Aslan, Ashes and Jonah: the Incredible Opportunity of a Lenten Prophetic Witness

One of my favorite moments in The Chronicles of Narnia occurs in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan, the golden-lion Christ figure, breathes life into creatures who had been turned to stone by the White Witch.

Having released the statue-captives from bondage, Aslan immediately prepares them for battle:

The stone lion Aslan set free, a Pauline Baynes illustration from my copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Those who can’t keep up—that is, children, dwarves and animals—must ride on the backs of those who can—that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.”

As the battle-sorting begins, the lion, given new life and set free from the queen’s captivity, goes about the varied crowd overcome with Aslan’s humility in identifying himself as a fellow lion.

Giddy and joyous, he exclaims to anyone who will listen:

Did you hear what he said? Us lions. That means him and me. That’s what I like about Aslan. No side, no stand-off-ishness. Us lions. That meant him and me.

I recall this touching passage each year when the gospel is proclaimed on Wednesday in Lent’s first week. When his skeptics demand yet another sign, Christ responds, “This generation…seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of man be to this generation.”

I always wonder whether Jonah, the gloomy man of God remembered primarily for his attempt to escape God’s call, might have exuded a joy similar to that lion’s had he known his preaching in Nineveh would one day be compared by the Son of Man to His own witness in the fullness of time.

Did you hear what He said? I was a sign and He is a sign. That’s what I like about the Son of Man, including us prophets in His mission. Us prophets! That means Him and me.

Christ has similarly honored each one of us.

“You shall be my witnesses,” He told his little band of followers just before His Ascension into heaven.

We may not be hopping ships like Jonah, but too often when we’re asked to account for the hope that is in us, we retreat into a squeamish silence.

We may doubt our ability to defend the faith. We may fear social rejection and dismissal. But the gifts and the calling of God, St. Paul says, are irrevocable. And each of us is called.

Accepting the three-fold mission of the baptized as prophet, priest and king, each believer is called to full identification with Jesus Christ and His mission. This is an incredible truth, Aslan Himself is calling you and me “us lions” in the winning of souls to His great Love.

I still remember the humble witness of a Lenten “lion” one Ash Wednesday years ago.

He was a high school basketball player, a teammate of my son’s. The players’ moms had been asked to provide a potluck meal for the team, and I watched with affection as the boys filled their plates with the food we’d prepared. The Catholic players arrived a bit late, Ash Wednesday crosses on their foreheads.

“We can’t eat meat,” one of the players said, eyeing the spread on the dining room table.

The coach, a Mormon, responded with a simple, respectful question. “What is Ash Wednesday, anyway?” he said.

Most of the guys shrugged sheepishly, but one young man spoke with quiet confidence.

“Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent,” he said. “Jesus fasted for 40 days and we take 40 days to prepare for Easter.”

I don’t know to what level that teenager signed with an ashen cross understood himself to be bearing witness to Christ, but as Jonah was a sign in his time, this young man was a sign to his coach, his teammates and the moms cutting cake behind the kitchen counter.

It doesn’t always happen with the drama of Nineveh, but it only happens when, with our actions and our words, we let Jesus speak through us.

That’s why I love the incredible prophetic opportunity of Lenten faith.

Lent’s countercultural acts of fasting, almsgiving and prayer not only offer us opportunities to draw closer to Christ, but to quietly and confidently bear witness to Him.

That’s what I love about the Son of Man.

That means Him and us.

Reads & Other Seeds

“We don’t wear ashes because we are holy. We wear them as a sign of repentance.” Busted Halo’s video Lent in 3 Minutes is a great quick look at Lenten practices and the reasons behind them.

Sparrowfare’s Lenten post on Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”: T.S. Eliot: There Is Not Enough Silence.

Parents and grandparents! Share the beautiful connections between Jonah and Jesus with your children (and enrich your own understanding of biblical typology) with Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb by Maura Rowan McKeegan.

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Photo by Gwen Weustink , Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash. Basketball photo by PdPics on Pixabay. Art courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.