Be Happy! The last card has been played and it’s the ace of hearts.–Jesus
Every night this week, the routine’s been the same. We slip on our cotton tent dresses, tie them at the waist, cover our heads with scarves and rush out the door. It’s been fourteen years since I played a biblical character in our church’s traditional Easter drama. Last time, I held one little girl in my arms, with another grasping the left side of my robe and the biggest one close on my right. The “baby” was a beautiful surprise yet to be discovered.
We waved our palm branches shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus who smiled lovingly at the mass of children reaching for him and held the tiniest ones in his arms. More than a decade later, the story of Jesus remains unchanged but the contemporary narrative that parallels the gospel account switches out every annum to highlight a person with a God shaped hole in their heart that gets filled at the cross.
This year, the modern figure features CS Lewis, author, philosopher and storyteller extraordinaire.
I can’t count how many times we’ve read his Chronicles of Narnia or listened to the audiobooks. I can hear the British reader in my sleep. And I remember the year we lived in the story when Lily and Robyn were cast as Susan and Lucy in the play based on the book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
This fantasy story, a brainchild of Lewis imagination, describes a group of siblings who embark on a magical journey through a clothes wardrobe into a mystical land called Narnia where the evil but deceitfully charming and beautiful White Witch has cast a spell on the land making it always winter but never Christmas. She dupes one of the siblings called Edmund and he becomes enchanted after eating some of her candy. He betrays his siblings for treats and the witch’s promise of power, unaware that she intends to kill him in order to interrupt an ancient prophecy foretelling an end to her rule.
Enter Aslan, the great lion and hero of the story. He is the real king of Narnia. And he is good. He privately arranges an exchange with the White Witch and trades places with Edmund. A life for a life. And so the witch giddy with evil delight, convinced that murdering Aslan cements her reign forever, binds her victim, lays him on a stone table and stabs him in the heart.
She has forgotten, however, that the spell will be broken if an innocent victim sacrifices life on behalf of another. As Narnia melts to spring, she remembers. Aslan resurrects and the children fight together against the witch’s minions in a battle for the sake of Aslan’s kingship. Ultimately evil gets defeated and Aslan entrusts the rule of His kingdom to the children until he returns to Narnia.
Lewis’ personal story has LOSS written large all over it with a Sharpie.
At only eight years old, he lost his mother to cancer and was sent to boarding school by his devastated father.
World War 1 bombarded Europe during his teen years so he shipped off to war, where he lost his entire platoon in battle and his best friend to a bullet.
Later, his father died unexpectedly still unreconciled to Lewis.
He married late in life. Found a kindred spirit in his wife, Joy, and four years later ravenous cancer snatched her away too.
Death dogged him.
Abandonment shaped him.
Loneliness pummeled him.
But broken, emptied and reluctant to believe in a God bigger than his pain.
He carried his own little White Witch around on his shoulder whispering lies into his pain at his most vulnerable moments.
If God is all loving and caring, why would he do this to you?
No one is coming to save you.
I commiserate with Lewis.
I have my own little demons dancing around in my head.
My story of rescue is different than his.
A compliant, fearful child, my Sunday School teacher’s description of hell petrified me so I repeated her spoon fed words as if salvation was a mathematical equation, the sum equaling a quick fix for a scary eternal problem. I repeated that mantra countless times like a kid practicing math facts just to be sure I wouldn’t forget them.
Then as concrete reasoning turned abstract, I realized that the God who makes a nice room for me in his Grand Hotel wants more than my reservation. He actually intends to accompany me all the way to my destination. He offers his services as tour guide for the journey too. But there’s a catch. He gets to decide the route, my arrival time and all the stops along the way.
And that’s been the rub because while I want his companionship, I don’t like his GPS system.
And so like Lewis, I struggle to trust Him, to concur with his plans for me, to let Him log my travel journal because I think I can write a better one.
In Act Two of the Easter drama, Jesus comes before political leader, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious bigwigs called Pharisees have made false accusations to shame and disparage him. They are frustrated by his unconventional leadership style, intimidated by his popularity and offended because he won’t fit into their box so they just want to get rid of him.
I’m in the scene where the angry crowd shouts “Crucify Him!” But I find that my mouth is full of cotton ever time I attempt to yell out the words. And the tears swell in the corners of my eyes and then overflow.
It’s not that I’m too spiritual to act the part.
Rather, I’m faced with my duplicity.
And it’s overwhelming.
I am the mocking, jeering, haughty spectator at the crucifixion and the weeping, humbled, grateful one too.
And the tension of the paradox disturbs me.
Truth is, I want my way but my way isn’t fully aligned with Jesus way this side of heaven.
So my own little witch feeds me a steady diet of lies every day questioning His goodness, His trustworthiness.
And the lies are unrelenting, like a song on repeat.
Even if you don’t like it, it gets stuck in your head.
And I complain to God,
“I don’t like your plan.”
“This isn’t the way I imagined my life.”
“Why won’t you do what I ask?”
“You disappoint me.”
And it’s really no different than yelling “Crucify Him”.
Fickly, like a pinball ricocheting off the posts, my soul alternates between complaints and gratitude. In my broken hallelujah moments, I glimpse the God-man stripped, bloodied, tormented and dying. His cross says I am held in His arms and carried close to his heart. I see lavish love in His nail scars. My fist opens and I transfer my life map into the wounded hands of my most ardent pursuer. There, humility meets holiness in worship.
After the crucifixion scene in the drama, Jesus exits the tomb to a peel of thunder and the roar of a Lion. He walks over to little boy Lewis, then young man Lewis and finally to older Lewis. With each Lewis, he places an arm around him and looks tenderly into his hurting eyes.
And like Lewis, I see myself
A little girl with irrational fears and excessive anxieties,
And a teenager who had no idea what to do with her losses,
That young wife disillusioned about love- and disappointed,
An insecure mom second guessing her skill and stamina,
The friend fearing rejection and abandonment,
And when I lean into the tender embrace of Jesus I hear Him whisper, Peace. Be Still.
I recently saw a facebook prompt that invited me to “Write the Happiest Story in 4 Words”.
So on this Easter Sunday, mine goes like this:
She embraced God’s love.