The church where I served as student minister has a number of very large stained glass windows: Christ with the children, the women at the empty tomb, and a rather lurid depiction of Christ on the cross, featuring a great deal of purple and agony. My son was three years old while we were at this particular parish and, of course, he loved that crucifixion. As a result, we (or rather, my husband and son, as I was generally otherwise occupied at church) talked quite a lot about Christ’s death, conversations that naturally (for my husband and son, at least) became conversations about oppressive political regimes, torture, capital punishment, non-violent political action, and martyrdom. Holy Week is not for the faint of heart.
Then again, the 6 o’clock news is not for the faint of heart, either. War, terrorism, violence, corruption, discrimination, inequality-such stories make up the soundtrack in our kitchen as we prepare dinner. We have never tried to protect our son from these sad realities. Instead, we have tried to explain the stories as best as we can, working to equip him with some basic tools for understanding geography, politics, history, and ethics. And we have tried to place these stories in the context of Holy Week.
The world is not a safe place. God knew that before the Word was made flesh. Jesus knew that before his flesh was subjected to violence and death. The world is not a safe place, but the Word was still made flesh and Jesus still taught the radical good news of God’s Kingdom because the world is not a hopeless place. In fact, the world is a deeply loved and loveable place, and Holy Week invites us to confront the depth of both of these truths.
As Christians, we need to experience Holy Week in its fullness-and we should include our children in that journey. By participating in Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and finally the Feast of the Resurrection on Sunday morning, we learn together that popularity is not all it seems, that service is a sign of strength, that empire will go to horrifying lengths to preserve itself, that innocent people are sometimes punished, and that good people sometimes suffer. We also learn that God loves the world anyways and that God’s love is always stronger than hate and injustice.
We can’t protect our children from the world of the 6 o’clock news or of the schoolyard. We can’t even protect them from our own fallible human hearts-or theirs, for that matter. But we can travel with them into these dark and dangerous places just as God travels with all of us. This is the journey of Holy Week, in which we emerge beyond the guilt and fear and pain in order to proclaim the victory of love, revealed on Easter but too often hidden from view in our daily lives.
The world is not a safe place, but it is a powerfully loved place. The liturgies of Holy Week give us a chance to not only hear but to experience both of these truths so that we can live wisely, compassionately, and without fear-and that, maybe more than anything, is what I want for all our children.
The Rev. Rhonda Waters is associate priest of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal.