Spring is nearly in the air, and we're halfway through Lent, so I'm pulling out the Easter books and putting the Christmas ones away (yes, it takes that long at our house), and facing the yearly dilemma of how to tell the passion story to a young child.
There are waaaay more kids Christmas books than Easter ones (at least, ones that are vaguely biblical), for good reason. The story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus is so accessible to a child, but crucifixion and resurrection is another matter altogether. It's not just the violence that bothers me -- the complete Christmas story has a violent edge to it too, what with King Herod's murderous intent and all. (Katie lately has enjoyed asking me to play the part of King Herod, coming to find small children in their beds. She hides under the covers and I run away at the sound of beautiful music playing in her room). What's hard about the passion story is to present Good Friday as good in a way that neither glosses over the horror of it nor betrays our belief in redemption. We have a couple hand-me-down Arch books around the house that tell the story of Easter with the same doggerel rhythm as Dr. Seuss, and it just seems incongruous and wrong. Yes, I believe that ultimately the cross is good news, but I believe that is possible only in the most paradoxical sense. It's good news precisely because we don't expect God's glory to work this way; it's good news precisely because it's perfectly awful, yet God enters into our man-made awfulness. But how do you convey that to a five-year old?
I'm pretty sure picture books won't do it. When I was a kid I went with my parents to Tenebrae Good Friday services. I only gradually came to understand them, but I knew something profound was going on. I was sometimes a little scared, usually pretty sad, but I could experience it all from my mother's lap and be surrounded by others in community who also felt it was important to walk through this story again.