If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a prominent British (specifically Irish) writer, professor (Oxford and Cambridge), Christian theologian, and apologist. If an award were conceived for “most prolific reader of the 20th century,” Lewis would doubtless be in the running for it, and he was perhaps one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time. He wrote many books, probably the most famous of which is the collection of 7 children’s stories called The Chronicles of Narnia, and was a highly-sought-after lecturer. His imagination, which he repeatedly credited as a vivid channel by which God communicated with him, awes me. Though the breadth and volume of my own reading in comparison to his is meager and anemic, I have yet to discover its equal. And as I study his life and writings, he is quickly becoming a personal hero.
It was on June 8, 1941 — 33 years to the day before I was born and in the midst of World War II — that Lewis first preached one of his most famous sermons, entitled The Weight of Glory (pdf), at the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
The sermon describes Lewis’ view of the glory of God and the hope of heaven, and ends in a call to live in light of (under the weight of) this glory. I listened to it again today, and was deeply moved by its closing call to action and its stark and humbling view of the people in our lives. Any lover and follower of Jesus Christ, purchased from death by God for His glory, cannot possibly ignore this view of the eternal nature of all people. I have reproduced it here with minor paraphrasing, amplification and annotation, less with the intention of changing or adding to it than of maximizing it’s accessibility. May it ignite both in my heart and yours a relentless sense of urgency to love broken people the way God does, and may it expand our own stories to include them. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, but immediately and with great joy.
For each of us, the cross (Luke 9:23-26) comes before heaven, and tomorrow is a another ordinary day. Each day, a cleft is opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow Jesus inside. Following Him is, of course, the essential point.
That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in speculating on heaven and the glory of God, which will be visited upon men as they meet Him face-to-face someday. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for one to think too much of her own potential glory in eternity, but it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of her neighbor. The load, the weight, the burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one of these two destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another in this life — all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our love for them and service toward them must be a real and costly kind, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the blessed sacrament of Holy Communion itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. And if he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ Jesus, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
What would the world be like if we lived like we believed Lewis’ words and like it mattered deeply to us that they are true? For my part, I want to find out…