Unforgiveness, pain, hatred, anxiety, gang violence…
These were some of the issues that young people in our youth group wrote down as examples of things which spoil and scar our world.
Perhaps most precious were the things written down which were too personal to share publicly. These were folded over. Each one was nailed to a cross.
The death of Jesus
We did this in a session where we focused on the death of Jesus. We looked at the 15 characters who played a role in Jesus’ death and debated who was a goodie and who was a baddie.
It was a deliberately simplistic question. As with all the best stories, the characters are full of moral complexity. Sympathy was expressed for Pilate’s efforts to free Jesus, whereas the group was unimpressed with Jesus’ friends all deserting him (apart from the women). Peter denied knowing Jesus but at least he made an effort to follow him when arrested. Some felt sorry for Judas.
As we looked at these issues and anxieties nailed to two pieces of rough wood, it helped make sense of the cross. It was not just Jesus who died. Sin, suffering and injustice were defeated.
This is what makes it Good Friday.
Because of what God has done through Jesus, we have somewhere to take our pain, our worries, our failures, our guilt, our sin. We need this – honesty, sharing and disclosure are important. But they are not enough on their own.
We need intervention, we need forgiveness, we need atonement. We need God.
Is God relevant?
Anxiety is a default mode of modern parenting. We worry about violence, screen time, fortnite addiction and mental well-being. And our children see this – and they worry too. Counselling, advice and support will always be important as we battle these challenges.
But do we believe that the Christian message has anything relevant to say about these challenges? Like, really believe it?
Christianity does not give simple answers. But it does give us somewhere to take our pain and our anxiety. The message of Easter is of a down-to-earth God, who does not stand aloof from the shit and suffering of the world, but steps into it and took on the worst that the world could do. Suffering is conquered by sacrificial love.
Here is where the surest hope is to be found. Not through some dewy-eyed optimism about progress or human solidarity, but from the actions of a God who died and rose again.
The resurrection is the centre-point of Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the tomb then the Christian faith is not true. It would mean that the death of Jesus means nothing more than the thousands of other crucifixions the Romans carried out.
It is the resurrection that makes the Easter story more than a morality tale. It is the resurrection that gives the Easter story its revolutionary and life-changing power. It is the resurrection that the early Christians staked their lives on.
It was this hope that our youth group glimpsed as a week later as we looked at the resurrection. We debated what really happened in that tomb two thousand years ago.
At the end of the session we stripped the cross of the pieces of paper written the week before. We then went outside and burnt them. As our sins and anxieties were enveloped in flames some of the young people offered up simple prayers of hope.
About half of our group are from families who don’t go to church. But we all live in a community deeply affected by violence, broken relationships and anxiety. It struck me that nothing is more relevant for young people than this message.
It is vital that we invest energy and time in communicating Christian hope in a way that young people can understand. Too many congregations are resigned to children leaving church when they are 12 or 13 and do little about it. Too many congregations sing endless songs while children just sit bored playing on their phones. We must be braver and have more ambition.
Sharing the Christian message relevantly with young people should be a key priority. The world is full of pain which affects them. We must show them a message of hope they can believe in.