a first encounter

Last week “Catechism” started again. My goal was to segue our Christmas-geared brains to the rest of Jesus’ life, bearing in mind that everything post-manger was literally new news to these kids.

They’re generally cool with stories — as long as they’re not out of the official class book (I don’t blame them) — so I began with one of my own childhood favorites, The Tale of the Three Trees.

Ladies and gentlemen, they were spellbound. The sole girl in the class mourned for the third tree when it got cut down. The boy who didn’t get a puppy for Christmas thought it was great when the first tree became the manger. And I swear I saw silent surprise register on the face of the kid who never stops talking when we connected that Jesus the Baby grew up to be Jesus the Man who walked on water.

And then the third tree — who just wanted to stand tall on its mountain top and point to God — was made into the Cross. An illustration of Jesus carrying it filled the whole page, His body taking up nearly the whole space and His face unseen. The crown of thorns is visible, though, and the Cross is clearly heavy.

“Who is that Man?” a voice piped up.

Later that night I got tingles down my back when I thought about the question. First, because I realized that my response, as short and probably distracted as it was, and that simple illustration on one page of a children’s book, yet served as his first encounter with Jesus, “that Man.” And second, because it struck me that this eight-year-old had voiced the fundamental question, really, of the Christian life.

Who is this Man we continue to follow after years of faithful, or perhaps plodding, service? This Man with words of everlasting life? Who is He who came that I might have life, who died for my sins, and who calls me to follow Him?

And, like the children staring transfixed at His body, how can I continue to encounter Him?

I think it’ll be a good, new year.



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