In the Magician’s Nephew, which is the first book in CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, two friends named Digory and Polly find themselves in a place called “the wood between the worlds.” One minute they were in London, and the next they had popped out of a pool of water into this wooded place. From there, they would first travel into the dark dead world of Charn and eventually find the beauty and paradise of Narnia..
Lewis described the wood in this way: It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. There were dozens of pools—a pool every few years as far as [Digory’s] eyes could reach. … This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterward, DIgory always said, ‘It was a rich place: rich as a plum cake.”
Good Friday, the place that we find ourselves in today, the place that we entered through the door of Maundy Thursday last night, is that kind of place. It is what might be called a liminal space.
The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. It is any point entering or beginning. A liminal space is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.
Today, we stand in a place between crucifixion and resurrection. We are in a place that hovers between death and life, between humanity and holiness, between what we know and what we believe, and between who we are and who we God has created us to be.
Liminal space is where we, as Christian people, are called to spend much of our time. It is the space that makes us who we are. It is the space that forms us. Author and theologian Richard Rohr describes this space as:
where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.
We often say that we are an Easter people and we are. We always look for the promise of resurrection and new life. We are Maundy Thursday people gathering together to share a meal as friends and to care for one another with humility and a sense of joy. At the same time, we are Good Friday people, who understand that sometimes we must stand in the darkness and wait for the light to return.
We are a liminal people, because we know that the in-between spaces are where growth and change happen. We know that we are always in the place that is between what has happened and what will happen.
We are a liminal people, because we understand that the dichotomy’s that are most confounding and seemingly impossible are also the realities that transform our understanding of the word. Where there is sorrow, there is also joy. Even when the body dies, the spirit continues. The world is filled with things that can be seen and things that remain unseen.
By understanding these polarities, we are able to hold in our hearts and minds other seeming contradictions. We believe that Jesus is completely human and completely divine. We know that God loved Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, and the soldiers that mocked and scourged Jesus as much as God loved Jesus himself. We believe that God saved the whole world through one death, the death of a beloved son.
These beliefs, which we ponder in this in-between place of Good Friday, are the ones that push us to question worldly values and cling to the radical truths of our baptism in Christ:
- That prayer, study, fellowship, and sacramental life will give us the strength and courage to strive to create the Kingdom of God in this world.
- That sin and disconnection from God and each other is inevitable, and that no mistake or wrongdoing is unredeemable.
- That we are called to constantly forgive and ask for forgiveness, to respond faithfully to the loving promises of God.
- That each of us is called to share the promises that God has made, to witness in all that we do and all that we are about how God works in the world.
- That we know that God loves each person uniquely, totally, and completely.
- That we are called to love every person in the way that God does. Every person by virtue of their humanity is worthy of dignity and respect. Christ is alive on all of us.
- That we will work for justice and peace in all that we do. That we will, with our whole beings, respect the dignity of every human being.
By standing in the liminal place, we can be both in the world and in the church. We can understand that all of us are both blessed and broken. We can make space for conversations about both what we have come to believe and what others have come to believe. We understand that there is room between what we understand and know now and what we will understand and know someday.
We can believe that we do not to be perfect to be instruments of peace and change. We can make room for differences, and even for divisions. We can find a path that will lead us from hatred to love, from justice to mercy, from weakness to strength.
When we stay in the liminal space, we recognize holiness in new ways.
Last night, I was at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in San Mateo for Maundy Thursday. There was a dinner in the parish hall and then Holy Eucharist. When we were done, the whole congregation processed with the bread and the wine through the parish hall, out the door, and down the walkway to go to the chapel area, the Garden of Gethsemene. Picture the procession: a priest and a deacon, robed, holding containers of bread and wine, covered in white linen cloths. Then forty or fifty men, women and children. As we came through the double doors, we came face to face with half a dozen leather clad, tattooed bikers who were coming to the parish hall for an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting. For a moment, there was hesitation, then the two groups merged and became one for a moment. Then, the bikers headed downstairs and we continued our procession.
Liminal space is where unlikely and amazing things happen. Liminal space contains and even celebrates contradictions and unlikely combinations. Liminal space is where grace happens. Liminal space is where we meet God face to face. At least for today, let us stand quietly in this place that leaves us in between two worlds.