It’s Good Friday today, and my church has a beautiful tradition of a prayer vigil that begins after the Maundy Thursday service and continues through the night until the Good Friday service at noon. This year I saw that the 8:30 a.m. slot was open–that’s the half hour right before my four-year-old son, Luke, starts preschool, right there at church. So I signed us both up.
To be honest, I didn’t have all that high of hopes for our time together. I thought I would likely be begging him to leave the mike alone and not climb all over the pews. But we set off gamely for the chapel, he with his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack and me with my purse full of children’s Bible books. I’m not the biggest fan of most children’s Bible books, I will admit. I often read how they sum up a Bible story in one neat little sentence and I think, That is not AT ALL what that story is about! But after we got to the chapel and sat down, I got out those books and read Luke the Bible stories, and I found myself grateful for the simplicity of their summary of Jesus’ final hours.
Sometimes I try to make things too complicated. It’s very easy for me to get caught up in theological complexities or minute little points and miss the big picture. When I’m talking about this stuff to a four-year-old, it’s all about the big picture. Jesus died, and the disciples were so sad because they loved him so much and because they couldn’t believe such a thing had happened to him. And that, as crazy as it sounds, Jesus died because God loves us so much.
One of the things I love best about talking about Bible stories with my sons is that seeing those familiar passages through their eyes reminds me of the essential strangeness of a lot of it. It helps me to see the shocking and remarkable nature of the things I often take for granted, like the simple and gigantic truth that Jesus died for us. What a gift it is: to be able to see a well-worn truth in a new way.
Something else I have grown to appreciate is the way that my boys’ emotions and reactions are so often all over the place. It’s Good Friday. We’re supposed to be sad. We’re supposed to be suffering along with the disciples as they mourned and questioned everything they had believed to be true. If it had been just me praying in the chapel this morning, I would have focused on that sadness and worked on feeling very somber and mournful indeed. But Luke, he is serious and sad for a minute and then he’s noticing how his Thomas backpack can fit right in that space between the kneeler and the floor and, well, that’s pretty cool! Then he’s looking up at the cross and admiring how shiny and bright it is.
I’m just like that too, I have to say. Even as I seek to experience the sadness and grief of Good Friday, I’m thinking at the same time How beautiful and quiet it is here in this chapel. And, I think I’ll have some tea when I get home. I am so much like those snoring disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. I love how children remind us of our essential humanness, with their joyful little natures that pop up with laughter or tears at what seem like the most inappropriate moments. We’re just like them, of course, albeit papered over with a layer of appropriateness. I’m not sure how much our appropriateness helps us out really, because life is often very inappropriate–with the joys coming right alongside the sorrows. The Good Friday followed closely by the Easter Sunday. It’s like one of my seminary professors once said: that our lives are a series of crucifixions and resurrections, and sometimes they seem to come almost simultaneously.
This morning we kneeled together at the kneeler, and I prayed, and Luke repeated after me. We thanked God for Jesus, and for his astonishing love for us. I said some other things that were more simple than profound, and then we said Amen, Luke with great enthusiasm. “Thank you for reading me the stories, Mommy!” he said. Then we left the chapel and headed for his classroom. It wasn’t exactly how I had imagined; it was better. I left with a new appreciation for a familiar story, the most important story in my life. I’m grateful today for Jesus, and for the children who help me to see him more clearly.