Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tolkien's Gospel: Mortality (Recap week 2)

J.R.R.Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in order to create a mythologythat would transmit timeless virtues to a culture that he feared was losing itssoul as it hurdled toward modernity. Tolkien a life long friend and colleagueof C.S. Lewis, also used his devout Christian faith as a source of the virtueshe wanted to share with through his stories. These facts make the storieswonderful sources to illustrate the nature of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.While contrast to Lewis' Narnia, no one figure represents Christ, each virtuouscharacter in Tolkien's works represents Christ in some way despite their faultsand weaknesses.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:3 NRSV

In this week's scene we see Arwen declare her love for Aragorn.   She does more than that, she agrees to become a mortal so she can live and die with the one she loves.   Arwen is an elf.  In Tolkien's Middle Earth she is an immortal.  However, if she wants to bind herself to a mortal, she must embrace death for herself.   On the real earth, this is exactly the same pattern of activity that God has done for us in Jesus.   Jesus is willing to bridge the chasm between God and humans to the point that he is willing to die for them.   Jesus puts his life on the line to love.   It is one's willingness to die that proves love.   In The Lord of the Rings, Arwen proves her love by being willing to die.   While this love seems great, God's love is greater.

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  Romans 5:10 NRSV

Jesus' love resulting from his compassion for humanity is boundless.   This is the very essence of Grace! He did not give his life for those who would be able to love him back in equal measure, he gave it for those who would be unable to repay him.   Jesus commits to go to his death so that people will live.  It seems strange at first, but the truth is that Jesus must embrace death so that the world may share in the resurrection.  In our contemporary world we do so much to keep death out of our minds.  We rarely speak of it, we ignore its coming.   Many unhealthy religious thoughts have sprung up in our culture that deny the reality of death in this world.  Mormonism with its doctrine of the uncreated eternal soul, Budhism with reincarnation,  and positivist thinkers who believe that technology can overcome death are just a few examples.  

Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  Mark 13:2  NRSV

On October 29th and 30th of this year we were reminded that nothing lasts forever as hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in our area.   Mark 13 not only tells us about  the downfall of ancient Roman Jerusalem, Jesus teaches the disciples in the text about the mortality of our world.  Even what seems immortal and permanent in this life will one day pass away.   One finds in The Lord of the Rings a narrative with lots of references to ruins of civilizations passed.   Great monuments to powerful and heroic rulers lie broken and scattered and overgrown by forests and fields.  It is a reminder to us that nothing is permenent. This is one of the major points apocalyptic Biblical writing.  Our world like us, was born, grew to maturity, and will one day die.  Just as we hope for a new birth in the resurrection to come, our entire created world hopes to be one day reborn anew (See Romans 8, and Revelation 21). 

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— Genesis 3:22NRSV

One of the important themes of Tolkien's writing is the grace that exists in mortality; death is called the gift of men.  This idea though not popular with those who preach a watered down version of the Gospel, is found in the Bible and in classic Christian thought.   The premise is simple, in a sinful world humans can not handle immortality,  the constant sorrow will eat away, isolate, and destroy the true essence of the person.  Eternal life without forgiveness is not heaven; it is hell.  Tolkien's elves demonstrate this, they are almost always written in sorrowful and tragic terms.   In their undying state, they have just witnessed too much evil.  Even more profound, their lack of ability to die makes them unable to commit to fighting for their world.   It is Arwen, when she commits her life to a mortal and embraces death, who shows what it means to really be alive.  Death makes us take stock of the gift of life. 

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24NRSV

To deny our eventual death would show a lack of faith.   The mistake that we make when avoid dealing with death is that we accept death as the final word.   The life, cross and resurrection of Jesus prove to us that death does not have the victory  because Christ is risen from the dead.   He shows us the way from death to life.   Now we must all die to rise again,  and while we can naturally fear the process, we should have no doubts about its outcome. Christians have always seen this as hope for today as well as the hour of our eventual death.   Luther spoke of our need to die to sin and rise to new life daily through repentance and by remembering our baptism into Jesus.  Paul reminds us to "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)" (Colossians 3:5).   If we have the courage to ask ourselves what are we willing to die for?  We might just find the answer of who are we willing to live for?

Keep the Faith, 
Pastor Knecht 

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