Talking with Your Children About Holy Week
There’s no way around it. The miracle of the empty tomb and the Risen Lord don’t have much meaning unless you travel through Good Friday and witness the crucifixion. And the crucifixion is ugly and scary and violent and painful.
In an increasingly violent world, can’t church just be the place where we teach our children that Jesus loves them? Do we have to bring up the story of what is likely the most unjust execution in human history with the youngest among us?
Well, yes…and no.
Just like our children learn to recite the Lord’s Prayer way before they fully understand its meaning and come to the table for communion before they completely understand its power, they can learn about Jesus’ death on the cross before they fully experience the horror of that event.
You can tell your children that Jesus came to teach us how much God loves us and how we should share that love with everyone. Sadly, not everyone wants to love. Not everyone wants to share. People wanted Jesus to stop talking about love and acceptance and so they had him put to death. Even though “put to death” is not really a term we use much today, children understand what it means, and it doesn’t carry the violent imagery that “killed” or “murdered” does. The idea may make them sad, and that’s okay. It was terribly sad when Jesus died, just like it is when anyone we love dies.
If your child(red) ask who exactly killed Jesus, there’s no need to throw any specific religious or ethnic group under the bus for being the culprits. The truth is that it was the people in power, the people whose authority was challenged (both Roman and Jewish) who set Jesus’ death in motion. It was regular people just like us who got caught up in a mob mentality and asked for Jesus, rather than the murderer Barabbas, to be sent to the cross. If you worshipped with us on Palm Sunday and participated in our drama, you (the congregation) had to play the part of the crowd. You had to be the people who shouted, “Crucify him!”
When telling the story, you should never end with the crucifixion. It’s important that our children know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. You have some good visual aids in our church. We do not have pictures of the crucifixion displayed. You will always find the cross empty at First Pres Argenta because the empty cross is a sign that Christ is no longer crucified. Christ is not dead, but alive! And because Jesus beat death, when we die, we get to go live with him in heaven.
As kids get older, they will hear more of the story and begin to decide for themselves why the cross is important (there are actually many reasons). They will begin to develop their own theories of atonement (how the cross and forgiveness “work”). They will learn the graphic details and realize how horrific Jesus’ death must have been. But for now, our youngest members just need to know that because of Jesus, in life and in death they are loved and need not be afraid.