When Mice Grow and Elephants Shrink

Deep in C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, a little cluster of folks get to peak in on the creation of Narnia. They watch as Aslan sings into life the sun and the moon, the hills and the rivers, the trees and the flowers. And then a climactic moment: The surface of the earth begins to boil like water, and suddenly animals burst into being from its dust. Many of the creatures are quickly sent off by Aslan simply to be, while some selected representatives gather ‘round the great lion and wait – for what, the cluster of witnesses do not know. But then they watch as the smallest among the creatures appear to grow in size in the presence of Aslan. The mice, the moles, the rabbits, the beavers – all of them, now a bit bigger. But this, too: The elephant that looms largest among the creatures – he grows smaller in the presence of the lion who stands at the center. It’s a picture of Narnia at her creation, and just as much a picture of the recreation begun at Easter.

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Tonight, We Celebrate

Here’s something I’ve never done: Celebrate Easter on a Saturday night. And I should add that if you were somehow able to speak to any version of me from years gone by, any one of those earlier me’s would probably tell you future me “will never celebrate Easter on Saturday.” Because every earlier me believed the silent ache of Saturday is necessary to both the grieving and celebration process. But this year’s me is winking at all those earlier me’s, because tonight – Saturday night – I’m celebrating Easter.

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The Other Three Denials

[Thursday’s Passion Week Reading: Matthew 26:17-56]

As best I can recall, the first time I stayed up all night – not a wink of sleep – was sometime during the fall of my first year of junior high. But my first attempt at doing so was when I was right around eight years old and in Second Grade. A boy – we’ll go on and call him Tommy – had recently moved to town and into my class at Adams Elementary, and when he invited me over to stay at his house, we decided our top priority was an all-nighter. We were certain we could pull it off if we could find just enough things to entertain us long after the rest of the world had gone dark. What we found to be true when the big night arrived was that right around one in the morning, you get a bit bored with watching old episodes of “Knight Rider” on VHS. It was at this early-morning hour that Tommy insisted we could get a little wind back in our sails if we were to sneak upstairs from the basement we’d taken charge of for the night and give his mom a good scare.

“She always falls asleep on the couch while watching TV,” he said.

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“Every day, until the Day”

[Wednesday’s Passion Week Reading: Matthew 26:3-5]

Just about every study Bible I’ve ever owned has included a Gospel-harmonized, day-by-day chart that lists the events of Passion Week, and in every one of those charts, Wednesday looks rather pathetic in terms of action. On Monday we stand among toppled tables and withered fig trees. On Tuesday, among other things, we are audience to a bevy of prophetic teachings that march us through the fall of Jerusalem and right up to the end of the world. And we all know how packed Thursday and Friday are. As for Wednesday? This, from Matthew: Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” While mapping out the murder of an innocent man is nothing to shake a stick at, again, when compared with the Monday and Tuesday before it, and the Thursday and Friday to come, Wednesday’s activities strike you as a bit thin at first glance.

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Keep It All

[Tuesday’s Passion Week Reading: Matthew 21:20-25:46]

One of the fastest ways you can raise the ire of fellow believers is to take a swing at the cherished interpretation of the moment shared between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Tell them the image we conjure up in our mind – the one that has Jesus spitty-lipped and flushed, jugular vein protruding like some ropey root just under the soil as he shoves a finger in the collective chest of the religious leaders – is only half the image offered us (and the lesser half at that). Tell them they can keep the spit, the crimson shade, the punched-up vein, but tell them they must add snot and tears. Tell them they must do this because every student of Matthew 23 has to come to terms with the term “woe,” a word used throughout the Bible by prophets and poets to speak not only of anger over the state of things, but also – and perhaps more so – of guttural sadness. And then tell them the snot and tears streaming or stopped up in the lines of Jesus’ face are not only for the good folk the Pharisees are making “twice the sons of hell,” but for the Pharisees who are sons of hell themselves. Tell them Matthew 23 is Jesus calling Pharisees home as much as it is a picture of Jesus driving them away in judgment. Tell them all of this and then come to terms with the fact that you are probably not going to be invited over for Easter brunch.

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The Monday After Palm Sunday

[Monday’s Passion Week Reading: Matthew 21:12-19]

This, on Sunday: “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Jesus and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” (Matthew 21:8-9)

This, on Monday: “And the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. And…the children [were] crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” (Matthew 21:14-15)

It’s a detail I’ve only this year caught, despite all my years of reading the Passion Week accounts: What the crowds shouted on Palm Sunday, they shouted again on Monday. And while I suspect the cries on Monday were a little more muted in strict auditory terms, the statement being made by the crowd is no less loud than the one made the day before. In some ways, it’s louder. Because while it’s one thing for the people to yell “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in the street, it’s quite another to do so in the temple, which is exactly what they did that Monday long ago.

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A Strange Kindness

Every parent I know has a bevy of “first day of school” pictures. There’s the son in front of the house, squinting against the morning light with a sleepy smile, feet tied-up in knock-off shoes purchased at a palatable price. And there’s the daughter, grinning with shoulders slumped under a stuffed backpack – though it’s not quite as stuffed as it could be, since she’s refused to tuck away her favorite folder with the cat in the sunglasses. (That she proudly holds in front of her as she says, “Cheese.”) They’re wonderful pictures, but I wonder: What would Mom and Dad have looked like if the camera had been turned on them that morning? I suspect we’d spy a hint of fear in Mom’s eyes and some hesitation just at the corners of Dad’s smile. Because school – the world – can be a cruel place. Dad knows it’s only a matter of time before some bully brings attention to the imitation footwear, and Mom knows right around the corner from her daughter is a gal who will relish the opportunity to turn up her nose and point out to all the other little girls that “cats don’t wear sunglasses.” Dad and Mom both know the day after the first day, it will take an hour to get out the door as the son argues the merits of a more benign pair of flip flops, and that folder with the cat won’t be anywhere near the daughter, but rather hidden on the bedroom shelf, if not torn in two and placed in some bedroom trashcan. Take a picture on that second day in, and you’ll spot tears in the eyes of the little ones – and in the eyes of the bigger ones, too, should the camera get turned on them once more.

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Maddening and Necessary

There’s really no way to know how many hours I’ve spent in Exodus 3 and 4 – that little stretch of Scripture where God pulls Moses into the fold of the great exodus he wants to pull off. It’s safe to settle somewhere around “a whole lot.” I’ve always held Moses’ calling close to my chest. This opposed to, say, Joseph’s calling. When his came in a dream, he woke with starry eyes and a pleasant sigh and got right to it. Long before he got his coat of many colors, that fella was dressed to the nines in confidence. But not Moses. A bush that burns but never burns up? The voice spilling out from it – one like the thunder of rushing waters or the blast of a trumpet? That voice attached to someone who seemed to know Moses more than Moses knew himself? All of this and yet when the call came, this from Moses: “‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’” All of this and yet when the call came, this from Moses: “Oh, my Lord, can you not see the cracks? Let me name them for you.”

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Tender Shoots

Tucked away in an old shoebox in the back corner of my parents’ closet were a handful of dog-eared, early-eighties photographs of Christmas morning scenes at my (paternal) grandparents’ Indianapolis living room – tinseled tree in the background and a floor dotted with wads of wrapping paper. In one picture I’m wearing a Lone Ranger costume that, as I later learned, my grandmother had sewn together for me. A local toy store had provided the rest – a mask, holsters, and two six-shooters. I’m looking at myself in mirror, but only with someone’s help – my grandfather’s. I don’t know how everything unfolded, but I can make a pretty good guess. I must have put the costume on as soon as it was out of the box, and when I ran to look in the hallway mirror, I realized an adult had selfishly hung it far too high for me. At some point I assume my grandmother picked up on my frustration and turned to my grandfather and said, “Help the boy have a look!” And that’s the moment we have captured on film – my grandfather holding me up so that I can catch a glimpse of myself in all my Lone Ranger glory.

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All Times Soon

I know I went through the wardrobe once already this week, but today – back to Narnia. Fair warning: I’ll probably do it again (and again) in the coming weeks. After today, though, I think I’ll set a little rule for myself never to do so twice in one week. I wouldn’t want you or I to get Narnia’d out. Thing is, the journey I’m taking back through Lewis’s series has been fun and good for me.

At the moment I’m a little over halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Just two nights ago, I bumped into one of those rare moments Aslan shows up – and in this particular moment, he shows up to Lucy. I’ll spare us all too much context and simply say the great lion arrives in the midst of Lucy’s casting of a spell from an old Magician’s book that will make invisible things visible, and in so doing, save her life and the lives of others. But once the spell is cast and turmoil is settled, Aslan turns to leave as quickly as he came. As you would imagine, Lucy’s undone by his desire to (seemingly) leave her to herself once again. Aslan spots her grief and says, “Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”

“I call all times soon,” said Aslan.

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