Norah requests stories about him over and over and she interrupts loudly, “Where’s Jesus?” when we’re reading Old Testament stories. Her favorite story, the one she requests most frequently at Bible time, is one she calls “Jesus Have Owies.”
I’ll never forget the first time Norah heard the story of the crucifixion. And I’ll never forget how hard it was for me to tell it. We were sitting on the couch one morning reading her Bible together, when she turned a page and saw a picture of Jesus carrying the cross. “What him doing? What Jesus doing?” I stared down into her innocent little blue eyes inquiring up at me and realized suddenly that it is a horrible, violent story for a tiny girl. A tiny girl who thinks some of the pages in the book Baby Animals on the Farm are scary. Who shudders at The Cat in the Hat, who couldn’t watch “Frosty the Snowman”. And this isn’t a cozy story. It’s a tale of betrayal, brutality, and blood. She’s two years old. How can I tell her about what they did to Jesus?
The thing is, I’ve grown up with it. I was told about Jesus so young and so frequently that I forget a few simple facts about the story of his life on earth. I tend to forget, for example, how fantastic a tale it is. God became a man and lived on earth and died to save mankind. He raised people from the dead, he healed untreatable diseases, he walked on water. He calmed the storm. It’s like a page out of a superhero comic book. It’s a fairy tale. It’s the truth. I also forget–or maybe I never realized–how gory it is. He was unjustly accused and tortured to death. We are numbed to it, are we not, because we’ve heard the cant phrases in which the story is told so many times and after all it was all a really long time ago. But the thing is, they shamed him, beat him, jabbed a crown of thorns on his head, and nailed him to a cross. A human being. I haven’t seen it like that in so long. I don’t know if I ever have.
There is a picture in The Jesus Storybook Bible that shows cartoon Jesus up close, on the cross, with a crude “OUR KING” sign nailed over his head. His wounds are represented with a few little slashes and some “x” marks, and there is a tiny tear on his cheek. It’s pretty simple, like the text that explains it: “They nailed Jesus to the cross.” Slowly turning through the pages before it I told Norah how the soldiers took Jesus away from his friends. And I said, “They gave him owies, Norah. And he died.” She stared at the picture, her eyes enormous. “Jesus have owies? Jesus died?” Alex walked in just then and Norah called out, “Jesus have owies, Daddy! They give Jesus owies. Him died!” I think she was astonished. She asked me over and over, just double checking, “Jesus have owies? Jesus die?” After all, what she knew about Jesus was that he welcomed the children, helped the sick people, and loved on Zaccheus. Why would anyone want to hurt Jesus?
The cross, of course, is just the beginning of that story. But I find I wanted to skip that part. Or skate quickly over it and get to the happy ending. But I could tell, young as she is, that she needed to know what that picture was about. We can’t shelter our children from the gospel, can we? Even the gruesome parts. So I told her that they nailed the Son of God to a cross and that he died there. I told her that the soldiers were rolling a huge rock to shut his body in the dark tomb. I told her Mary was weeping because he was dead. When it was time for the good news, I thought about “Up From the Grave” and the part of “In Christ Alone” when voices lift and ring out “Then bursting forth, in glorious day / up from the grave he rose again.” I tried to put all of the stunning delight of Easter morning into my voice and I said, “But then. . . ” and turned the next page. And it struck me anew that the tomb was open wide for the light to stream in, and his body wasn’t there. Praise God in heaven, he’s alive again.
Still when Norah tells the story to me or to Goat or to Harriet, I can hear the echoes of that “then” in her voice. “But then. . . Jesus wasn’t there! An angel came! He said Jesus alive again! He’s alive again! Him all better! No more owies! He’s okay! He’s okay! Here he is!”