A number of years ago the producers of Sesame Street faced a dilemma.
Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, died. The producers were suddenly faced with figuring out how to communicate what death was to the more than 10 million children (most of whom are under 6 years of age) who watch the show.
Child psychologists suggested that they not say "Mr. Hooper got sick and died" because children get sick and they’re not going to die. And they suggested that they not say that "Mr. Hooper got old and died" because little children think of their parents as being old. The staff of Sesame Street also decided that they would avoid religious issues and they would not say that "Mr. Hooper died and went to heaven."
They decided that they would say just a few basics: He's gone, he won't be back, he'll be missed.
That show was aired on Thanksgiving Day so that parents could watch it with their children.
Big Bird came out and said he had a picture for Mr. Hooper and he couldn't wait to see him. Someone said, "Big Bird, remember, we told you that Mr. Hooper died."
Big Bird said, "Oh yeah, I forgot."
Then he said, "Well, I'll give it to him when he comes back."
And one of the staff members put an arm around Big Bird and said, "Big Bird, Mr. Hooper isn't coming back."
"Why not," asked Big Bird innocently.
"Big Bird, when people die, they don't come back."
And that was it.
How hopeless. How futile.
But isn’t that what the Bible teaches regarding those outside of faith in Jesus Christ? In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul told his readers, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”
Bishop Berger used to describe death to little children by saying...
Let's say a little boy is walking with his father to town, and he comes across a bridge that has been wiped out by a flood. And all the raging river has left are these pylons that are jutting up out of the water. The father grabs his son by the hand and half carries him across that river. At the end of the day when they make their way back from the town the father hears his little boy whimpering at his side and asks, "What's wrong?"
The little boy says, “Daddy, we barely made it across that terrible river in the daytime, we'll never make it at night.” So the father picks up his child and puts him up to his chest and the little boy goes to sleep in his arms and together they set out across the river.
The next thing the little boys knows is that he has woken up and its morning. He's in his father's house, he's in his own room, the sun is shining through the window, and his dad is standing there in the doorway smiling.
Then Bishop Berger would say, "Now children, I think that's what it's like to die."
That's a little different from, “Sorry Big Bird, Mr. Hooper’s not coming back.”
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