A Theater Called Holy Week

How did C. S. Lewis bungle The Chronicles of Narnia?

For some critics, a major flaw is the way he interrupts the flow of the story by butting into the story as the narrator. You may remember it is Lewis who tells us (twice!) that no sensible person ever shut oneself up in a wardrobe. It’s a simple line, but Lewis breaks into the story to speak a direct lesson for young readers.

Or you may remember the dizzying scene in The Silver Chair when Jill steps up to a cliff edge far above the clouds. She grows faint and wobbly, and readers wonder if Jill is about to plunge to her death. Here's how Lewis describes it: “She was too frightened and dizzy to know quite what she was doing, but two things she remembered as long as she lived (they often came back to her in dreams)…” Stop. With this simple parenthetical statement, Lewis breaks the tension of the story. Some say that’s bad storytelling, but he does this here to reassure his young readers that whatever happens at the edge of this cliff, Jill has a future life. The brief literary interruption ministers a bit of comfort to a possibly frightened child.

Splitting the Atmosphere

In the Gospels, God’s audible voice splits the atmosphere and breaks into the narrative flow at a few key points for us. Each time, the point is to ensure we don’t miss the supremacy of Christ. This happens at three key points in the life of Jesus:

  • At his baptism, God’s voice testifies to Christ’s supremacy over John the Baptist (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22);
  • At the Mount of Transfiguration, God’s voice testifies to Christ’s supremacy over Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17);
  • And one final time, during Holy Week, God’s voice breaks audibly into history (John 12:28).

This third and final mention of the voice of God is most timely for us. Here’s the passage (John 12:27–33):

[Jesus said,] “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Here God breaks into the narrative to speak up for his own glory in the life of Christ’s incarnate life. Here we discover that all along — in Jesus’s teachings, in miracles or in exorcisms, in healings, in quiet obedience and in sea calmings — in every action his works magnified the glory of God.

And in Jesus’s final works, God will magnify himself again.

With John 12:28 firmly planted inside Holy Week, everything that unfolds in the story is a further revelation of God’s worth. Christ magnifies the worth of God in the tearing of the bread and the lifting of the cup of the New Covenant, in the pouring out of his bloody Gethsemane prayer, in his scourgings, and of course in his wrath-satisfying slaying at Golgotha.

Which means God’s voice has broken into the storyline to prepare us to survey the wondrous cross. Instead of shielding us from the tragedy of Christ’s death, the Narrator breaks into the story to prepare us and to set the bloody death of the Prince of Glory in its proper context.

Prepared for Holy Week

Holy Week begins Sunday, and the week is filled with harsh and cruel reminders. The Savior's broken body and spilling blood will be lifted up on the cross so our eyes can focus on the splendid theater of God’s glory in the awful beauty and holy majesty of Christ crucified.

But we watch the scene unfold in hope because we have been prepared for this moment by the very voice of God — “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again” — words meant to steady us for what we are to witness, words meant to echo in the godforsaken silence of Golgotha.

“The center of Christianity is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ,” writes John Piper. “The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious.”

Like a narrator’s voice breaking into a story, in John 12:28 God’s voice temporarily suspends the Holy Week narrative, not for Jesus’ sake, but for ours. His voice comforts us and reassures us that the darkness we are about to experience is part of God’s intentional plan to display his glory to the world in his Son on a tree. There he will defeat cosmic evil, he will draw us to Christ, and he will display his worth to the world. This is the theater of glory we call Holy Week.