Narnia! Our daughter’s only wish that year for Christmas was to see the newly released film of Narnia in Italian. She had fond childhood memories of snuggling together night after night and being a part of Aslan’s adventures against evil. We had heard of the long lines outside American theaters, so expecting a similar turnout in Italy, we left early to get front row seats. Our own adventure had just begun. After asking directions several times, we finally found a small, dilapidated cinema on a narrow back street. We found the door locked and the entire area deserted. Posters of Aslan’s face reassured us that we had come to the right cinema so we waited, all alone. Finally five minutes before curtain time an elderly gentleman arrived to sell tickets. We hurried to the front row seats, sat down, and started giggling. The old wooden chairs sat so low to the ground that our knees could almost touch our chins. As the lights dimmed, a great sadness crept into our hearts. In a city of over 200,000, only twelve people had joined us, and half of them were children. As the film credits scrolled, our twelve companions hurriedly stood to put on their coats, but our attention was pulled back to the screen. Narnia wasn’t over. Lucy tiptoed to the closet and placed her little hand on the door nob. Her love for Aslan pulled her like a magnet. The kindly professor stood up from his vantage point where he himself had been contemplating the past and the future. He approached Lucy, comforted her, and took her hand. As they walked away from the closet he told her to keep her eyes open. We heard Aslan roar. The house lights come on. Once again we were all alone.
The spiritual climate in Italy is somewhat similar to Narnia where “it is always winter, but never Christmas.” A frozen kind of spirituality makes it difficult to perceive the effectiveness of the Gospel message. For example, during Easter season Roman Catholic churches organize traditional parades with hooded, barefooted pilgrims and penitent followers carrying heavy crosses. It is like stepping through a door into the Medieval era of self-inflicted pain to receive forgiveness and salvation by works. Devout believers pay tens of thousands of dollars to carry the statues narrating Christ’s passion. Interestingly, the emphasis remains on the brutal suffering of the crucifixion. The joyous news of Easter’s empty tomb remains frozen. It was that way in Narnia, too. What a crowd watched the slaughter of Aslan, while just two little girls remained vigilant by his side throughout the night. Their dark mourning turned to delight with the sun’s first rays. Resurrection! Frozen spirituality and death cannot defeat God’s plan of salvation by grace. The White Witch may scream, “Despair and die!” But our Father whispers, “I love you! Rise and shine!” The Church of Christ in Italy perseveres and waits through the dark winter nights. While it may seem fruitlessly long to some, if we walk away too quickly, we will miss the final scene. As rain and snow water the earth, so God’s Word will not return empty, but will achieve the purpose for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:9-11). Keep your eyes and ears open. Aslan roars. Did you stay around long enough to see and hear him?