“So, the bad guys hurt Jesus,” my daughter says. It’s more a question than a statement.
It’s Holy Saturday, and I’m doing the bare minimum to catechize my child. I scroll through a mental array of synonyms for death, killed, and tortured and come up short.
“Yes,” I say slowly. “They really hurt Jesus.” I’m not sure I’m doing the Paschal Mystery any justice.
“But why?” Fair question.
Explaining the Easter story to a three-year-old is tricky. Set aside the eggs and the chocolate and the bunnies, and what are you left with? Death and Resurrection? That’s a can of worms that will only confuse a child who’s buried two great grandmothers during the past six months.
“Jesus loved everyone,” I say instead. “He didn’t want anyone to be left out. He didn’t want anyone to be forgotten or excluded or made fun of. And people didn’t like that.” I tug at my chin. “So, they hurt him. Real bad.”
My daughter nods, thoughtfully.
“That’s why we have to love everyone, too,” I continue. I’m on a roll now. “Like Jesus did.”
It’s so cliché—this power of love—that you would be forgiven for gagging, just a little. And yet, today’s readings—still anchored in the Easter season—say nothing less: “God shows no partiality,” Peter says. “Let us love one another because love is of God,” writes John. “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus teaches.
The message is so simple that we dismiss it as a Hallmark greeting. Surely, God’s dream for humanity is more complex than that! But it’s not.
The act of loving another person simply means setting aside some interior space for their needs, their hopes, their desires. It’s the invitation to kenosis, to self-emptying. I make room in my heart, my mind, my soul for you; you do the same for me. And we carry one another onward; we journey together—if even for a moment. We bare one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys.
That kind of love can get you into trouble. It demands that we break free from our individualistic mindset, challenge the status quo. The question is no longer, What’s in it for me? but What’s best for all of us?
That’s a message a three-year-old can understand, a three-year-old who might not want to share her toys, play nice with her sisters, finish her broccoli.
We understand it, too. But we’re no longer children. We put aside childish things—selfishness, individualism, self-centeredness—and ask how we might best respond to God’s invitation to love.
Eric Clayton is the deputy communications director at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, responsible for developing and sharing resources and reflections to promote Ignatian spirituality. He is the author of the forthcoming book Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press). He and his wife are both graduates of Fairfield University and live in Baltimore, MD, with their two daughters. Follow his writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.