This is Part 2 of a story about my recent trip to France. You might want to read Part 1 first—just a friendly suggestion.
I could see Aude's confusion, and so I blathered on.
And panicked. I blathered and panicked, which is never a good combination, especially when you're trying to speak in your second language, one that involves four different pronunciations of the letter “u” and you've just crossed the Atlantic. Never panic when your body isn't sure what time it is.
But I couldn't stop the panic. In France, I’m so rarely given the opportunity to talk about my faith. Oh, I’ve had plenty of debates on religion; the French love a good intellectual debate, and when they learn I’m a Christian—and one who goes to church every week at that—they ooh la la in excitement.
A live Christian, right in front of them! I’m treated as a rarity, as a scientific specimen to examine and cross-examine.
At various points during my life in France, I’ve been asked:
- How do you explain the Crusades?
- Why does America have the song “God Bless America”?
- Why did the Spanish Inquisition happen?
- Was 9/11 part of God’s plan?
- Why are there so many denominations?
But jamais—never—have I been asked to share the story of Jesus’ crucifixion while standing in front of a hand-carved altar in a church from the 17th Century.
My French education prepared me to recite details of various Louis’ and revolutions. It prepared me to order un pain au chocolat, and I’m very well-versed in how to ask for the bill at a café. I can read the newspaper Le Monde and sing along with French songs on NRJ, the pop radio station.
But none of my vocabulary drills involved the words sacrifice, sanctification, Pharisees, or resurrection. I was not given a conversation model to explain why Jesus had to die to a 15-year-old girl who comes from a country with a long history of being hurt by and then distrusting the capital C Church.
I did what I most always do in these I-haven’t-prepared-for-this situations: I panicked and blathered.
“Um. Well. Judas was—he gave—the signal…no, the sign, I mean the sign, to the Romans to arrest Jesus. The kiss, it is the sign.”
Oh good Lord, I thought. If I’m having trouble remembering the word for sign, I’m never going make it through this story. Let alone get to the part where I get to say, “And so, I believe in Jesus because…”
Aude gave a sideways glance to her mother. “Did the Romans not know which person was Jesus?”
Laurence jumped in, “No, I think it’s because they didn’t know Jesus was Jewish, and he was being arrested because he was Jewish. So maybe the kiss from Judas was a sign that Jesus was Jewish?”
Laurence gave a sideways glance to me, looking for confirmation.
“No! Not exact! I mean, not exactly! The Romans, they known Jesus is Jew. Is Jewish. But he gets, he was gotten, lots more power, and the other Jews, the priests, they was being scared of power. They like the power. But they no like the Jesus. He was scary…no, they was scared of Jesus.”
“Jesus was scary?”
This is not going as planned.
“No! Jesus is not scary! Jesus is nice and really cool and love!”
“Then why did Judas kiss Jesus as a sign to the Romans?”
“Because…because…Jesus was hiding. And Judas found him for the Romans.”
Twenty-nine years of church, fifteen years of French, and what I come up with for explaining the beginning of the most important event in Christianity is: Jesus was playing hide-and-go-seek with Judas. And then he lost! Big time! But don’t worry—the tomb turned out to be the ultimate hiding place. Nobody could find him there!
Aude looked at me.
She looked at the altar.
At the crucifix.
At her mother.
And then she said, “That’s interesting.”
The three of us turned around and walked out of the church, but not before I looked up at Jesus on his cross and prayed quietly to his anguished face:
Dear sweet Jesus, I’m so sorry that I said you were hiding. I know that’s not what you were doing in Garden of Gethsemane, but I bet that would’ve been an awesome place to play hide-and-go-seek, especially at night. Maybe playing a little game would’ve kept the disciples awake.As we reached the wooden doors of the church—open onto the small cemetery splashed in late afternoon sunlight—Aude turned to me, “So, why do you believe in Jesus?”
Can you tell me why the only word I could remember at that moment was hiding? I’m pretty sure you know everything, so the next time I’m in a situation like this, could you please inject me with a French vocabulary lesson? Or maybe take over my tongue? You can do that, right? That’d be super helpful.
And in the meantime, please give me some sort of reassurance that Aude isn’t imagining you as a scary Nightmare on Elm Street character playing a game of hide-and-go-seek where Judas wins by giving you a bisous.
Yeah, one more time: I’m really sorry about saying that.
Amen. And PS, I’m sorry.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Here was reassurance: my crazy story of kissing and hiding had not scared off her questions.
I breathed in a prayer, a hope for appropriate verb conjugations, and a release of all expectations that my words would transform her life. We stepped into the light, and I started, “Why do I believe? I believe in Jesus because…”