By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

I went through the Stations of the Cross with a group of early elementary children last Friday morning. I was substitute teaching at a Catholic School. At each station, we responded and “adored” Christ on bowed knee.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

I had planned a Palm Sunday lesson for later in the day for my second graders, but it seemed more purposeful to unpackage this statement. It was so full of meaning and I was anxious to know if they knew any of it or if they knew only what to do and say.

I’ve been part of a subculture that doubts repetitive rote dialogue, common prayers, and smells and bells. But I had not been a robotic participant as we’d walked to each visual and listened to a portion of the passion narrative. No, I had remembered and felt things. I had stated truths that were sometimes hard to believe and warranted claiming again and again. And I wondered how a child experienced such.

So I wrote the phrase on the chalkboard and we talked.

I like talking with children. Some people like talking to children. I think that those people miss too much stuff. Good stuff.

We began with a simplified Socratic method. “Let’s read this,” I said, and we did.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Then I asked, “Is this true?”

Wikipedia currently defines the Socratic method as a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

Can second graders think critically? Evidently so.

“Who is this you in the statement?” I began. A chorus replied, “JESUS.” Check.

“What does redeem mean?” I continued. A few hands were raised. I acknowledged the students one by one and wrote their answers on the board, not leaving out any words or phrases that they suggested, because this was brainstorming.

Saved. Fixed. Clearing.

“Tell me more about that word clearing,” I coached a bit.

“Well, you know like …” The student’s hand was moving across the air in front of him as he searched for what he meant. I watched what that hand seemed to be doing.

“Clearing, like maybe clearing something away?”

‘Yeah. That’s it,” my second grade boy said. “Like clearing away.”

I was ready to move on. “What needs clearing away?” I continue. I point to the words clearing away and to the rest of the brainstorming list, too.

What in this world needs cleared away? What needs fixing? What needs saving? What does it need saved from?

There was a bit of excitement in the room by then. The light bulbs were coming on.

Storms. Disbelief. Wrong stuff. Sin. Evil.

Now some folks would have shied away from that first word that was hollered out, STORMS. But I just asked, “What kind of storms?” And this girl just replied, quick as a wink, “WEATHER STORMS.” And I wrote that answer down on that blackboard because I happen to think that the world needs saving from weather storms. Don’t you? I also think that our interpretation of the saving power of the cross is way too limited.

“Tell me when this first disbelief and wrong stuff started,” I said and stopped. Silence is ok. Don’t be afraid of it.

And this is where there was, I admit, a bit of guiding. We found our way to Genesis 3 and we rehearsed some events that showed disbelief on the man and woman’s part. We decided that the serpent was evil. We remembered that a consequence was death and I asked them then about the whole Palm Sunday celebration that would be coming on Sunday for most of them.

Jesus was going to Jerusalem and the people began treating him like a king. Why?

“Because he was teaching the people not to disbelieve in God,” someone said. And I quite liked that she had gone back to that word on the chalkboard, disbelief.

“Hmmmm…he was. He was teaching. He was also doing other things…”

A boy jumped almost out of his chair. “Healing. He was healing.”

“What’s the biggest miracle healing that you think Jesus did?” I asked. The class was silent again. Slowly they began to list the things that Christ had done. Blind could see. Deaf could hear. Lame could walk. Food could be multiplied.

“Anything greater?” I added.


It was a whisper. And all of a sudden, I think that sixteen second graders got the correlations of evil bringing disbelief and death and a cross bringing a saving, a fixing, and a clearing away of all that.

If it hadn’t been raining, then we’d have gone out for recess.

Because we were done. That was enough for the day.

We praise and adore you, O Christ. For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

And as they say in second grade, ALL OF IT. AMEN.


I admit it. I went to another Stations of the Cross that night at another location. This time I had a little less disbelief and a little more conviction when I answered each time. THANKS SECOND GRADE!