The Grand Miracle, Or Easter in Everyday Life

Artwork at St. Jude on the Hill, London

On this Holy week near the close of WWII, 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 in the same newspaper by just two weeks. This sermon was one of a number of famous sermons and lectures Lewis gave during WWII, many of which were collected in The Weight of Glory (1949, also known as Transpositions, and Other Addresses).

“The Grand Miracle,” however, isn’t in that volume, probably because it is part of C.S. Lewis’ “Miracles” phase. Through a series of 1941-45 articles, letters to the editor, essays, discussions at the Oxford Socratic club, and sermons, Lewis’ book Miracles grew into full form in 1947. “The Grand Miracle” sits outside the rest of Miracles in terms of its tone, lacking the clear-headed logical steps that represent the rest of the book. However, it is central to the narrative flow of Miracles, and continues to resonate as one of C.S. Lewis’ most important short pieces, and is published in God in the Dock.

St. Jude on the Hill, London

“The Grand Miracle” is a sermon about the incarnation, the in-fleshness of God in Jesus, the embodiment of the Creator within creation.

In a sermon that might have taken 20 or 25 minutes to deliver, Lewis talked 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–and human beings–in the universe.

You might be surprised, then, as we celebrate the resurrection this weekend, that I am–that Lewis was–pointing us toward the incarnation. Why are we talking about Christmas at Easter?

Worship at St. Jude on the Hill

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, the bits of red in the green decorations of the Christmas season. 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 to retrieve something from the damp, murky bottom of the riverbed. But in descent there is also ascent–resurrection, coming back up for air, reaching again for air and sky and human spaces. The seed enters the ground in Spring. There it dies, and rots. But that rot feeds the birth of new life. Descent and ascent, you go down to come up.

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.

Our Lady Chapel St. Jude on the Hill

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!”

Apr 27 Grand MiracleΧριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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10 Responses to The Grand Miracle, Or Easter in Everyday Life

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Amen and a blessed Resurrection Day to you as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A joyful Eastertide to you, and all!

    Why have I never thought to try to see where Lewis preached various sermons? – thank you for this introduction to St. Jude on the Hill!

    Do ‘we’ know how Lewis came to preach ‘Miracles’ on Sunday 27 September 1942 (the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity) and this sermon on Sunday 15 April 1945 (the Second Sunday after Easter)?

    Was he invited by the Vicar – and was that Maxwell Rennie? If so, had Lewis known his son, Michael, when he was up at Keble? The first of these St. Jude sermons was preached a little over two years after Michael died heroically rescuing children from the water when the U-48 torpedoed the City of Benares on 17 September 1940 as it was transporting children abroad in the Children’s Overseas Reception Board scheme (much as children were evacuated to The Kilns and the Pevensies would be evacuated in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – though farther afield, to the British dominions including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa). The Liverpool Museums website has a number of posts and blogposts dedicated to the matter:

    http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/collections/city-of-benares/index.aspx

    including one:

    http://blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/2015/09/75-years-since-sinking-of-childrens-ship-city-of-benares/

    with details about, and photos of, Walter Percival Starmer’s memorial mural for Michael Rennie above the St. George’s altar, which includes the motto “To the Faithful Death is the Gate to Life” – which, if the memorial was in place when Lewis preached this sermon, would add particular poignancy to Lewis’s discussion of death – and, indeed, his sea-rescue imagery. (I do not find a date for its dedication in what I have read online so far.)

    Do we know at which, if any, services Lewis preached? And, if he ascended the splendid pulpit, or,as at his own parish in Headington, humbly preached at the altar rail? In any case, the Collects and Lessons for those Sundays in the Book of Common Prayer reward our attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Other fruits of your spurring my attention to where Lewis preached this include following links from the Wikipedia article, “St Jude’s Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb”, to the Church’s website (with a richly-illustrated “Guide”), the Walter P. Starmer website, and an article in the Church Times by the current Vicar, Alan Walker, who has produced several relevant books as well! Wow! – all sorts of fascinating details for the mind to play with – including, that Starmer may well have heard the sermons, and that someone commemorated in another of his murals is “the anti-vivisectionist and suffragist Frances Power Cobbe (d. 1904)”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      The Wade blog has a new post about amazing collaborations between Dorothy Sayers and two artists who had been refugees from the Nazis – one of whom, Fritz Wegner, was given “accommodation in Hampstead Garden Suburb with the family of one of his tutors, George Mansell, who also taught him English”, apparently until sometime in 1942, in which case it’s conceivable he heard Lewis preach there, the first time!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. David says:

    An excellent post with an important reminder! Have you ever read Arthur Custance? I’m going through his rather exhaustive book The Seed of the Woman, which explores Christ’s Incarnation in scientific as well as theological detail. Key to Custance’s point is how God carefully designed the human body so that He could inhabit it Himself, that the virgin birth was scientifically perfect for the Incarnation, and for allowing Jesus to be a perfect sacrifice for all humanity. It’s a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Thank you for this! How can I never have heard of him? – but I don’t think I have. Wikipedia tells me he was as much younger than Lewis as Lewis was than Charles Williams – 12 years – but moved to Canada at 19 (1929). It also has a link to an online edition of The Seed of the Woman (1980)!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m also surprised I don’t know that book. Intriguing preface.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I could not help but be drawn to your photographs of St Jude on the Hill and, in particular, to the Lady Chapel. The iconography is of the attempt to recapture the English imagination in the Victorian age. On Palm Sunday I sat with the congregation at All Saints, Wilden near Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire after the procession surrounded by the windows all of which were made from designs by Edward Burne-Jones, related by marriage to the industrialist, Alfred Baldwin, who built the church. I began to ponder the windows depicting Christian knights and martyrs (windows have that effect on you!) and thought of Arnaud Beltrame, a true Christian knight, a colonel in the French Gendarmerie, who recently gave his life in exchange for a hostage in a terrorist attack on a French supermarket. I think that Lewis and Tolkien would have recognised Beltrame as one who by his sacrificial courage, the strong dying for the weak, as one who re-enchants knighthood and chivalry. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (including William Morris in whose factory the Wilden windows were made) would have approved too.

    Like

    • This is a nice reflection, Stephen. I think you are right that self-sacrifice–Christian knighthood in that sense–still lives in the frames of a post-Christian culture and it is valued people of other perspectives (like Morris). I think the reason is not (just) that Christian culture bleeds into the modern–it does–but that self-sacrifice sits at the centre of Christian faith because it is an essential human good. And it is an essential human good, I believe, because God is a self-giving God, and thus we are made. That’s what I see in Lewis’ work, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your appreciation of my stream of consciousness. In Beltrame’s case his knighthood was Christian and consciously so (both the knightly deed and the Christian deed). He found his Catholic faith in his 30s. I hope to learn more of his story. I find it inspiring. The chaplain of his unit said of him that he did not so much speak of his faith as radiated it. I agree entirely with you that self-sacrifice is a human good and godly too because we are God-made.

        Liked by 1 person

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