Sermon given at Matins on Sunday 30th March 2014
30 March 2014 at 10:00 am
The Venerable Dr Jane Hedges, Canon in Residence
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.
C.S. Lewis wrote this to his Goddaughter about “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” one of a series of seven books making up the Chronicles of Narnia – written for children back in the 1950s.
This month we’ve been looking at the work of C.S. Lewis and in particular at the books, Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and A Grief Observed – reflecting on how they can help us as we make our journey through this season of Lent.
Today as we come to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I’d like us to think about the question, “Although this is a children’s book, does it have something just as serious to say to us, as the other books we’ve explored so far?”
Many of you will know the story, either from reading it yourself, or sharing it with your children or perhaps from seeing the film released in 2005. But for those who are not familiar with it, here is a very brief summary:
It’s about a family of 4 children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy who are evacuated during the Second World War to the country house of an elderly professor. The children make their own entertainment and during a game of Hide and Seek find a bleak room which is empty apart from a large old wardrobe.
As Lucy, the youngest child, hides in it and pushes her way through rows of fur coats, she plunges into the middle of a snow laden wood and finds herself in the magical land of Narnia. After a brief adventure with a faun called Mr Tumnus, she returns to the other children who think she’s been dreaming.
Edmund is the next one to find himself in the wardrobe and when he lands in Narnia he’s scooped up by the White Witch who entices him with Turkish Delight and all kinds of promises. He too returns to the professor’s house but doesn’t own up to his adventures.
However, all the children eventually hide in the wardrobe to avoid the scary house-keeper, Mrs Macready, after an accident with a cricket ball, so together they find themselves in the land of Narnia.
This is a land of mythical creatures and talking animals; a land where it snows constantly but where there has been no Christmas for one hundred years. The children soon discover that they are caught up in a battle between the forces of good and evil.
The White Witch reigns but the animals tell the children of a prophecy which says that when two sons of Adam & two daughters of Eve arrive in Narnia, Aslan the great Lion will return and bring to an end the reign of the witch.
An army fighting for good is gathering and the children join them; signs of Spring begin to appear in Narnia and then the mighty Aslan returns.
Unfortunately in the meantime Edmund is seduced by the White Witch. Realising too late that her intentions are wicked, he’s imprisoned along with Mr Tumnus who has also displeased her.
The story comes to a climax as the White Witch with the captive boy Edmund confronts Aslan demanding that a blood sacrifice is required. Aslan negotiates Edmund’s release but that night gives himself up to the Witch and her army – he is bound, mocked and killed.
Lucy and Susan are devastated as they look at their dead hero laid out on a great stone table, but then this happens: “At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise – a great deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate.
‘What’s that?’ said Lucy, clutching Susan’s arm. ‘I - I feel afraid to turn round,’ said Susan; ‘something awful is happening’.
They do turn round though and are greeted by a great voice and then see the lion alive – they run to him and clutch his mane!
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses. “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 deeper magic still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back 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 has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and death itself would start turning backwards”
The adventures of the children in Narnia reach a climax with a final great battle and defeat of the Witch’s army followed by the four of them being crowned kings and queens of the kingdom. As they take up their responsibilities, Aslan slips quietly away and the story moves on as the children mature to adulthood.
Their adventures draw to a close as they pass a familiar lamppost in the land of Narnia and push their way through some thick trees, only to find themselves the next moment tumbling out of an old wardrobe, no longer Kings and Queens but ordinary children, who need to explain to the Professor why four of his fur coats are missing.
The professor much to their surprise believes the whole story and tells them that one day, when they are not trying to get there, they will find themselves in Narnia once more.
As C.S. Lewis says to his Goddaughter, fairy tales are best understood by adults and there is so much in this story for us to reflect upon.
It picks up many of the themes we’ve looked at during this month including the worries and rivalries of childhood, alongside the capacity children have to use their imaginations. It focusses on the battle human beings have with temptation and the reality of having to deal with evil influences around us. Alongside this though it also displays the capacity that human beings have for courage, compassion and tenderness and captures the grief experienced when a loved one is lost.
Most important of all though the story is deeply symbolic – as Aslan willingly goes to his death but then triumphs over it, returning to commission the children to carry on his good work, our minds are turned to Christ who willingly gave up his life on the cross, rose again and commissioned his disciples, as he commissions us to go and make his love known to all the world.