Lent, Holy Week and Easter can be difficult for young people. The relevant Bible accounts involve political turmoil, murder, torture, tombs, and supernatural events. As adults, we know that Jesus' death and resurrection is an essential part of our faith, but how in world do we answer those difficult questions?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
- Why did people want to kill Jesus?
- How did Jesus die?
- Where is Jesus now?
- Where do we go when we die?
- What is heaven like?
- Why do we have Easter eggs?
- And on, and on, and on . . . .
A few years ago, I gave a presentation to parents about sharing their Easter faith with children of all ages. I've outlined the presentation below (and added links to other resources). Although it is only an outline, I hope it will help guide you in your conversations with your children and give you new ideas for approaching Easter. It can be overwhelming to discuss Easter with our kids so remember that Easter is bigger than any of us ever fully understand, and we do not have to know all the answers. Take the opportunity to learn with your children.
Some Basic Guidelines
- When they ask difficult questions, first find out what they already know so that you can correct any misunderstandings. If your child asks, "Why did Jesus have to die?," turn the question around and ask him or her, "Why do you think Jesus had to die?"
- Readthe Holy Week and Easter accounts from the Bible together.
- The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12)
- The Last Supper (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13)
- Gethsemane and Arrest (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22)
- Jesus’ Trial (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18)
- The Crucifixion (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19)
- The Resurrection (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 23-24, John 20)
- Never tell younger children the story of the crucifixion without including the resurrection!
- Make sure children understand two essential truths (these are things to talk about throughout the year):
- God loves the world. ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16)
- We don’t deserve God’s love. ("For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23)
Age-Specific Guidelines and Ideas
- Babies learn what is important to pay attention to by following the eye gaze of adults.
- Babies use the facial expressions of adults to decide how they feel.
- Make Easter important!
- Wave palms!
- T ake time to show your babies the crosses in the church and talk about them in very happy voices.
- Use phrases like “Happy Easter!”, “Jesus is alive!”
- Use plastic eggs to play peek-a-boo.
- Play Easter music at home and in the car.
- Observe and smell Easter flowers!
- Toddlers love to touch, taste, move, explore, smell, and watch! Consider Easter activities that engage the various senses.
- Introduce the Easter story in very simple terms.
- Board books and Beginner’s Bible are great.
- “Jesus was killed on a cross. His friends were so sad. But on Easter, God gave them a big surprise. Jesus was alive. They were very, very happy!”
- Repeat the story and Easter words – Hosanna! (Save us now!) Alleluia!
- Teach throughout the year the pattern of sin and forgiveness. There are rules, consequences, but forgiveness is possible and God’s love is never in doubt. Model this!!!
- Begin to add to the Easter story.
- Palm Sunday, Last Supper, Crucifixion, Empty Tomb – in all stories, focus on feelings.
- Create an Easter “nativity” set so that can repeat the stories. (Especially helpful in allowing them to visualize the tomb).
- Preschoolers love to be on the same side as the person in charge. Emphasize the power of God in the Easter story.
- Jesus’ importance is emphasized in the Palm Sunday “parade.”
- Jesus is like a super hero when he comes back from the dead.
- The resurrection shows that God wins!
- Last Supper – emphasize that Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples as a way for them to remember him.
- Crucifixion – add details as you think your child is ready.
- Two details to begin with:
- Crown of thorns – kids have experienced thorns
- Jesus was blindfolded and the soldiers demanded that He name who hit him.
- Two details to begin with:
- Mary’s Easter story – important because it is an experience for a specific person (make sure they know it is not Jesus’ mother). Jesus tells her he will always be with her. Ask your child to think about how they would feel if they were Mary.
- Review definitions!
- Children in early elementary grades are beginning to have an intense focus on the world beyond themselves.
- They will be able to relate and be very concerned by Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
- Because they are very concerned with approval of other, they will be interested in forgiveness. (Focus on Jesus’ forgiveness of people while on the cross and Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter).
- They can begin to put the Holy Week stories together and see how they are related in time and substance.
- Begin introducing and expand upon some of the details of the stories.
- Donkey in Palm Sunday – usually ridden by a king in peace.
- Washing the disciples’ feet – Jesus did the job of a lowly servant.
- Some boys will be ready for more details about how Jesus died.
- Doubting Thomas – It’s okay to question.
Older Elementary, Middle and High School
- Use timelines, infographics, and maps to show that Easter is not “just a story.”
- Emphasize that Jesus sets an example for forgiveness.
- Use modern day stories to encourage them to think about the depth of God’s love for us shown by Jesus’ death on the cross.
- Harry Potter’s mother
- Aslan in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
- Musafa in The Lion King
- Read Easter stories together with a Study Bible.
Difficult Questions to Expect
Why did Jesus have to die?
- You will get this question at different ages, but be prepared for it by early elementary time.
- Four different models of understanding the Easter story are good for explanations to children:
- Jesus the Sacrifice (penal substitution)
- God is completely just and angry about sin. (Romans 1:18, 3:20)
- Everyone sins! (Romans 3:23)
- Because God is a just God, sin must be punished.
- In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were a substitute for a person’s punishment.
- Jesus was the sacrifice. (Romans 3:21-26; 8:3; Hebrews 9:1-10:18 – Jesus was the sacrifice and the High Priest.)
- Through Jesus, we have a closer relationship with Christ. (Romans 8:15-17)
- Jesus the Reconciler
- Sin strains the relationship between God and man.
- Jesus came to reconcile the relationship. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) Kids can relate to reconciliation – sibling fights, fights at school.
- Jesus the Victor
- Jesus triumphed over the powers, authority and written code that was against us. (Colossians 2:13-23)
- Our sins were taken away and nailed to the cross.
- Jesus the Rescuer (Redeemer)
- People are slaves to sin.
- Jesus has freed us.
- In the Exodus story, people were slaves. The “price” for freedom was the blood of the lamb. The price for our freedom from sin is the blood of Jesus. With this model, explain Passover and perhaps share a Seder meal.
- Jesus the Sacrifice (penal substitution)
Why did people want to kill Jesus?
- Leaders did not like what Jesus said. (Love your enemies, share with those in need, forgive those who hurt you.)
- Jesus made friends with the wrong people. (Zacchaeus, Samaritan woman, lepers.)
- Jesus did things that made powerful people angry.
- Jesus cleanses the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22)
- Healing on the Sabbath (John 5:1-18; John 9)
- Jesus claimed He was the Son of God (John 6:41-66; John 10:31-39)
What was Jesus like after Easter?
- He could do “interesting” things, like appear inside a locked room (John 20:19-20) and disappear at the table in Emmaus (Luke 24:30-31).
- But, he was not a ghost. He could be touched and could eat fish (Luke 24:36-43).