Walking through the coats in a wardrobe, to be handed a lovely piece of Turkish delight, was the best entrance to church as I have had in a long, long time. This is Fitzroy and you can expect the unexpected but this was a particularly imaginative night. Just as well when you are thinking about CS Lewis's Narnia under the title The Gospel According To... The Wardrobe, The Witch and The Lion. This is one in a series that began a few years ago with rock musicians like Leonard Cohen, U2, Van Morrison etc before opening out in the arts to cover Les Miserables and Van Gogh. This evening that was a follow up to the Harry Potter night, just about a year ago, attracted an all age crowd of a couple of hundred and included the involvement of a seven year old who with sweet innocence acted Lucy as she arrived
in Narnia, a gaggle of nine and ten year olds who gave us a quiz on the Narnia series and a couple of teenagers who dramatized Lucy's siblings talking to the Professor (type cast for David Livingstone!) struggling with her far-fetched story about another land at the back of the wardrobe! Two screens, for clips, PowerPoint and scenery change, set the whole thing up in a most professional manner under
the production skills of Dave Thompson.
The change in the order of the three things in the title was very deliberate. The wonder of The Wardrobe set the scene. After young Indie Gilbert had led us through the fur coats to arrive in the presence of Mr. Tumnus, Philip Mateer spoke very personally about how reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a ten year old in a library van had left him with a feeling inside that he longed to
return to. He couldn't find the book a again until his time at Queens
University and a conversation over coffee led him back to the entire series and Lewis's other books on faith. He shared how that feeling or desire that Lewis conjured in him was what Lewis felt was our deep yearning for God. In his earlier introduction, Thompson had already spoken of Lewis's aim to create feelings of spirituality. Mateer's testimony was a witness to his success.
Next up was the Witch when we are all asked to stand for the arrival of her Imperial Majesty, Jadis, Queen of Narnia. Dressed as a frightening White Witch Gillian Fitch had us in the palm of her evil temptress' hands in a monologue that informed us of the foolishness of Aslan, the certainty of her ultimate victory and calling us to give her our allegiance! She seemed to feel we like the young son of Adam, Edmund, we were so weak that for a piece of Turkish delight we were hers! It was an effective portrayal in a Screwtape Letter kind of way but that might be another interesting Fitzroy evening!
So, to The Lion, Aslan! With clips of the movie we watched The Witch kill Aslan and then Aslan being raised to life again. Sarah Patterson then did a magnificent job of unpacking the Christian theology of these events. A reading of Isaiah 53 fitted perfectly. What struck me most about this lovely reflection was not just that Narnia changed and the snow started melting but how Edmund the traitor was
transformed and how Aslan tells the other children to not remember his misdemeanour. Also I was also struck at Aslan telling the children that they would know him with another name in the ‘real’ world.
Thompson had spoken at the outset of how Lewis had started his fantasy hoping to sneak past the dragons at the door. I had always thought that he meant the secular culture when he spoke of who he wanted the fairy tale to sneak past. It seems it might have been the
dull religion of his childhood! If that was the case he did it tonight. Whether being introduced to the Narnia Chronicles for the very first time or a young person who has been gripped by the movies or those of us who have been journeying with it for many years we all went home warm with the wonder of that wardrobe, delighted that the White Witch's deep magic was overthrown by a deeper magic that went back beyond the dawn of time and a picture of Aslan that made him not at all safe but very, very good!