One of the many things I love about the Chronicles of Narnia is that every time I read through the series, I come away with something new – often, something new from each book. Now reading through Prince Caspian with my daughter, I was struck by the scene in which Lucy meets Aslan for the first time since she and her siblings were pulled back into Narnia.
If you don’t know the story, what is wrong with you? Just kidding. But not really. The Pevensie siblings are pulled magically into Narnia, but despite being gone just one earth year, a millennium has passed in Narnia, and the land is ruled by a race of humans called Telmarines, who have subjugated and done their best to exterminate any remnants of Old Narnia – the talking beasts, satyrs, dryads, fauns, centaurs, dwarves and the like. The true heir to the throne, Caspian, has fled for his life because his Uncle Miraz usurped the throne from Caspian’s father and killed all of his allies. Now Caspian and the Old Narnians have turned to fight Miraz and the Telmarines, and the Pevensies might be able to help, but they have to get to the camp first. Aslan has been absent from this story for hundreds of years, his existence is doubted by many, and only the youngest Pevensie, Lucy, seems to be able to see him. After everyone else falls asleep, Lucy is awakened by a voice calling her name. At long last, she meets Aslan again:
“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.
“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”
“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away – like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”
“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.
“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all of Narnia will be renewed.”
I wonder if Jesus isn’t calling us to some very hard tasks that involve following him when no one else even knows if he still exists. Following him takes many shapes, but the notion of taking up the cross surely involves doing the things Jesus did when he was here – fighting injustice and oppression; helping the poor; preaching freedom to those enslaved by sin, but first eating with them and treating them like people to befriend, not prizes to be won.
That’s not very sexy. Why can’t Jesus just come back and conquer the forces of evil once and for all – not in an ultimate-demise sense like he did on the cross but in a real-life, no-more-death-or-tears-or-suffering sense? Why does he leave the task to us imperfect, petty people, who find it much easier to propagate injustice and oppression than end it? Why is it so hard?
And I hear him say: “It has been hard for us all until now.”
And he waits. He waits for us to find the strength he’s given us. He waits for us to be ready to spread the gospel – not simply evangelize or start churches or pound pulpits, though it may involve those things, but to participate in the radical, egalitarian, peaceful, world-changing activity begun by Jesus when he was last around these parts.
And when we find that strength, when we get off our butts and begin caring for the needy, the prisoner, the hungry, the sick, the enslaved – when we begin to truly love God and love others, that’s when he says: “Now you are a lioness. And now all the world will be renewed.”