Easter is coming up, and Jess's family is starting to prepare excitedly. His family only goes to church on Easter, and when they do it is an event. Brenda and Ellie in particular relish the opportunity to show off in new clothes. However, Jess's dad gets laid off just before Easter, and this means to Ellie and Brenda is that there will be no new clothes. It adds a new stress on an already careworn household.
Jess tells Leslie that they go to church on Easter, and Leslie surprises him by asking if she can go with them. She has never been to church, she says, and she wonders what it is all about. Jess is bewildered, and wonders why would anyone want to go to church if they did not have to, but he succeeds in persuading his mother to let Leslie go with them.
Church itself is a wholly unfulfilling experience for Jess. He finds the whole thing to be tiresome and monotonous, and has never gotten anything out of the experience. Leslie, however, is fascinated. She finds the Jesus story to be beautiful, like something out of a book. Jess tells her, "it's because we're all vile sinners that God made Jesus die." Leslie does not believe this, and May Belle is horrified, telling Leslie she is going to go to hell if she doesn't believe the Bible. Leslie scoffs at this, too, saying she does not believe God goes around damning people to hell. Jess and Leslie reach an uneasy truce about this, but May Belle cannot be persuaded.
Ellie's and Brenda's fixation on new clothing for Easter, and their feeling that the only value in the experience of going to church is the opportunity to preen in front of a large audience, confirms their shallowness. However, Jess's religious experience is nearly as shallow in a different way. Apparently religion has never been presented to him in a manner that could evoke any true faith or comfort. When questioned by Leslie, Jess's main understanding of religion seems to center around the idea that "It's because we're all vile sinners God made Jesus die." Quite apart from the complete disregard of the true main tenet of Christianity—that it is God's love for those "vile sinners" which led to the crucifixion and the Resurrection—the very phrasing that Jess uses is disturbing. Saying that "God made Jesus die" implies cruelty, and focuses solely on the physical death of Christ rather than his rising from the dead. Obviously, Jess did not come up with this idea himself. This is no doubt meant to be a criticism of the teachings and general atmosphere of the Church, which apparently, in Paterson's view, is full of fire and brimstone and skips over the far more important themes of love and charity. Jess's experience is not unique, but is the experience of thousands of children, young adults, and adults as well. The service is staid and monotonous, and the ideas, to a casual observer of such a Mass as Jess attends, are disturbing.
However, Leslie is able to see beyond that. She suggests, hesitantly, that "it's really kind of a beautiful story—like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates—or Aslan." Her comparison of the story of Jesus to the story of Aslan is particularly significant, since the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which Aslan is a character, is actually a religious allegory, and Aslan represents the figure of Christ. Jess, too, appreciates the story of Aslan, and would agree that it is beautiful. But he is unable to see the connection between Jesus and Aslan. His church simply does not present the literal history in a manner that he can grasp. Leslie, on the other hand, is able to see beyond the stale chants and the uncomfortable pews. Her immediate ability to find meaning in the story of Christ is significant, demonstrating the beauty and power that the story can hold when it is looked at from a certain angle. To view the story from this angle, however, requires a pair of fresh eyes and a certain free outlook on life. As mentioned before, Jess's viewpoint is severely limited by what he has been taught all his life and by the atmosphere in which he's grown up. Leslie has had a very different upbringing that has left her with a wider viewpoint and a greater ability to understand the implications of the story of Christ. It is this sort of viewpoint which Leslie attempts to impart to Jess throughout the whole of Bridge to Terabithia.
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