Engaging stories — especially those of fantasy and fairy tale — often reminds us of the One True, Great Story. Whenever we read them, the real and the imaginative merge for a time. We bring in our experiences, and receive new ones through the characters. We are changed, transformed even.
Happening upon a journal with enigmatic, entries written by an anonymous traveler, to a loved one, is not so uncommon; it perhaps is an attic, a basement, a used bookshop, an archive away for any of us. The following series by Rev. Sam Schuldheisz is intended to straddle the real and the imaginative. Its models are John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in this regard. The italicized text is from a found journal; the regular text contain thoughts fitting to the entry by Rev Schuldheisz.
To explain further is to chance breaking the enchantment, as J.R.R. Tolkien might say; beware the watchful dragons, Lewis would warn. What is far more intriguing is what the traveler describes as he experiences through his quest, and how they might be interpreted to us through Christian eyes…
I have fallen into something like a Dream, yet it is more; all my senses are awake and receptive. I found myself curled up beside a large marble stairway. Before continuing inside, I took in the world that lay around me. The realmscape is vivid. At first I thought I may have finally discovered the great Insula Avallonis. This may yet bear out; the place I find myself is wondrous — an atmosphere more supernal than I was prepared concerning the mythical Insula I have been seeking.
The structure contains one vast spherical chamber. The floor slopes up gently. Vine-like designs accent the edges. A narrow, scarlet strip of fine carpet, hemmed in silver and gold, leads straight on (but I dare not step upon such a royal presentation).
Beams of daylight penetrate through four painted windows, converging upon one remarkable sight: a tree that rises nearly to the apex of the concave ceiling.
The side of the tree that faces me is decrepit, dying. As I walk around, the other side of the tree is full of life, its branches twisting to bathe its leaves in the glittering light beams. The tree exudes a magnificent fragrance comprised of autumn spice and spring flowers and summer fruit, of such a kind that it cuts me to the heart I cannot bottle it for you.
The trunk of the tree is cloven clean through, from its base to about five feet above my head. Flowing upon the ground, “through” the base of the trunk and about the roots, is a stream of clear water with no apparent source; as if the tree were producing the element from within, or perhaps there is an underground spring (yet I can imagine how these might be accomplished so that the tree remains a tree). The water is channeled by way of a groove cut into the floor, about a foot wide, and is directed to the edge of the chamber. It disappears into an opening beneath a slightly raised portion of the floor, to an end I cannot discern.
As I gaze through the gaping hole in the trunk, I perceive what I believe to be a lush countryside; there is a meadow dappled with wild-flowers, bordered by a wood. Further details are obscured, as if I was peering through many veils. I am enchanted. I am compelled to go through…
Think about how many times we enter and exit places in any given day. Entrances and exits surround our weekly routines: grocery store, school, work, and home. Entrances and exits are also a part of our physical life: by birth we enter; by death we exit. But that is not the final entrance.
For there is also an exit from sin and death in Holy Baptism. Our old sinful nature is drowned and buried and a new nature in Christ arises. That makes Baptism an entrance as well. The font becomes the doorway into the kingdom of God, a new birth by water and the Spirit. In Baptism we exit death and enter into Christ’s death and life for us.
Our Christian life is also full of entrances and exits. Family and friends die and enter eternal rest awaiting the grand entrance of the Resurrection. Baptism gathers God’s children into the ark of the Church and into the arms of Jesus and they’re blessed. We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise as we kneel in the Holy Place and receive Christ’s body and blood. Heaven enters earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross enters our mouth.
Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits, for you and for Jesus.
Today Jesus enters the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey. The crowds wave palm branches and shout the words of Psalm 118:
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Today we join the crowds in this sacred song. Hosanna! Lord, save us.
Jesus entered Jerusalem for you. Jesus is your Hosanna. Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem to save you. It is just as the prophet Zechariah foretold:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
Jesus’ life is also one of entrances and exits. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he entered the home of Mary and Martha. And upon his Word, Lazarus exited the grave.
Before that Jesus entered into a village and healed a blind man so that he could exit the darkness and enter Christ’s life-giving light.
Jesus entered the homes of the sick and the sinners. Jesus entered the synagogues proclaiming that he was the promised Messiah who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead, and free us from bondage to sin and death – a grand exit.
Jesus entered the towns of Samaria in order to rescue the outcast and outsider.
Jesus entered the wilderness in order to endure temptation for you and rebuke Satan for you, and to tell him to exit his presence at once.
Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan in order to enter into your death as your substitute.
Jesus entered the temple as a 12 year old boy with the Word of God upon his lips.
Jesus entered the temple at eight days old in order to fulfill the entire Law by receiving circumcision and his name, Jesus, for he shall save you from your sins.
Jesus exited the womb of Mary; he entered this world with our human flesh all so that he could make these entrances for you. This is the hour for which he came. Palm Sunday gives way to Good Friday. Palms give way to passion. Triumph gives way to crucifixion.
Entrances and Exits.
Jesus exits Jerusalem and enters the judgment and punishment of our sin. He goes to the cross, to his death, for all the times we’ve entered into sin. There’s no deadly sin we haven’t stuck our noses in. And for all that – the sinner we are and the sin we do – we deserve to be ones entering our graves. But we’re not. Jesus takes your place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and exits it again for you. Jesus enters the cross for you. Jesus exits his last breath for you. Jesus enters the tomb for you. All so that Jesus’ mercy never exits from us, no matter how often we’ve entered into sin.
But Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Jesus exited. He rose. He lives. He enters death and comes out again, taking you and a fallen world with him. And just like Ruth we confess: Where you go, I will go.
Jesus leaves the grave behind. Jesus ascends. Jesus enters the eternal reign of heaven. But Jesus does not leave you alone.
Jesus fills His church, this place, in this – and every place where his word, water, body and blood are given – with all of his life-restoring, sin-forgiving, heaven-opening entrances and exits. The cross of Christ is the key and the door to paradise.
Through all of Jesus’ entrances and exits you are saved and given the guarantee of an exit from death and an entrance into life in Christ.
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Join the crowds and sing Hosannas as we enter the Holy Place and Jesus draws us to himself again. He gathers us around His table, His body, and His blood. His forgiveness of sins and eternal life enter the doorway of our lips. Hosanna! Blessed are you who come in the Name of the Lord!
Indeed, what a joyous reminder that in all the entrances and exits of life, Christ goes ahead of you, Christ goes with you, and Christ goes for you.
Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview.
The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.