As I searched to find the right words, two big sets of brown eyes just stared back at mine waiting for an answer. It is difficult to imagine a more sobering and gut-wrenching conversation to have with two young boys than trying to explain to them the reality of death. My family had just endured the loss of two close relatives who both died at early ages within a short span of time. And my sons had a lot of questions. They were sad, and they were scared.
We decided early on that, unlike some other parents we knew, we were not going to try and shield our children indefinitely from the reality of death. Of course we would take age appropriateness into consideration, but as soon as our kids were able to comprehend a loved one’s consistent presence, we could not justify deceiving them regarding the cause of that loved one’s sudden absence.
After all, the Bible we teach them to read doesn’t sugarcoat such realities. In the storyline of Scripture, we make it no more than four chapters in before being confronted with the “wages of sin” in the shedding of righteous Abel’s blood (Gen 4:1-8; cf. Matt 23:35). And in the very next chapter, there begins an ominous refrain that echoes throughout the Scriptures and throughout the halls of history bearing testimony to the universal fate of our forefathers and mothers, “and he died…and he died…and he died…” (Gen 5:5-31).
The Apostle Paul tells us, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). As a result, every society of men has been faced with this same problem and has had its own questions to answer. And from Egyptian mummies and pyramids to Greek pantheons and underworlds, each has sought to answer these questions in ways that seemed right, but were ultimately, hopeless. My two boys were not facing a new problem. Their sadness and fear were not new, and they weren’t asking new questions.
While many in our day might seek to dodge such questions or to vaguely explain how so-and-so has “gone away to a better place”, my sons knew better. They had seen the caskets. They had seen the now-lifeless faces. They had watched the holes being filled up with dirt. And somehow they knew that all of this just wasn’t right- an enemy has done this. “Dad, are you going to die one day?” I could see tears instantly welling up in little eyes as I replied, “Yes, unless Jesus comes back, we all will.” “But I don’t want you to die.”
Instantly, I began doubting myself. Maybe it was too soon for this discussion after all. Maybe I should have just dodged the question or given some vague answer. Maybe I should have come up with some contemporary mythology to try and soften their little consciences to the sting of death. But then I thought, “Wait a second. I’m a Christian!” We are the people of the cross and the empty tomb. We are the people who understand that, in the end, death has no sting and the grave has no victory because Jesus crushed death to death through his death on the cross.
The Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), but that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). Jesus took on himself our curse and bore our penalty, but three days later was “declared to be the Son of God in power…by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). For just as death came by one man named Adam, so by another man named Jesus comes resurrection from the dead. “For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-21). In light of this truth, Christians don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Because we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even though we may die, we will live again (John 11:25; 1 Thess 4:15-16).
So I stuttered, stammered, and searched for an answer. But I’m grateful I didn’t need to hesitate for long. Because I know the Truth. I told them about the first Adam and how “he died.” But then I told them about the Last Adam and how “he died” and “was buried,” but how “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). I told them about the hope that they can have in Christ and how the day is coming in which there shall be no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” because “death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). I told them that this day is promised to all who believe and then I prayed for them that they would. And somehow, this answered their questions and calmed their fears in a way that no cleverly devised myth ever could, because it was honest and because it was true. It was the story of Easter
So while I hope this year’s Easter for you is not one that brings reason to be sad or scared. I also hope that at some point in the flurry of chocolate bunnies, marshmallow eggs, clip-on ties, and frilly pastel dresses, you have the opportunity to in some sense make it that way. Because I pray that you get the opportunity to tell the true story of Easter. The story that has everything to do with being scared to death…and back again.