It’s not difficult to teach the resurrection to kids. First, most grade schoolers have not seen too much of death, so they have a natural tendency to think that life just goes on. If there is something called death somewhere in the future, they think, surely it can’t be final since there is just too much life around to keep everything going. Next, there is a natural desire in every heart for everlasting life that youngsters have not yet had challenged by tragedy, defeat or depression. Life may not always be smiley-faced, but children really can’t imagine it ending.
It’s only when we get older, and see that grandpa, mom or dad do not wake up from the casket that we begin to entertain doubts about life eternal. Breathing ceases, heart stops, blood cools, flesh sags, muscles go limp. Death is sudden, a moment, and life seems lost forever. The person has “given up the ghost” or the spirit, and it doesn’t appear that it will ever return, at least not to this still body.
A child will think, he’ll get up again; he’s just sleeping. That’s a sweet, innocent thought, say we more experienced adults, but kids will learn what death is soon enough. Yet when Jesus told the crowd that the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official, was not dead but sleeping, the adults in the room laughed scornfully and ridiculed him (Mark 5:21ff). Of course, she’s dead, they thought, priding themselves on their mature realism. But a simple, “Talitha koum! – Little girl, arise!” from the lips of Jesus was enough for her to get up, walk around and take something to eat. A new era had come. The reign of death had ended. But evidently not everyone welcomed this age of new life and the Savior who brought it, which negated what they thought they knew about life. They preferred their worldly wisdom and settled view to the revelation that was taking place in their midst.
When Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3), he certainly had in mind a child’s humble nature and low station in life, and a child’s innocence and purity. But he may also have been referring to a child’s natural view that death is not the end, that there is just too much life for it ever to end for good. Coming to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus again referred to death as “sleeping” and assured Martha that her brother will rise again (John 11:1ff). Martha showed a childlike sense by saying her brother will rise in the resurrection of the last day, and Jesus responded to this simple faith, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus was saying, as he did about a number of his miracles, that if you believe in me, if you believe that I can do this and I am who I say I am, then it will be done for you.
This Easter Season, let us approach the resurrection as “little children” who see the simple facts of life clearly and bravely, undaunted by the world’s mess and death. Let us become the true realists, free of cynicism and the scorning laughter of the crowd. Let’s say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
The tomb is empty. Death is defeated. Alleluia!
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.