Copyright 2006 Paul Arinaga
There’s a lot of controversy about the true meaning of Easter. Some claim that it’s actually a pagan celebration in origin. Others lament that retailers, greeting card companies and television are changing Christianity’s greatest feast into something with meaning “the size of a jelly bean.”
In any case, the most common view about the real meaning of Easter is that it’s a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that through this act, sin and death are conquered. Easter also can be seen as a season of joy. The time of sorrow is over. Lent’s penitential forty days have passed, and the fifty days of the Easter season have begun. Winter is over and spring is in the air. In times past, it’s said that priests would regale their parishioners with funny stories. Easter was truly a time to rejoice. To rejoice that Our Lord has Risen and that one day we too shall pass through death (which has lost its sting) and rise to New Life!
While I am certainly not erudite enough to give you the definitive answer on what Easter means. I believe that it offers many valuable insights about life, no matter what your religious beliefs. In fact, the Easter story is so powerful that it probably offers something even to an open-minded atheist!
One of the biggest lessons from the Easter story, I believe, is the power of forgiveness. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about what forgiveness actually is. In my opinion, it doesn’t mean condoning the wrong that has been committed or allowing it to happen again. Moreover, the act of forgiving is not necessarily something you do for the transgressor (although it can be), although its power can transform the transgressor, too. It is something you may do for yourself.
When you can forgive, you can finally be free of the burden of guilt, anger, hatred or resentment. The healing process can begin or finally conclude. You can also let go of the person who hurt you. This makes you stronger and removes the power that person has over you. It’s somehow ironic that by not forgiving we allow the person who has harmed us to continue to harm us, even if they themselves are unaware of the long-term damage that is being inflicted. Of course, ultimately, we are responsible. By taking responsibility now for our own interpretation of what happened in the past, we become much stronger – I think that’s what people mean when they talk about “self-empowerment”.
Teaching children the power of forgiveness is both difficult and easy. It’s difficult because forgiveness is an advanced skill that can take a lifetime to master, and because there’s so much confusion about what it actually means to forgive. It’s easy because children often have fewer pre-conceived notions and see life more clearly than adults do. I’m always struck by how children seem more pragmatic and matter-of-fact than adults.
So, how can you teach something as sophisticated as forgiveness? I like to use children’s stories to explore difficult themes like forgiveness. It’s easier to understand forgiveness through the lens of other people or even other creatures. Once you understand what the characters in the child story are going through, you can relate it back to your own life or situation.
You can use the choices made by different characters or their attitudes as a jumping off point for a general discussion of forgiveness. If you really want to be systematic about it, you can use an appropriate children’s story in conjunction with scripture and a list of prepared questions (a kind of teaching or discussion guide).
I’m not sure whether forgiveness is the main lesson of the Easter story or even a primary message from it. But I am sure that it is a valuable one. And I’m also certain that if we can teach our children how to forgive, that they will be more productive – and happier – human beings.