The Grand Miracle, Or Easter in Everyday Life with C.S. Lewis (75th Anniversary)

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. Even now, when we celebrate throughout the world in our own livingrooms and kitchen tables, separated in flesh but united in spirit. “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 MiracleΧριστoς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

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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6 Responses to The Grand Miracle, Or Easter in Everyday Life with C.S. Lewis (75th Anniversary)

  1. David Crawford says:

    Thank you for this Christ exalting meditation. “The red in the green,” overwhelms my soul! Thank you for you faithfulness in this work. The Lord is risen indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Easter Factoid: The date for Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. Can anyone say Lunar Pagan Holy Day? 😎

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    • As it is set in concert with the Jewish tradition, that makes me wonder about moon folklore and Pagan beliefs the ancient Hebrews encountered. I know more about the sun and particular deities, but less about their calendar rhythms. There are a few Second Temple Judaism documents that argue a lot about calendars. In eile, it became very important to them.

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  3. danaames says:

    Thanks, Brenton. Blessings to you & family.

    Don’t forget the Annunciation, 25 March (Tolkien’s day of salvation…). This is an earlier remembrance and feastday of the Incarnation than Christmas in the history of Christianity. A lot of people dismiss it because it’s about Mary – as it should be, because she gave consent (and endured much). But Annunciation Day is, again, mostly about Jesus, and the theological basis for Christmas.

    Dana

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Tom Shippey, in the first edition of The Road to Middle-earth, notes the accumulated wealth of association of 25 March through Christian history. And Dr. Eleanor Parker has very interesting post, “’This doubtful day of feast or fast’: Good Friday and the Annunciation”, here, about those events and commemorations coinciding :

      http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.nl/2016/03/this-doubtful-day-of-feast-or-fast-good.html )

      a coinciding some scholars think related to the interrelation of dates of the Annunciation and Christmas. There seems to have been a widespread Jewish belief that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception, which was combined with an early Christian calculation that the Crucifixion took place on 25 March, as well the Annunciation – with the Nativity following nine months later. As Shippey notes, other important events were also soon attributed to this date by some, such as the creation and fall of man. In the course of the Middle Ages these came (with no uniform agreement) to include the fall of Lucifer, the averted sacrifice of Isaac, and the passing of Israel through the Red Sea. In his book on The Reckoning of Time, the Venerable Bede considers different contentions as to which date the world’s First Day fell on, including 25 March, and himself argues for 18 March, making 25 March the Eighth Day. Byrthferth of Ramsey follows him in this, and writes in his Old English handbook of 1101 (as translated by Dr. Eleanor Parker), ‘On that day the angels were created; on that day the archangel Gabriel was sent to St Mary; on that day he arose from death; on that day God’s spirit came to mankind. It is holy Sunday; when all days fail, it will endure forever in its festiveness. It is the joy of angels and eternal benefit to all the saints.’

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This is fine – thank you! Among other details, it is one of the delights of internet that you can so discover and share photographs with us of the Church where it was preached. It was just pointed out to me that the Orthodox Wiki article, “Paschal greeting” has “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” in a great number of languages – including Tolkien’s Quenya – with a link to “The Paschal greeting in 250 languages”!:

    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Paschal_greeting

    A joyful Easter Monday to all, now, too (starting in a couple minutes in our time zone)!

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