On this week 70 years ago, C.S. Lewis preached a sermon called “The Grand Miracle” at St. Jude on the Hill Church in London. The talk was published two weeks later in The Guardian–following the last episode of The Great Divorce by just two weeks. It is part of C.S. Lewis’ “Miracles” phase–a series of articles, letters to the editor, essays, and sermons in 1941-45 that became Miracles (1947). It continues to resonate as one of C.S. Lewis’ most important essays, published in God in the Dock.
“The Grand Miracle” considers the incarnation, the in-fleshness of God in Jesus, the embodiment of the Creator within creation. It talks of the unique event of the space-less and time-less God entering history–taking up space and time as a fleeting cloak of protection against the brokenness of human being in the universe. You might be surprised, then, as we celebrate the resurrection this weekend, that I am pointing us toward the incarnation. Why are we talking about Christmas at Easter?
That is partly answered by saying, “because we also talk about Easter at Christmas.” Even Good Friday, in all its horror, is part of the Christmas meditation. But the reason is deeper than this. In “The Grand Miracle,” Lewis talks about the descent of God in our world, like a diver pushing down to the depths. But in descent there is also ascent–resurrection, coming back up for air. The seed enters the ground in Spring. There it dies, and rots. But that rot feeds the birth of new life. For Lewis, the logic of death and resurrection is in all parts of life, so the incarnation is really just the first step in the great journey of Holy Week. Christmas and Easter are connected in a single movement.
If we look further into C.S. Lewis’ work, though, we see that The Grand Miracle is not just about Christ. The cycle of death and life is not just prefiguring the gospel story, but the story of how to live the Christian life. As Christians, we die to self, and then are resurrected to new life. Baptism pictures this: death to a watery grave, all of life distorted through the lid of the water, the body tightening against the instincts of life when breath is taken away, and then release as we erupt into new life. C.S. Lewis’ theology is always spiritual theology. Aslan does not rise from his self-sacrifice merely because Christ did; Aslan arises from humiliation because we all do.
At Easter we meditate on this new life: the giving way of Winter death to Spring life, the harrowing of hell and the emptying of all tombs, and the great promise of every Christian life. “The Grand Miracle” is an Easter meditation meant to draw us into communion with Christians across time and space who say, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!”