A child’s view of the resurrection

April 9, 2019 by Ellie Johns-Kelley

Each week I spend at least two to three hours commuting to daycare with my girls Ibby age 4.5 years old and Karoline, who is 10 months old. The baby sleeps and the preschooler and I spend the drive singing, chatting and playing “I spy.”

On Ash Wednesday, we talked about what would happen that evening at worship with the imposition of ashes, what the day meant and how it marked the beginning of Lent. We talked about the time of preparation that leads us to Holy Week. She still remembered having her feet washed two years ago on Maundy Thursday. Next was Good Friday, I asked her what happened that day. She knows it by rote: Jesus died on the cross.

This little girl enjoys reading her Frolic First Bible along with her Preschool Bible by Spark House Family alongside story books. While I try to focus on other stories, she often asks to turn the pages to the cross where Jesus died. I always follow it up with the women at the tomb. So that day I asked what came next. On queue, she named the women finding the tomb empty and Jesus’ resurrection. What I didn’t expect is what followed. She declared that she would like to be Jesus and be able to come back from the dead. Surely, she was taking in the glory of Easter without considering the road to Calvary.

This little girl has already experienced loss with the death from of a beloved pig, the family cat, to random chickens and most significant the death of her beloved great-grandmother. She attended the funeral and went to the graveside. Ibby also has a grandfather whom she never met as he died nine years before her birth. We talk about Grandpa Ralph and Grandma Pooch often and how they are with God. We use big terms like heaven and resurrection which she doesn’t quite understand. (No lies, we do not fully understand these things either and will not until that day comes that each of us joins the church triumphant. But we trust in the promise that nothing in life or death can ever separate us from the love of God.)

Resurrection and earthly appearances

Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley

That car drive, I found myself trying to explain that there is a difference between Jesus’ resurrection and earthly appearances and the resurrection of regular humans like Grandma Pooch and Grandpa Ralph. When we die we won’t be able to walk around, visit our loved ones and dine with them. I didn’t challenge her on wanting to be Jesus and imagining the persecution he experienced. Instead, I sought to add some clarity while giving Ibby space to wonder. I admitted that there are a lot of things I don’t know or understand.

I believe conversations like this are important. Ordinary, every day conversations with the children in our lives to share the promises of God, read Bible stories together and wonder out loud make such a difference. I want the girls to know their value and those of all humanity as children of God and to understand that we respond because God first loved us. I also believe that modeling that love in our actions and chatting about why we do things is critical.

This year, as in years before, I grabbed a couple extra cardboard fish banks for “One Great Hour of Sharing.” The girls are given our change to divide between their personal banks for saving and spending and for the fish bank to support ministries of the church. (Honestly, it is Ibby whom is doing the dividing between the six banks, as Karoline is too young.) During Lent, we talk about how the money in the fish bank will help people through the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and Self-Development of People. We talk about how we, too, can be helpers to our near and distant neighbors. We talk about giving our best and not our cast-offs so that others will know they are valuable children of God, too. We will save those extra fish boxes for after Lent to continue the practice of setting aside our money that the girls can spend, save and share.

My grandmother, who is 96, learned generosity in her formative years, as with most in her generation. Though the cost of her medicine is more than her social security allotment and she was never a woman of significant means, she has always tithed and continues to do so. My hope is that what I do in word and deed with my girls will shape them into becoming generous, dedicated people who love God and love their neighbors. Claiming ordinary time like driving to daycare and engaging in consistent practices provide opportunities to talk about our response to God’s love with acts of generosity.

I can’t even imagine the declarations and questions which are yet to come from these two girls. Many I won’t be able to answer and won’t dare give a canned response. I claim the privilege of sharing my faith and modeling generosity.

What are you doing that gives you joy and shares God’s generosity with others?

Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the Northeast Region. She works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Ellie comes to the Foundation after serving for three and a half years as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Pennsylvania. Previously, she was Director of the Summer Youth Institute and Admission Associate at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  She is co-moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Erie’s Administrative Committee and a member of the Trustees. She has served on the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission and has served the Synod of the Trinity as the Regional Representative for the Theological Education Fund, a member of the Campus Ministry Task Force and a member of the Synod’s Permanent Judicial Commission. While in Warren, Ellie served on the Forest and Warren Counties Children’s Roundtable. In addition, she was a Board member and treasurer for the Warren County Juvenile Probation Association. Ellie received a BS in Biology at Muskingum University and a Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She resides in Pittsburgh with her husband, Eric.