In C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, pass through the wardrobe’s portal to find the kingdom of Narnia imprisoned under the spell of the White Witch. Aslan the lion, who is the king of Narnia, is nowhere to be found. Although rumor has it “He is on the move,” he appears to have abandoned his kingdom to the White Witch, who spends her leisure time turning Narnians into lawn statuary.
The four children set out to explore this strange and somewhat frightening new country that is locked under evil’s spell. They are found by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, still faithful to Aslan, part of the underground resistance. The Beavers assure the children that Aslan is about to return to set things right and that prophecy suggests that they – four children of Adam – have a very important, even central part to play in the drama about to unfold. They are not here by accident. It has all been foreseen.
“Tell us about Aslan!,” said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling – like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them.
“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment…. You’ll understand when you see him….”
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy….
“Aslan a man?’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you….”
We humans have such a strong urge to feel safe. It is built into our DNA, into our nature as creatures, just like every animal on earth. Survival instinct. After our basic needs for food and shelter, our next most basic set of needs is for safety.
The beginning of the lesson the children were going to learn was that safety is not pain-free. It is the most natural thing in the world to get safety wrong. In fact, Jesus was asking the disciples to find their safety in whole new ways. Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus said. Crosses are not pain free. They are not safe for our physical bodies. But safety is bigger than our physical bodies. That is what Easter proclaimed. To focus on the safety of our merely physical bodies is not enough. Rather, finding our safety in the Christ, in union with all life – that is where our souls, our lives are safe.
The story of Saul and Ananias is a similar story. Saul had become a very dangerous man. He was powerful and influential, and he was furious. You combine power and fury and the situation is dangerous indeed! A little bit like the White Witch of Narnia.
Saul first appears in Acts at the stoning of Stephen, as an official guard for the witnesses throwing the stones. Clearly he was a leader of the movement. That very day, a massive persecution broke out against followers of Jesus. Saul went from house to house dragging men and women off to prison for their faith. And Jerusalem was not enough for Saul. He got permission to go to Damascus, where many had fled from Jerusalem, to drag more followers to prison. He approved of killing Stephen, and it can be implied that he approved of killing many more disciples.
Saul is described as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He was not a safe person. But for some reason, God wanted him. And so, in some sense, Saul himself was not safe either. Saul has his “come to Jesus” moment when the great light knocks him off his feet. Suddenly Saul finds himself face down in the dirt. Not looking as powerful as a moment before.
Like Aslan, Jesus had returned and was on the move. And his movement was powerful and terrifying. I can imagine the voice being like thunder and the light so powerful it rumbled under their feet. His companions, fellow jailers and house raiders, were terrified. They could hear the voice which spoke to Saul, but they could see nothing. They were the ones who were scared now. This is not safe! This is not how the world works!
Next it is Ananias’ turn to be terrified. Even for the disciples of Jesus, his movement is not safe. Jesus goes to this faithful disciples in Damascus to give him a job to do. And it was a job no one would want. Go talk to Saul of Tarsus, pray for him and heal him. Like a Narnian walking into the White Witch’s castle! Ananias protests, “This man is not safe!” He has done much evil in Jerusalem and now has authority to expand his powers. Ananias does not want to go. But he does. I imagine him trembling with every step. This is not a confident Ananias who goes to meet Saul. The natural consequence of this visit would be that he would be bound and sent off to Jerusalem as a prisoner, ending life as he had known it. But it was his call, and he trusted Jesus enough to go.
Ananias was so brave! He expected to be imprisoned, tortured and to die from this encounter, but he went anyway. He put his life on the line. Yes, Jesus had him covered. He had already done a miracle in Saul’s heart which was unimaginable to this disciple. But Ananias didn’t know that. He just trusted the instruction given in the vision and went, against his natural judgment.
Was Ananias safe? Hmmm. This is an interesting question. What do we mean by safe? By all rights Ananias was correct to assume that his going to meet Saul would mean the end of his life, at least life as he had come to know it. That is not safe. His body and his physical life was not safe in this moment and he knew it.
But I think Ananias, a faithful disciple of Jesus, had learned to recognize Jesus’ voice and had learned to trust that his life was ultimately safe in Jesus’ hands. Look, Jesus had died, and yet was alive and available to the disciples when they needed him or when he needed them. Ananias had learned that there is more to safety than survival.
Every moment of following Jesus is not safe. That hasn’t changed. Again today, we are watching mass shootings and suicide bombers attack people of faith in their holy places. Christians, Jews, Muslims. Following Love is not safe. But it is good.
Following Jesus, we are called to do the next good thing, with no promises that it will be easy. Change is never easy. But it is a change formed in love. When we love our enemy we change ourselves and we change our enemy. Love doesn’t necessarily protect us, but it gives us hope and a place to live in peace. And since God is love, what is next continues to be in the presence of love. And ultimately, that is the only safe place to be.
Cynthia Bourgeault discusses this in a passage Richard Rohr sent out to readers of his newsletter this week: “What Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin….The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, “hidden with Christ in God” (to use Paul’s beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3). Here and now we can draw strength from Christ to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity…. Yes, [Jesus’] physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognize him at that other level, just as he has modeled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide. Nor has that intimacy subsided in two thousand years—at least according to the testimony of a long lineage of Christians, who in a single voice proclaim that our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love…. [Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 133-135.]
And so, this table set before us makes sense. The entire cosmos has become Christ’s body, the blood flowing through it is his love. These elements – bread, wine – are elements set aside in this holy moment for us to see, and to recognize the voice of Jesus saying, I hold you. I may not be safe. Suffering and death are part of life. I went through it. So will you. But at this table, and in every moment you walk on this earth, you also live in my heart of love. And there you are safe. Soul-safe in the heart of love. So now, empowered by my love, go and do the next good thing.