rise up.
Jesus Christ, the perfect example of a life full of love, was crucified, died and was buried. But the tomb could not hold him and on the third day he burst forth through the surface of death into the new life of the resurrection.
What Easter shows us is that there is a force at work which is stronger than darkness and death. The powers of evil did their worst to Jesus and for a moment it seemed they had won. But Jesus is the true light that no darkness can ever extinguish and the true life that no death can ever overcome.
I don’t mean that he came back to life. He was not resuscitated. If he was resuscitated he would have had to face death again. Rather he had passed through death. His risen life is not his old life restored but a whole new life.
It is significant that in every resurrection story Jesus disciples fail to recognise him. Why? Because when you pass through the waters of death you cannot but be changed. And more than that, because when God makes all things new he doesn’t just tinker – he goes the whole hog – this is new life, life in all its fullness. Life eternal.
The wonderful thing is that this isn’t just something that happened once, a long time ago. It’s happening all the time. The laws of the universe go back to the dawn of time and will remain in force until the last day. At Easter we don’t say, ‘Jesus Christ was risen two thousand years ago’. We say, ‘Jesus Christ is risen today!’
We all have times in our lives like Good Friday when everything seems to be falling apart and going wrong – times of tragedy, grief, loss, depression and darkness. When we are in the middle of one of these times we often can’t see a way out – the darkness seems endless.
I was shocked by the news this morning of the bombings in Sri Lanka – so many dead and wounded – a targeted attack upon Christians in their churches. There is much darkness in our world.
To hold on to a belief in the supremacy of love can be difficult at times like this. It can be an act of faith which goes contrary to the evidence we see around us.
But we believe that the God who turned the terrible events of Good Friday into the joyful new life of Easter can also raise us up out of our dark times and give us new light and life.
There is nothing so bad that God cannot bring good out of it.
Love is stronger than death. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
In the words of my favourite hymn:
‘Sin and death and hell shall never o’er us final triumph gain;
God is love, love for ever oe’r the universe must reign.’
This is what we celebrate at Easter – not only what God did for Jesus, but through Jesus what he has done for our world, then and now and forever.
Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia!