To Heaven & Back: A Liturgy That Hurts
Lewis has always been something of an oddity for me. I thoroughly enjoy everything written by him. But it has been a peripheral enjoyment. Very little of it has had an impact on me philosophically or theologically. It is no surprise that some of my favorite works by Lewis discuss theological things through story and symbolism. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Perelandra, and The Great Divorce are not Lewis' best works, but they have left the closest thing to "an impression" upon me. It is the last of these that I would like to discuss as we close out #LewisWeek.
In The Great Divorce, Lewis plays within the realm of the eschatological. A bus departs from a joyless town to the beautiful country. The analogy presumedly being a trip from Purgatory or Hell to the gates of Heaven. Throughout the story there is a myriad of characters who are encouraged to press on in their visit. The irony that underlies the trip is that Heaven proves to be unsuitable for the visitors. It is too real or too corporeal for almost all of the visitors. The promise is that they will eventually feel less discomfort in the beautiful country. I will leave the details and great symbolism to the eager reader.
For all the good that comes from Lewis' hypothetical dream, the theological application is limited for those who do not affirm some form of Purgatory (Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry Walls is an interesting Protestant work defending the idea). It remains an interesting "what if?" with little application.
However, if one reads Lewis with a "realized eschatology" there exists an interesting application. If for instance we take the old hymn seriously that "Heaven came down and glory filled my soul," we can apply Lewis' stark contrast to our present reality. With heaven a reality that Christian experience now, all of Lewis' analogy is being played out in the life of the church.
Now each Sunday when Heaven meets Earth the nonbeliever finds themselves not corporeal enough for worship. In a sense, they are not human enough to experience the presence of God without pain. This concept enforces that man was created for intimacy with God but lost in it the fall. It was not until God became man on behalf of man to establish a new image that brings us near to God (Eph. 4:20-24). In the interim, it is the church's heavenly liturgy that is too real. The music too glorious, the word of the sermon too harsh, and the Eucharist too weighty to even lift. But for the grace of God this would be the impact of heavenly worship upon all of us — not that unlike Isaiah's lip burning (Isa. 6:1-7) or the thunder on Sinia (Exo. 19:16). In worship, heaven is brought near (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9; Eph. 2:13). We are now "not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls" (Heb. 10:39).
Yet, our remaining sinful nature feels it. I know for myself there are times when church is the last thing I want. An encounter with God sounds like a death sentence. And I am reminded of the urging in The Great Divorce . I am reminded of Christ's beckoning "all who are weary and heavy-laden" (Matt. 11:28). The calling is to return to heaven and a liturgy that sometimes hurts.
[Editor's Note: This blog is a participant in #LewisWeek]