Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Easter friday childrens talk
(Flowering the cross from an Easter at Opawa Baptist)
Last Easter, sitting in church, I heard a 3 year old ask her mother the “Why” question: Why did Jesus die? I wondered what I would say if I was asked. How to explain something so complex? I had a crack and blogged it at the time – (Why did Jesus die? the 3 year old asked)
There was some helpful comment, folk wanting to grab it for their services, so I thought I would re-post it, but also try and explain some of my working.
I think that Easter Friday is the toughest service of the year for a Christian minister. It is an extraordinary communication challenge and I hope that some of my thinking helps you in your task.
Theologically, there are some things I was trying to avoid. One is an anti-Semitism, which blames the Jews. Not that the three year old might notice. But her parents and the tradition of the church most certainly need to. So the shift that goes on at the end is important (“Not just the people around Jesus. All people. Through history. Even you and I. So much of it.”)
And some things I was wanting to encourage. First, a visual and tactile encounter. So the use of a cross, the horizontal and vertical, as a way of trying to engage that part of a person’s memory making. Communicating is always much more than a rational exercise.
Second, the wholistic. I begin with the social, with all the people. I’m trying to work with more corporate understandings of the atonement, rather than an individualistic “Jesus died for my sins.”
Third, and finally, a range of atonement images. Scripture gifts us a range (Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church) and the least we can do is honour that range, rather than stick with our favourite.
A liberationist (“He said and did things they didn’t like.”) In this model, Jesus is the liberator, who stands for justice. This liberation has a particular approach, a refusal to take up arms against the oppressor, instead choosing, by non-violent acts of protest, to spotlight evil. The result is death. Yet in the economy of God, death leads to life. The death continues to inspire many, down through the centuries to work for justice.
Then there was an Aberlardian exemplar. (“Jesus died as an expression of love, God’s love.”) In this image, Jesus, in life and death is an example of God’s love. I am also riffing on some of Julian of Norwich, her notion of God’s love as being a judgement on us (“Jesus took a different approach. He decided to love them”). In her understanding, we all have our human, selfish, twisted, (subjective) notions of love. We need something outside ourselves to define love in all it’s beauty and purity. That comes to us in the person of Jesus.
Then there is sponge atonement image (“a sponge that soaks up all the spilt milk”). I’m not actually sure that this fits with any of the historic images (Christus Victor, satisfaction, Abelard’s exemplar, substitutionary, liberationist). Perhaps it’s new and unique and I’m a genuinely creative theologian (lol). But I knew that a 3 year old would be able to relate to spills, to mess. And in a much more helpful way than “your sin.” And I personally really connect with the sense of God in Jesus as a sort of cosmic shock absorber. All that pain, torture, desolation, is absorbed on Easter Friday by that body. There is no pushback, no desire for revenge. Simply a care for his family. I am riffing of Miroslav Volf, (Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation) his insight that we need to find ways to break the cycle of violence and that this happens in the cross.
So there we are – some explanation of my theological “workings.” I welcome push back and I hope some of my thinking even if you disagree, helps you in your task.
“Why did Jesus die?” she whispered beside me. Three years old, pretty in pink, shoes not yet touching the floor, her mother gently sushed her. This, after all, was church. Where visitors want to be seen, not heard.
But it’s the question that needs answering each and every Easter.
“Could we think of the cross?” I thought. “It has a flat piece, a horizontal piece, that points to people. Jesus died because the people around him killed him. He said and did things they didn’t like. He said things about God they didn’t agree with. They couldn’t stop him, so they decided to kill him.
Jesus also died, not only because people did something. But also because some people did nothing. Stood silent. Kept their mouths shout.
But the people around Jesus, that is only one part of why Jesus died. The cross not only has a flat piece, a horizontal piece. It also has an up and down piece, a vertical piece. That points to God.
Jesus died as an expression of love, God’s love. There are many ways to respond to evil people and evil plans. We can fight them, run from them, avoid them.
Jesus took a different approach. He decided to love them. It was like he became a sponge that soaks up all the spilt milk.
In the up and down part of the cross, God sucking up all the evil and pain in the world. Think of all the bad things people have done. And not done.
Not just the people around Jesus. All people. Through history. Even you and I. So much of it.
No wonder he died, one person trying to love all the evil out of life. That’s why Jesus died.”