"A Childís Eye View"

April 4, 1999 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon John 20:1-18

            Seeking information, a reporter for the Carroll County Times last year checked out a local elementary school. He didnít visit the library, or talk to the principal. He went straight to the source to find the answer to his question. What does "resurrection" mean?

            "Jesus Christ was a really nice man who said some things that made some people mad, so they put Him to sleep. Then Jesusís dad woke him up, and they moved a big stone and everybody was happy." Thatís how 7-year-old Greg DeNardo saw it. "The day his dad woke him up is called Easter. Easter means Ďwake up,í I guess."

            8-year-old Emily Zulferino thought that Jesus was crucified because he believed in things that others didnít believe in. "And a man named ... Punchy Pilot told him to die and then he washed hands and had dinner."

            According to 7-year-old Kelly Clay, resurrection "is where the Indians live." 5-year-old Hope Bastian had a different idea. "Itís a place for time-outs." ... We celebrate Easter because thatís the day when Jesus came back to life, said 9-year-old Ashley Frazer. "He got tired of being dead." ... "Easterís the day when Jesus went home," said 7-year-old Martin Brown. "He had a bad day at work, and heíd had enough."

            While the children may have disagreed over what happened to Jesus, they did agree that he was a nice man who did lots of nice things. "He died for us," said 9-year-old Kaitlyn Ames. "Why?" asked her 8-year-old brother, Ryan. "Because we were sinners," she replied. "Why?" he asked. "Because we were," she repeated. "Why?" he continued. "Because," she said again, clearly exasperated. "Just because." 
                                                                                (Greg Koren, Carroll Co. Times, 4/12/98, D-1)

            "Kidís say the darnedest things." Isnít that what Art Linkletter used to say? Sometimes their responses are completely off-the-wall. Then, again, they can hit the nail on the head truer than any more experienced adult. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 18:3) Then again, Paul wrote in counterpoint, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." (1 Cor 13:11)

            While it lies at the center of our Christian faith, the events surrounding Easter are some of the most difficult to comprehend. Crucifixion, resurrection, redemption are just some of the high-power terms we employ to express that which goes well beyond our ability to fully explain. Itís not that we canít grasp what suffering and death is about, for instance, even on the part of someone who is innocent. All we have to do is look to the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, where thousands of Albanian refugees are caught between Serbian forces that want them out and Montenegran officials who wonít let them in. The maddening thing is that the persecutors there are the Christians. Apparently all the adult talk, using the big words, like crucifixion, is just that: talk. The innocent one so long ago, Jesus, died for all - Serbs, Montenegrans, and Albanians. He took upon himself all their and our sin. Indeed, thatís not easy to comprehend. Especially at a time when it seems our nation is slowly sliding down the slippery slope of a larger war in the Balkans. The conflict goes on, even on this day of all days.

            When it comes right down to it, we stand in awe of what happened nearly 2,000 years ago outside of Jerusalem, no less than those first disciples. The women who witnessed both the cross and the empty tomb, and the men who ran away from the one and ran to the other were baffled by it all. Oh, they eventually put two and two together, remembering the words of Jesus both before his crucifixion and after his resurrection. They, and those who followed them, were the ones who began making sense of it all with the big words that we still struggle to unpack and understand. The first Easter, however, was a day without those words to grasp for understanding.

            "What does Ďresurrectioní mean?" that reporter for the Carroll Co. Times asked of the children. His article was a sidebar to a larger piece on how different churches intended to explain the significance of Easter to their young ones. Sometimes, however, itís a childís eye view that helps us grasp what cannot fully be grasped, to experience that which cannot be contained in a single word, no matter how big it is. As Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

-----------------------

            Jeremy was born with a twisted body, a slow mind and a chronic, terminal illness that had been slowly killing him all his young life. Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa's Elementary School.

            At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him. He would squirm in his seat, drool and make grunting noises. At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.

            One day, she called his parents and asked them to come to St. Teresa's for a consultation. As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to them, "Jeremy really belongs in a special school. It isn't fair to him to be with younger children who don't have learning problems. Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students!"

            Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue while her husband spoke. "Miss Miller," he said, "there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here." Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn't fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read or write. Why waste any more time trying?

            As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. "Oh God," she said aloud, "here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared with that poor family! Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy."

            From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy's noises and his blank stares. Then one day he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him. "I love you, Miss Miller," he exclaimed, loudly enough for the whole class to hear. The other children snickered, and Doris's face turned red. She stammered, "Wh-Why, that's very nice, Jeremy. Now please take your seat."

            Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. "Now," she said to them, "I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?"

            "Yes, Miss Miller!" the children responded enthusiastically - all except for Jeremy. He just listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus' death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

            That evening, Doris' kitchen sink stopped up. She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it. After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day. She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy's parents.

            The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller's desk. After they completed their Math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. "Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life," she said. "When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here." A small girl in the first row waved her arms. "That's my egg, Miss Miller," she called out. The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. "We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes that is new life, too." Little Judy smiled proudly and said, "Miss Miller, that one is mine." Next Doris found a rock with moss on it. She explained that the moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom. "My Daddy helped me!" he beamed.

            Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy's, she thought, and, of course, he did not understand her instructions. If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. "Miss Miller, aren't you going to talk about my egg?" Flustered, Doris replied, "but Jeremy - your egg is empty!" He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Yes, but Jesus' tomb was empty too!"

            Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, "Do you know why the tomb was empty?" "Oh yes!" Jeremy exclaimed. "Jesus was killed and put in there. Then his Father raised him up!"... The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the school yard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away.

            Three months later Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.


         (The final illustration is from the book, What Was In Jeremy's Egg? And Other Stories, by Ida Mae Kempel, Nascent Press, 1997 - now on video. Note - a similar story, entitled "Philip's Egg," was published in the journal Leadership the summer of 1985 - vol. 6, no. 3, p.113 - by Harry Pritchett jr. - now rector emeritus at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, saying "condensed by permission of The St. Luke's Journal of Theology, School of Theology, The University of the South, Sewanee, TN 37375," also attributed to Paul Harvey. )

©1999Peter L. Haynes

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