I love involving children in our Palm Sunday worship—letting them parade around and wave palms while the adults sing our Hosannahs. And I really love to celebrate Easter with children—with baskets and eggs and candy.
This week in between, though . . . this Holy Week is hard. Betrayal and torture and death are not subjects I like to discuss with children. It’s easiest to just skip from the palms to the Easter eggs; but at some point, if we want Easter to be real for our children, we have to walk them through Good Friday.
We know, of course, that children encounter death. When my dad died two years ago, I learned that my daughters could handle death with a grace I had never imagined.
Earlier this year, our dog Tillie got sick. Since she was sixteen years old, we decided to skip the tests and invasive procedures; we made her as comfortable as possible at home. As we snuggled with Tillie on the floor, my youngest teared up and said, “Tillie has been my dog since I was born.” A couple of days later my daughter found a stone to mark her grave.
Beyond these personal losses, death is in the news every day. And not just death, but the death-dealing fear and injustice that are the distinctive markers of the crucifixion.
Two white parents were recently on FOX news complaining about their daughter’s school program that emphasized the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and mentioned the shooting of Michael Brown. After the school program, the couple’s 8-year-old daughter had some questions about why police shoot people. Rather than taking her questions as an opportunity to discuss their views about race and police and violence, the parents got upset at the school for bringing up the subject in the first place.
Maybe your children won’t go to a school assembly about racialized violence. Maybe they will, instead, hear a report on the radio about Utah approving firing squads as a “back-up plan” for state executions. Or maybe they will see a news story about the most recent executions by ISIS. Or maybe they will participate in an “active shooter” drill at school.
It would be nice to move from the palm branches straight to the Easter eggs. But we can’t ignore this week in between. Somewhere, somehow, our children will encounter fear and violence and death in this world.
They will learn about the cross. It is the terrifying privilege of parenthood to be with them when they do—to hold them and weep with them; to answer their questions the best way we can; to help them hold on in the dark as together we await the resurrection.