Christine's Corner:The Violence of the Cross and Children: Some Thoughts As We Enter Lent
In my experience, many pastors and ministry leaders approach the death of Jesus much too casually with children. I’ve seen Sunday school lessons for elementary-aged children that encourage they create crowns of thorns out of toothpicks and Play-Doh. Have we stopped to think about what we are instructing children to do at times like this? We’re asking them to act out the part of the crucifixion story where torturers put a crown of thorns on a person’s head in order to humiliate and hurt him. Why do we allow with this? Torture and death should not be playacted by children.
If we agree that torture and violence should not be front and center for children during the Lenten season, what approach might we take to help them understand the death and resurrection of Jesus? How might conscientious ministry leaders and parents talk about the cross with young children? Consider these practical tips:
Stick to simple facts: Jesus died on a cross and was laid in a dark tomb. Everyone was sad and missed him. Three days later, the dark tomb was open and empty and there was light and joy. The resurrection is a mystery of our faith. There is no need to linger on details about whipping, lashing, nails, blood or torture.
Avoid violent images and symbols when choosing children’s resources. A large percentage of the materials marketed to parents for children’s use during Lent and Easter is poorly done and developmentally inappropriate. Resurrection Eggs, coloring books and children’s books often focus on thorns, crosses, nails and whips. It’s mind-boggling. Under no other circumstance would we give five year olds a coloring page with a man whipping another man. Yet, in the context of faith, many permit it, particularly during Lent and Easter. It is not developmentally appropriate for a pastor to hold up nails during a children’s message and talk about how they were driven into the hands and feet of Jesus, and yet I’ve seen this very thing, more than once.
Be at peace with not telling the whole story. As parents and pastors we do this all the time in other areas of life. Take math, for example. In our house we have a number chart on the wall, displaying the numbers 1-100 because our children are learning basic addition and subtraction. Our children refer to it all the time when talking about addition and subtraction and counting by fives and tens. Next, I’m sure, will come multiplication and division and fractions. At some point they’ll have a greater respect for the fact that the numbers 1-100 are a mere fraction of the numbers they could know, and that numbers extend to the thousands, millions, and billions, but right now we’re focusing on the basics. “The basics” when it comes to Christian faith do not need to include the violent details of the cross. Instead, the basics of the Christian faith are these: Jesus is alive. God made the world and everything in it. God’s love is powerful. God is with us all the time, even when we are sad and lonely. A good focus for a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday children’s lesson is one about God being with us when we are sad and lonely. Another good and relevant message is that God’s love is powerful.
Death is a reality of life. Resurrection is absolutely essential to Christian faith. Putting the violent details of the torture of Christ in their proper place is not only good parenting and ministering, it’s good theology, too.
(article written by Traci Smith and adapted by Christine Powell Kellett)