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There are times when you find yourself at the bloody and painful part of the gospel story. Darkness has covered the earth. Everything has been shaken. Your Savior has breathed His last. You don’t realize the temple veil has been torn in two. It starts to rain. You don’t understand the prophecies or the promises. You have no recollection that He told you He would rebuild the temple in just 3 days, and even if you did, 3 days is too long to wait.

We are not people who want to sit between Friday and Sunday. We do everything in our power to run, numb, or subdue. And yet, there were a few who did not. A few who had the courage, the compassion and the tenderness to press in.

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, we read that Lucy and Susan followed Aslan to the Stone Table. At one point during their walk, it says that Aslan was so far bent over from grief that his nose rubbed the ground. He begged Lucy and Susan to bury their hands in his mane to comfort him. When he arrived at the Stone Table, he told them to leave, but they refused. After he died there, Lucy and Susan stayed to tend to his body. It was there that they saw him roar back to life. And it was then that he invited them to ride on his back as he went back to seek his revenge of the White Witch.

On that glorious resurrection Sunday, Mary ran to the tomb. She had no idea that it would be empty. She couldn’t have possibly known what the prophecies meant at the time. Perhaps Mary simply wanted to lay next to his dead body because it was better than being holed up in fear with the disciples. And Mary was the first to see the resurrected Lord. It says that she was weeping at the tomb when Jesus appeared and when He called her by name, her eyes were opened and she held onto Him and wouldn’t let Him go. Mary was honored because she pressed into her grief. She didn’t stand in her pain and make accusations. She didn’t stop believing in His goodness. She embraced her pain and was given the gift of seeing the dead raised to life.

When I was in 4th grade, I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time. I had no idea it was a story about the gospel of Jesus. When Aslan died, I threw the book down and could not stop sobbing. I ran into my mom’s room and buried myself into her. I said, “I can’t read this book anymore. I can’t finish it if Aslan isn’t alive.” My mom looked at me with this twinkle in her eye and said, “Emily, oh, Emily. You have to keep reading. Please, keep reading.”

It’s been His answer for everything in this season.

“Can this be true?”

Keep reading.

“Are you really in this?”

Keep reading.

“I can’t bear where this story is going.”

Keep reading.

For those of us who are in the part of the gospel between Friday and Sunday, I want to encourage you to keep reading. Take a moment to sit in the grief of the death of something or someone you love, but then keep reading. Don’t withdraw or shrink back in fear. Feel the warmth of His mane and trust that you actually bring comfort to Him when you weep. Let the grief take you further in. Because the deeper magic from before the dawn of time is just now starting to stir.

Can you feel it?

Aslan is on the move.

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Lake Naivasha, Kenya

 

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Holy Week: The Brilliant Crescendo of the Gospel Story

Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy

As I poured through the Scriptures surrounding Jesus’ death on quiet mornings this week, I was stunned by the variety of evocative events that preceded it. Hidden in the final words of Jesus’ life on earth, we find vibrant details depicting the vast spectrum of His emotions and the intimate moments spent with those whom He loved. The final chapters are written in a simple, forthright way, devoid of projections that could come off as emotionally manipulative. It’s in this understated storytelling that the reader has one of three responses that C.S. Lewis poignantly captured: Jesus was a liar, a madman, or the Son of God. For those who believe He is the Son of God, Holy Week is the brilliant crescendo of the gospel story, on which our entire hope rests.

Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy

As I read words about this Jesus, my Jesus, on whom my entire hope rests, I was struck by my Savior’s sheer humanity. I don’t often think of Jesus as having skin or needs, or desiring comfort from a few close friends. I don’t often imagine what it would be like to have been with Him the final moments while He suffered, before He gave up His life and breathed His last.

But you, Jesus, our long-awaited King, were clothed in skin. You were ushered through Jerusalem and praised by the very people who would demand your death only six days later. You knew the waywardness of our fragile hearts. You stood over the city and wept your holy tears, longing to gather us into your arms, but we were not willing.

And then that woman came to you boldly and extravagantly. She was the only one who understood who you were. Kneeling down, she poured her best out on you without reserve.  Her tears and kisses covered your feet and the fragrance of brokenness permeated the room.

Later, you sat around the table for one final meal with your dearest friends. One leaned back on your chest. And Judas was there, too, with pockets full of silver. His hand brushing yours as you dipped your bread into the cup. You and your disciples, your voices joined in unison, echoed through the upper room as you sang a hymn and then left for the Garden.

Was the melody still running through your head as you walked to the Mount of Olives? Were those words fresh on your heart as you knelt in the dirt? Was your hand still burning from the sting of your betrayer? Could you smell the fragrance of the oil that she poured on your head? Was there anything that comforted you in your hour of distress?

Your disciples knelt down, sleepy from wine and you fell face down to contend with your Father. You wanted this cup to be taken from you. The sweat poured down your face and thrice you begged your friends to wake up, to kneel with you, to carry your suffering, to sit with you through the dark night of the soul, but they just couldn’t do it. Eventually, the soldiers surrounded you. A kiss. Peter tried to come to your rescue, but he had missed the moment when you needed him most.  And now, it was time to drink the cup.

Everyone scattered, except for one, who followed close behind you. The one who had been leaning on you throughout dinner. The one who was there to take care of your mother.  The one who knew he was loved was there until the end.

And then your eyes turned to look at Peter, to look straight into him after he said he didn’t know you. Peter dropped your gaze, turned and wept bitterly.

Pilate washed his hands and ignored the portentous dreams of his wife. He let the people carry you off, your head crowned with thorns, because the people demanded a murderer’s release instead of your own.

When you died, the temple curtain was torn in two. Saints emerged from their graves and walked around the city. Your mother wept. One of the soldiers recognized you as the Coming King and said, “Surely, He must have been the Son of God!” Your body was placed in a tomb. Judas threw the silver coins back into the temple.

And when the third day came, the women rushed to your grave before daybreak. But it was empty.  You met them on the road and called them by name.  They threw themselves down at your feet. They clung to you. Because you, Son of God, were fully resurrected in glory.

Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus
Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus

Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time

Wardrobe

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment in which I entered through the wardrobe door, felt the fur coats brushing against my body, noticed the temperature was dropping and that snow was crunching under my feet.  I do know that it was sometime around 2001, when I first stepped off a plane into the thick, sweltering air of Bangkok, and walked into the home of the Pennington’s.  Here was a family who had left Texas 8 years prior to live among Thais and love them with the heart of Jesus.

I brushed past the coats and emerged in the woods and quickly noticed that their world was thick with a different kind of magic than I had ever experienced before.  The kind that words cannot describe, but you can only feel it in the core of who you are.  And it shakes you.  Splits your previous conceptions apart and forces you to ask questions that you never knew existed.  Forces you to suspend what you know and believe in miracles again.  And even though you know there is really no such thing as a talking Faun, there is one standing right before you.  Asking you for tea.  And you have to go.  You must go, because you would rather be wrong then die of boredom from the current state of affairs in your life.

The Pennington’s lived and operated in a world where they were forced to believe that what Jesus said was true.  And living with them for even a few hours, let alone months at a time, forced me to start believing, too.  And that was when the deeper magic started permeating my entire being.  Because we saw the magic every day.

The days were spent walking the streets and seeing the reality of poverty; of spirit, mind, and body.  Touching hands, healing hearts, proclaiming freedom, and seeing five thousand fed by a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Learning to love the mystery of suffering instead of letting it set up pretensions against the promises of Christ.  And watching love, real love pour forth from the Pennington’s hearts, towards each other, their neighbors, and strangers on the street.  The kind of love that is life altering because of its sincerity and richness and depth.  The kind of love that is stronger than the grave.

The nights were spent making mud obstacle courses, playing soccer, hide and seek, line-dancing, baking cookies and eating them at midnight, putting on U2 videos and dancing to Where The Streets Have No Name until we knew we were truly experiencing the Kingdom on earth, picking lice out of each girls’ waist-long hair, learning how to cook, playing guitar and singing until we were hoarse, running through the rain, and finally believing in fairy tales again.

When I first started going, Russ and Tracy only had four children.  I watched them birth two more and was there for weeks at a time to help mother the others while they took care of the newborns.  The three of us would stay up late, drinking wine, often crowded on the same bed to hover under the air-con, and I would ask them, “How do you do it? How do you sustain a relationship here in the 100 degree weather with six children running around? How do you make time for your Sabbath?  What do you do with the blatant idolatry and sex workers throwing themselves at you?  How do you raise your children to hear the Lord?  How do you cast out the evil spirits that have claimed the territory over your neighborhood?  How do you live free from the fear of man when they are paying your bills?  How do you heal broken hearts and believe for the lost when you don’t really like the people you’re believing for?  How do you stay in love?  How will you know when it’s time to go back?  In what ways have you died since we last spoke?”

And their answers shaped my life, my vision, my calling.  Filled me with fear and trembling and awe.  Because I saw the truth lived out.  Their deep called unto my deep.  Drew me out.  Gave me eyes to see who He really was.  Who He had created me to be.  Teaching me to be content with the design of my life.  Gave me what I needed to be a wall, with breasts like towers, as one who has found peace in the eyes of God*.

It was the deeper magic before the dawn of time, where a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, and the table itself cracked and death itself started working backwards to produce real life**.  The kind of life worth living.

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*Song of Songs 8:10

**Taken from Chapter 15 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis