Last Sunday Katie and her fellow second-graders at church attended the Communion Awareness Workshop. They got to practice holding the communion tray full of wine and juice and offering it to their family members. They got to decorate stoles that they'll wear during their First Communion next month. They got to see how the communion bread is made and each child got to knead his or her own portion of it.
While we were waiting for the bread to bake, one of the church elders brought out some wooden figures and reenacted the story of The Last Supper for the children. When she finished the story, she asked if there were any questions. Katie's hand shot up.
"Yes, Katie?" the elder said.
"I just want to know whyyyyy it's called Good Friday when it's the day Jesus died? It doesn't sound good to me."
I remember when I was about Katie's age thinking the exact same thing. What kind of freaks celebrate the death of Jesus? Jesus did nothing to harm anyone. He taught people how to love everyone--including our enemies. He's the Prince of Peace. The Lamb of God. Why would anyone in their right mind call the day he was crucified Good? I knew about death. I'd witnessed my gerbil, Darth, die in his cage one night. I knew death was not good. Not for my pet gerbil and certainly not for my buddy Jesus.
"It's called Good Friday because Jesus died so we can have eternal life," the elder explained.
I could tell Katie still didn't get it, but the smell of the warm bread out of the oven was distracting enough that she had no further questions.
Later, when we were home, she asked me the same question.
"Mom, why is it called Good Friday if it's the day Jesus died?"
"Yeah, that's a tricky one. I used to think the same thing when I was your age. It's weird to think of death as a good thing, isn't it?"
"Yeah!" Katie said emphatically like thank you - finally someone understands what I'm talking about!
"But people who believe that Jesus died for our sins think it's a good thing. Jesus allowed his body to be sacrificed so his spirit would go to Heaven with God and live forever, and so would our spirits when we die," I explained.
Katie sat silent for a moment. Then she said, "Mom, what are sins?"
"You know, big mistakes," I said.
"Like if I killed someone?" she asked.
"Yes, killing someone is definitely a sin," I said.
"Then why is it called Good Friday if that's the day Jesus was killed?" she asked.
"Yeah, I know. It's hard to understand," I said. "See, a long time ago, before Jesus was born, some people thought you had to sacrifice an animal to show how much you love God."
"What's sacrifice?" Katie asked.
"When you give up something that is important to you. People were very poor back then, so they would slaughter--"
Katie interrupted, "What's slaughter?"
"Kill," I explained. "People would kill one of their animals, like a lamb or a goat or some kind of animal that they would normally use to sell for money or to eat. They'd kill that animal and offer it to God to show how much they loved God." At this point I was talking out of my ass, trying hard to remember how my mom explained it to me when I was Katie's age.
Katie had an expression of disgust on her face. "Why would God want people to kill an animal?"
I finally gave up and answered her question honestly, to the best of my ability: "I don't know," I said, shaking my head. "It's a weird thing for us to think about because we don't sacrifice animals in our culture today. But back then, it was a normal thing to do. Then Jesus came along and said, you guys don't have to sacrifice animals to prove your love to God anymore because of me. I am the ultimate sacrifice. I am the Son of God. Sacrifice me and then when everyone who believes in me dies you'll all go to Heaven."
Katie still looked disgusted. I didn't blame her. People and our weird traditions are pretty fucked up if you think about it.
"The point of the story is that Jesus put a stop to all the earlier traditions and all the rules and customs people had to follow. He told us to forget all that and just love each other. It's as easy as that," I explained, hoping it would clarify things and put an end to the difficult questions.
"If we love each other, we shouldn't kill each other," Katie argued.
"Yes, you're right," I said, and left it at that. The difficult questions will never end, but have eternal life inside our children's amazing brains. It's the sacrifice every parent makes.
Last night when I got home from work, I walked into the kitchen to write something on our family's calendar. I couldn't help but smile when I saw Katie's handwriting on the 18th:
"Sad Friday" by Katie Carleton, age 7
I like how she renamed it Sad Friday, not Bad Friday. Often we think if something is not good, then it's bad. Katie's on the path to a deeper understanding of life--and death--now that she realizes that something can be both good and sad at the same time.