Catechism: Easter shadows

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Q27. How was Christ humiliated?

Christ was humiliated: by being born as a man and born into a poor family; by being made subject to the law and suffering the miseries of this life, the anger of God, and the curse of death on the cross; and by being buried and remaining under the power of death for a time.

Last night the conversation veered to the song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie. I mentioned that most people only know the first one or few verses of the song, and they either don’t know or willingly ignore the last few, which probably seem too political, too radical to them:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Something is lost, though, without those verses. The reverence and gratitude of the beginning of the song seem tinny without them, without the undercurrent of anger and grief.

Our current bedtime reading is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Re-reading it to the kids, I was struck by how the movie adaptations really suffer from glossing over, or perhaps being unable to capture, the misery that begins the book. The movies focus on the zaniness of Wonka and his magic factory, the psychedelic delight of seeing unimaginable wonders — and then seeing them out of the reach of the unworthy, grasping members of the tour. We forget that the protagonist is actually Charlie Bucket — not Willy Wonka — and that little Charlie finds the Golden Ticket once driven to desperation by his hunger and poverty:

And every day, Charlie Bucket grew thinner and thinner. His face became frighteningly white and pinched. The skin was drawn so tightly over the cheeks that you could see the shapes of the bones underneath. It seemed doubtful whether he could go on much longer like this without becoming dangerously ill.

At Children’s Chapel, we’ve effectively concluded our curriculum on the elements of the Sunday worship service. We’ve devoted the entire month of March to the benediction, and we’re now going to discuss Easter in this month of April. How appropriate that we start this first week of April reflecting on how Christ suffered and was humbled.

This past Sunday, Pastor Paul preached on Christ as the king who suffered, who on his trial inverted the definition of greatness.

We have a natural impulse to shield our children from suffering. We might feel that is part of our parental duties to preserve their innocence, to give them a picture of life as beautiful and sweet.

I agree that we should shelter them from the harshest evils and depredations of this world, to guard what they are exposed to according to the sensitivity of their hearts. But we must remember that our children are not innocent — they are born into sin, and they live in a reality fractured by that sin. What may seem sweet is cloying and artificial if oblivious to the bitter, and what is beautiful is flat and soulless without its shadows.

Even with Easter we tend to want to paint it with pastels, to see Jesus like Sister Maria Rainer in the Sound of Music, a gentle, loving teacher on rolling verdant hills. We like to think of his sacrifice romantically, in the abstract, and think of his resurrection as a kind of triumphant comeback tour. He’s become a jolly myth, on the mount not with Elijah and Moses, but with Santa and the Easter bunny.

Don’t do this to your kids. Don’t let Easter be another holiday for them. And don’t make their life only about themselves. Let them taste a little suffering. You don’t have to mistreat them to do so. Let them think upon the suffering of this world, the suffering of others. A good place to start might be the monthly prayer calendar from Compassion International; every day they can reflect on people all around the globe who live vastly different lives than they do and needing grace and mercy just as much.

If your children are old enough, you can bring them alongside you to see and serve in areas of brokenness. Soup kitchens, nursery homes, community centers in neighborhoods one always drives past. Even if they are too young or unwilling to come, your commitment to restoring the kingdom of God will deepen your own mission for your family.

Christ humbled himself as a man, but even then he took us to the humbler parts of our humanity. He consorted with adulterers and embezzlers, he made disciples of cynics and rubes. He forgave the mangled and forgotten. He made us follow him into animal stables where indigent babies were being born all the way to the dark penal cell of a man who only wanted to watch the world burn — and showed us that is who we really are. And He would still die for that.

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