April 19, 2017
Easter is a time when God gives us the grace to kiss the past good-bye. It is a time to open the curtains and let in the sunshine of a new life in Christ. It is a time of accepting our forgiveness from the Father for Jesus sake, which means we are now able not only to forgive others but also to forgive ourselves.
Each Easter we remember again the man whom Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder in their book, Conversions, call "the foremost Christian apologist of the 20th century" and the man who "has in our time instructed more people in the reasonableness of Christian faith than all the theological faculties in the world" (p.199). The man is C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) known as "Jack" to his friends. He has helped us understand that Easter is a time when God gives us the grace to kiss the past good-bye and welcome our new life in Christ.
But, how does Lewis do this? How did he become a Christian apologist who instructs so many people in the reasonableness of Christianity? To learn this we can turn to Lewis himself, who tells us the story of his own conversion in his autobiographies, Surprised by Joy and The Pilgrim's Regress and makes reference to it from time-totime in his letters. And we can see how his own conversion gave him the grace to kiss the past good-bye, let Easter possess him, and show him the way to present Christ so effectively to others.
Lewis was raised in the Church of Ireland, part of the Anglican Communion of Churches, and confirmed at the age of 15. He later said that, although he allowed himself to be confirmed to please his father, for him it was a lie because by that time he was a convinced atheist.
After serving in the British infantry in World War I and being wounded in the Battle of Arras, he resumed studies at Oxford University where he had matriculated shortly before entrance in the army. He subsequently took three first class degrees, studying Classics, Philosophy, and English Literature, and was elected a fellow in English at Magdalen College Oxford.
However, the Holy Spirit was pursuing him and would speak to him in a way he could understand, a way for which he was prepared by his study of ancient, medieval, and renaissance literature. He was especially attracted to pagan myth with its stories of the interaction of gods with people, particularly its stories of dying and rising gods.
At Oxford, Lewis had friends who were Christian and who shared his love of ancient myth. On the evening of September 19, 1931, two of these friends, J.R.R. Tolkien and H.V.D. Dyson, had dinner with Lewis at Magdalen College. After dinner, the three friends talked about myth, paganism, and Christianity, a conversation that went into the early hours of the morning. Lewis wrote about this conversation to another friend, Arthur Greeves. Lewis acknowledged that he had always been mysteriously moved by the pagan myths about dying and rising gods and the idea about a god sacrificing himself to himself. What Tolkien and Dyson showed him that night was that "the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened." Lewis was able to see that pagan myth was God's prevenient grace working through poets and story-tellers in order to prepare us for the revelation of Christ, whose story has all the characteristics of a myth but which really happened. As Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy, "Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not 'a religion,' nor 'a philosophy.' It is the summing up and actuality of them all" (p.236). On September 28, 1931, Lewis took the final step. He and his brother, Warren, took a picnic to Whipsnade Zoo, with Warren driving his motorcycle and Jack in the side-car. As Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy, "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. 'Emotional' is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake" (p. 237).
Christ spoke to Jack Lewis in a way that he could understand through the means of pagan myth and good friends who could show him the way that myth prepares us for the revelation of the true myth of Jesus Christ. Then he was able to kiss his atheist past good-bye and, with St. Paul, forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13). In this pressing on, he was able to see truth in the Gospel, understood as true myth, that he was able to communicate to countless others over many years.
The difference in the presentation of Christ by Lewis is startling when it is compared with the way many scholars present Christ using the historical-critical method to study the Gospels. One has the impression from many of them that the Gospels are poor historical writing and the object is to see how much of these stories is really history and how much we can leave out. But Lewis, in such works as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Chronicles of Narnia (seven children's novels, which is his own mythological story of Christ) gives us the picture of the whole Christ — winsome, demanding, loving, forgiving, leading us on to greater and greater Truth, who is Himself, who is also the Way and the Life. Instead of seeing the Gospels as poor history, Lewis sees them for what they are: myth become fact.
During the Easter Season, the atoning death and resurrection of Christ are celebrated liturgically and in many other ways as we welcome His new life in us and kiss the past good-bye. If God gives us back something from our past, it will be a new gift that is no longer past but present and meant to be part of our future, part of our new creation in Christ, a new creation of ourselves that is part of his entire new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. As St. John says in Revelation: "Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (21:3-4,RSV).
To Kiss the Past Good-bye
Today I kissed my past good-bye
And then I see He's given back
With sin and even all my good,
The good was present in my past,
And apple of the Father's eye
And I delightedly unpack
I welcomed now — at last I could,
What will in present, future last.
For He is raised beyond the tomb
For now He'll always live in me
And asks me to invite Him in
As with Him hand-in-hand I go,
To breathe away my circling gloom,
With all my loved ones bend the knee
Reveal in me what's always been.
To Truth we're always meant to know.