So, I do a children's message on Sundays, usually. I know that, in some circles, this is a controversial statement. I know that children's messages are not universally beloved, or esteemed, and that they are not always well-done. I won't even claim that I am particularly good at them. But I know that there is something I enjoy about being able to gather with the children for a few minutes, to interact with them, to listen to them.
So, even though there are risks, I have a children's message. And on Sunday, after Hurricane Harvey, the gospel, and the children's message, told the story after Peter's confession. So I began by trying to use a hula hoop (something I am spectacularly bad at) and then asking the children if I should give up because I am not good at the hula hoop. They all thought that giving up was a bad idea, and most of them could not even envision that there would be something hard for them. They could play all the sports. They could play musical instruments!
I asked them if there was anything that had been hard for them in the storm last week. At least one little boy thought that the hardest thing was to stay inside for a long time. But a couple of the other children thought that other people did hard things during the hurricane.
Then I said. In today's gospel reading, Jesus had to tell Peter a hard thing. He told Peter that he was going to die.
And then something happened.
As soon as I said that, a little girl gasped.
Maybe more than one little girl, but one for sure, and so loudly that (I was told later) they could hear her all the way in the balcony.
Jesus tells his friends that he is going to die. And even more than that, he tells them that he is going to be crucified, a particularly cruel and shameful means of death. And we who have been coming to church all of our lives and hearing these words may not really hear them any more, may not really know what they mean.
We needed that gasp. We needed that gasp to remind us that Jesus' death was not simply a religious reality -- it was a real thing.
We needed that gasp -- and you know what? We need the children.
We don't need them because they are "the future of the church". We don't need them because somehow their presence ensures our future.
We need them because they see and hear differently than we do, and we need all the ears and eyes and voices, to grow deeply in faith. They have different failings and different strengths, and we learn to share our faith and trust God together.
Jesus will die on the cross -- and a little girl -- hearing the terrible news purely -- gasps. And our hearts break into pieces.
This is the life of the church. Sighs too deep for words.