Sunday, April 22, 2012
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord….It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
(Exodus 31:15, 17)
Early on in The Hobbit, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves spend some time at Rivendell, the "Last Homely House" on the edge of the wilderness. They stay there for a number of days, during which time they regain their strength and receive from Elrond help in interpreting Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain and advice on the best route through the Misty Mountains. When they leave, they are rested and re-supplied, ready for the next portion of their journey.
After Rivendell, the travelers face their toughest challenges thus far, involving goblins, wargs, and several very narrow escapes. They are rescued from certain death by the eagles, who then provide them with transportation a little bit farther down their path. They have lost their supplies, however, and are hungry and discouraged when Gandalf leads them to the home of Beorn, the fearsome shape-shifter who is sometimes a man and sometimes a bear. As in Rivendell, they are welcomed, fed, given soft beds to sleep in, and allowed to stay a few days to rest. Before they leave, they are given food, water skins, bows and arrows for hunting, and ponies to carry them and their supplies, at least a little ways. Like Elrond, Beorn gives them wise counsel about the best way to get through the forest of Mirkwood and warnings about the dangers they may encounter within.
Without these two important rest stops along the way, the dwarves would never have made it all the way to the Lonely Mountain to finish their quest. There are similar waypoints along the Christian journey, known as Sundays. When we gather as the Church for worship, study, and fellowship, we experience rest from the everyday grind and renewal of the spirit, and if we pay attention, we might also hear God's advice for living. It is possible, I suppose, to go through life alone, relying only on God, but it is much more fulfilling and enjoyable when we take advantage of His rest stops.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13)
Bilbo and the dwarves have just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire – they escaped the goblins and their tunnels under the mountains only to find themselves in the very clearing in the woods used as a meeting spot by the evil wolves known as Wargs. The dwarves and Gandalf manage to scramble up into the trees, but even the lowest branches are too high for poor Bilbo to reach. Things are looking grim for the little burglar, who is running around the clearing in a panic as the Wargs' howls come nearer and nearer.
Finally, Thorin orders Dori to help Bilbo, since he is sitting in the tree with the lowest branches. When Bilbo still can't reach Dori's outstretched arm, though, the dwarf climbs down from the tree to help him:
"Just at that moment the wolves trotted howling into the clearing. All of a sudden there were hundreds of eyes looking at them. Still Dori did not let Bilbo down. He waited till he had clambered off his shoulders into the branches, and then he jumped for the branches himself. Only just in time! A wolf snapped at his cloak as he swung up, and nearly got him. In a minute there was a whole pack of them yelping all round the tree and leaping up at the trunk, with eyes blazing and tongues hanging out."
Of course, in the verse quoted above, Jesus was referring to himself and the sacrifice he would soon be making on the cross for his friends there with him and those to follow. Still, it applies to dwarves and hobbits and the rest of us, too. Do I have a friend I love so much that I'd die for him or her? I'm not sure. I guess no one really knows until he or she is in a life-threatening situation. I do know that I have a Friend who gave everything for me, and it is an overwhelming thing to contemplate.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)
I recently re-read C.S. Lewis's masterpiece of children's literature, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I read it as a child – it still is my favorite of the Narnia series – but back then it was just a fun adventure story in which all of the allegory and Christian allusions were completely lost on me. It has taken returning to it as an adult to fully appreciate what Lewis was trying to say, and to see particular passages in a completely new light. Today's article is about one such passage which I thought was especially appropriate for the day, so we are taking a brief break from our journey to the Lonely Mountain with Bilbo.
In Lewis's land of Narnia, the lion Aslan quite clearly represents Christ. At the climax of the book, he gives himself to the White Witch to be killed in the place of Edmund, who failed to bring his siblings to her as she asked. Later, Lucy and Susan sneak away from the camp and return to the Stone Table where the terrible deed took place. There, they are surprised to find Aslan as he was when they first met him, very much alive and returned to his former leonine glory. Like the women who discover the empty tomb, the girls are in awe and probably a bit afraid, but both they and Aslan are overcome with great happiness, as demonstrated by what happens next:
"He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn't know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty."
I love Aslan's display of such unbridled joy at his resurrection – it is certainly much different from the picture painted by the gospel writers of Jesus's first tentative encounters with Mary Magdalene and other disciples and followers that Sunday morning. After reading Lewis's description, I can just imagine Jesus, a huge smile on his face, arms spread wide, running to meet his friends, but that's not the picture we get in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe people hiding in fear and unaware at first that they are talking to the risen Savior, and sometimes even after they recognize Jesus they are still fearful and in awe. If children had been first to meet him after he left the tomb, I bet the scenario would have been much different, and maybe that's the key for all of us. After all, how many times did Jesus tell his disciples that they must be more like children?
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Let us not be restrained, but instead let us run to him, grab his hands, and pull him into our joyful celebrations!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
Bilbo has just finished his encounter with Gollum, the strange creature that lives in the middle of the lake under the mountain. They fought each other, in the form of a battle of wits: the famous Riddle Game, which Bilbo wins by a fluke – how could Gollum know the contents of Bilbo's pockets, anyway? Fair or not, Gollum has promised to show Bilbo the way out of the Goblin tunnels, but before he does that, he returns to his island nest to get something. When his "precious" is not there, he begins to suspect that he does indeed know what's in Bilbo's pocketses, and he becomes angry and starts raving about what he will do to Bilbo when he catches him. Thinking that Bilbo already knew the way out and was tricking him all along, Gollum proceeds to unknowingly lead Bilbo to the back door and camps out at the tunnel entrance in hopes of catching the hobbit. Bilbo, wearing the magic ring and therefore invisible even to Gollum's excellent night vision, is confronted with a choice:
"Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped."
Bilbo could have put an end to a threat then and there, but such violence was not in the gentle hobbit's nature. Instead, he puts himself in Gollum's shoes and imagines how horrible it must be to live the way that Gollum does. He has mercy on the poor, wretched creature and jumps over him instead of killing him.
Do we do the same with the poor, wretched people we come across? Do we try to imagine what their lives are like and show them mercy, or do we judge them according to what we see on the outside? We should remember how we are shown mercy by God in our times of wretchedness. We should then resolve, like Bilbo, to take a leap of mercy; indeed, we should go even farther and instead of merely not hurting, we should do what we can to help.