One of the stumbling blocks that held C. S. Lewis back from embracing Christianity was his inability to understand how the death of an obscure Jewish rabbi two thousand years ago could have any impact on his life. Lewis found it difficult to distinguish between pagan myths of dying and rising gods (e.g., Osiris, Adonis, Mithras, Balder), and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is until his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien suggested that the reason Christ resembled so closely the myths of the pagans was that Christ was the myth that became fact.
This insight, which helped lead the skeptical Lewis to faith in Christ, is one that has galvanized my own faith and which I think has the potential to draw many modern and postmodern seekers to the True Myth whose crucifixion and resurrection healed the division between God and man. But to bring this insight into our churches, we need ministers who can bridge the gap between preaching and worship, the word and the image, reason and imagination. What we need, in short, are ministers who can so widen the vision of our congregations that they will see Jesus Christ as, not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Law and Prophets, but of all the deepest philosophical, theological, and aesthetic yearnings of mankind.
Here are some notes toward possible ways that a minister could incarnate such a vision in his congregation.
- Devote a portion of the service to making a connection between something from the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christ fulfills it. For example, tell the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and then link it to the harrowing of hell—to how Christ defeated death and hades. Or tell the myth of Bacchus, the god of the grape, who dies in the winter and is reborn in the spring, and link it to the once-for-all, historical death and resurrection of Christ.
- Tell stories of figures from the Bible and Greek mythology in such a way that they seem like stories from people in the congregation—then reveal their true source. Have a testimony night where the focus really is on the stories.
- Have a special service where you explore fully a theme or concept that runs throughout all of nature and myth and that is consummated in Christ: “except a grain of wheat . . .” (John 12:24); the blue-blooded orphan who is really a prince; the hero who triumphs through tragedy.
- Have a special night service where you baptize several people. Before the baptism discuss, not only what the Bible says about baptism, but the persistent symbol of water throughout the history of culture.
- Act out one of the medieval mystery plays or write one of your own. Put on a pageant of sacred history that includes the interplay of pagan nations (e.g., Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome).
- Use a silent drama (or a dance) to replay the cycles of life-death-rebirth. Read poems on these subjects out loud and act (or dance) them out.
- Using the Magi as your model, collect stories from your congregation of those who have come to Christ via strange and unexpected routes: especially via other cultures or religions.
- Show stills or scenes from movies that have such archetypal power that they have burned themselves into the consciousness of thousands of people. Discuss why these images hold such power and link that power (where possible) to archetypal stories from the Bible.
- Re-enact the Last Supper and let that move naturally into Communion—so that the actor’s come forward and distribute the bread and wine to the congregation.
- In imitation of the Orthodox Easter service, give everyone in the congregation an unlit candle. Then shut the lights in the sanctuary. Light one candle from the altar and then distribute that light from person to person until the whole congregation is lit by the candles. Preface or follow this ceremony with a discussion of how Jesus is the Light of the World.
Louis Markos (www.loumarkos.com), Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his books include Lewis Agonistes: How C.S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, Apologetics for the 21st Century, Restoring Beauty, Literature: A Student’s Guide, and On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis.