Picture over one hundred children screaming for one of a small group of adults to be unwillingly hauled up in front of them and soaked with water.
It sounds like some sort of Lord of the Flies social-experiment-gone-wrong. In actual fact, this was the daily morning routine for the participants of TRINITY holiday club, this year dramatically entitled Escape from the Pyramid of Doom…and what a lot of fun it was. The daily activity to which this refers is the Great Balloon Sacrifice which is an opportunity for the children to nominate leaders and then, following a shout-off, for one of those leaders to have a balloon filled with water popped over his or her head. It is one of the highlights of the club and, as days go by, the plotting to nominate particular leaders becomes more and more Machiavellian until by Friday children were waving pre-made banners in order to canvass support for their leader of choice.
It would be easy to claim that this event somehow aims to highlight the sacrifice of Jesus in some way, but that would be dishonest; there is nothing more to it than the friendly ritual humiliation of the adults with whom the children particularly bond. For, make no mistake about it, this is about love: the most popular leaders are the ones dragged to the front which is why the organisers and up-front leaders always suffer, as do the teen helpers, and woe betide any leader with a child or sibling attending! But, what is in it for the adults? Why do so many children become helpers at the club once they are no longer old enough to attend? Why do so many people help out year after year? Do we have a higher than average number of masochists in our congregation?
This too is about love. Love of our town, love of young people, and love of Jesus. Getting to know a group of under elevens, making crepe paper mummies, singing action songs and running around the churchyard are all rewarding experiences in themselves, but it is difficult to imagine a collection of thirteen to eighty-seven-year-olds volunteering annually just for the pleasure of getting a custard pie in the face. What made it worthwhile was seeing the hands in the air when our youth minister asked if anyone had made Jesus their friend for the first time. We know what it is to have the love, guidance and friendship of Jesus in our lives. And the daily difference it makes is one we should be desperate to pass on to everyone, no matter their age.
Jesus did not dismiss children as incapable of trusting him and his message. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke recount stories of Jesus’s interaction with children and the lessons he teaches us from them. In Mark 9 v 34 to 37 the disciples are arguing about who amongst them is the greatest and Jesus uses a child as a way of identifying humility in a follower: he says “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me”. It is impossible to care too much about your pride when spending time with children so how we relate to children becomes symbolic of how we relate to everyone. If, as Christians we cannot enjoy some embarrassment by getting covered in tinned spaghetti, water or shaving foam for the sake of showing children the love of God, then how can we expect to show humility and love to adults who are far more difficult and frustrating in their behaviour?
Helping at holiday club shows that there is no place for pride in Christian relationships; the young people recognised it and welcomed it. The challenge now is to show that humility to everyone else.
For more examples of Jesus’s interaction with children try Matthew 19:13-14, Matthew 18:1-14 and Mark 10:13-16