The Centrality of the Christian Story
It may seem an obvious statement to say that Christianity hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but nowadays with half-baked ideas and the jumbling of words and their meanings, we might get a Jesus who never actually died physically nor one who truly entered or conquered any grave. We could certainly turn to the biblical accounts or to the Apostle Paul, in, say, I Corinthians 15, but for this particular post, we’ll see what Lewis says. As we know, he struggled with the Christian story until he saw it as Truth.
C.S. Lewis puts it plainly in Mere Christianity. He says, “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula.”
“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.” he says in an essay titled “Myth Became Fact”. “The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. …God is more than a god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “Pagan Christs”: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.”
There’s a well-known passage in Miracles where Lewis relates the annual death and resurrection of the harvest of corn–and the celebration of it by way of the corn-king in ancient pagan worship–to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He says, “the only dying God who might possibly be historical—holds bread, that is, corn, in His hand and says, ‘This is my body’.” But Jesus is more than the fulfillment of this ancient myth, as Lewis points out in this same passage in chapter 14, “He is not a nature-God, but the God of Nature—her inventor, maker, owner, and controller.”
In May 1944, he was responding to a letter and making the argument for the historicity of the Gospels. He says that we come to to the “strangest story” of all the stories in the New Testament, the resurrection. “ It is very necessary to get the story clear,” he says. “I heard a man say, ‘The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.’ On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door, which had always been locked, had for the very first time been forced open.”
The letter goes on a bit further, as Lewis articulates what we are to make of Jesus, and combating what people want to say about Him in the process. I like how he concludes it. “What do these people want?” he asks. “Do they actually visualise Him for 3 hours nailed to a stake – flayed back glued to unplaned wood – Palestinian sun – cloud of insects round head, hands, & feet – the face a mask of bruises, pus, spittle, blood, tears & sweat – the lungs gradually tearing owing to the position – and then complain ‘This doesn’t hurt enough?'”
Christ, God from God, true God from true God, begotten not made, at one with the Father, physically died and mightily–bodily–resurrected. In both acts, in the span of three days, in the small city of Jerusalem, under Roman authority, in the same dirt, under the same sun and sky some two thousand years ago, he completed and crashed in all the myths–all the longings of all the myths–about the heavens, and a god who just might drop down and care enough about our own carelessness to do something about it.
Happy Eastertide. Pentecost is just around the corner.