Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Open arms

Explaining the cross to younger children shouldn't be easy.
I'm thankful that I don't have an atonement theology that demands that I try to explain to anyone, least of all an under 10, why they should love a God who seems set on punishing the innocent, to carry the weight of the guilty.
For me, predictably, the cross is all about love - and so, when I'm talking about it with children, I often ask them what those open arms suggest to them.
Depending how old the child, s/he may insist on focussing on the crucifixion in all its pain...on talking of nails and gazing incredulously at the palms of her own hands.
We need to think about that, - of course we do, but really I have a simpler message in mind and with Reception and Yr 1 it's usually quite easy to get there.
If all else fails, I ask them to imagine that it's the end of the school day and they can see their mum standing at the gate...
When she opens her arms to them, what does it mean?

Well, - that, at least, is how I used to try to introduce that amazing love at the heart of our faith.
But this morning, past and present came together to make me wonder if I need to rethink.

Today I got to wait with some nearly Reception children, at the end of their induction to school. One by one their mums and carers arrived to take them home. Of course, the moment each child saw their mother, the leapt up and ran towards her.
Many bent down and gathered their little one in a warm, floor-level hug.
One or two swung them high, and their oh-so-grown-up,very-nearly-school-aged children clung on for all the world like the toddlers they'd been only yesterday.
Those reunions were a wonderful, smiley thing to witness.
But as I watched, I remembered another time, another place, another group of children waiting.
One by one, those children had been claimed by returning parents.
But towards the end, when only a handful of children were still waiting, the door opened once more, another child rushed towards his mum, full of excitement, bursting with news to share...and received, not a hug but a brush-off.
Might as well not have been there.
Instantly all the joy and enthusiasm left him; he deflated before our very eyes and, oh my heart bled...

So I understood, reluctantly, that not all small children will know what God's outstretched arms can mean for them.
Perhaps that experience of loving welcome is completely unfamiliar.
I hate that this can be so, perhaps even in my own community...with children I know and care about.
And if I feel like this - then God's open arms must ache and ache.


Mary Beth said...

(you) and (the little one)

and (his mum).

Bad Alice said...

Oh dear, this made me tear up. I think of all the times I'm in such a hurry to get on with things rather than really stop and look at my kids. I definitely give big hugs when I pick them up, but there are other times that I rush over the moments, or get impatient with the child who wants me to stay extra long at bedtime.

Kathryn said...

Oh Alice- please not meant to load guilt on you, or on anyone else...I know we all miss the moment sometimes with our children - but this felt like such a significant day, such an important reunion...a different order of need and thus a bigger than average dereliction.

Anonymous said...

*tears* here too... my nearly reception one flings himself at me when I pick up from preschool, such a beam! Like Alice too though I regret all those times when my arms haven't been so open:-( not going to guilt myself, but just remember...

marcella said...

the story made me cry too, but it also made me smile remembering the week before last when it simply poured with rain and we all got soaked on the way to church. The Reception child with me turned round and pointed at the rood screen and proudly announced that she knew that "Jesus dried on the cross"

Crimson Rambler said...

aie, aie, aie, I've SO been that Mum...

Still Breathing said...

Dinner conversation with my daughter when she was pre-school age:-

Daughter - Jesus is God isn't he?

Self (thinking this is a nice easy conversation as she's on the right track) - Yes he is.

Daughter - God loves us doesn't he?

Self (thinking this is easy) - Yes

Daughter - So why did they kill him?

Self (HELP)

My wife and I did manage to give her an answer that satisfied her curiosity but it took a while. Never underestimate a child's grasp of theology.