Talking with Your Kids About Holy Week
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Things quickly take a downturn and we move to the tragedy of the cross and then on to the triumph of the empty tomb. Holy Week can get dicey. 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.
Our world is scary enough right now. Can’t we just teach our children that Jesus loves them? Do we have to bring up the story of the most famously unjust execution in human history with the youngest among us?
Well, yes…and no.
Our children learn to recite the Lord’s Prayer long before they fully understand its meaning. And in many traditions, children come to the table for communion before they completely understand its power. Children can learn about Jesus’ death on the cross without having to fully comprehend the horror of the event.
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(ren) ask who 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.
When telling the story of Jesus, you should never end with the crucifixion. It’s important that our children know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. In the Protestant tradition, we only display empty crosses, because the empty cross is a sign that Christ is no longer crucified. Christ is not dead, but alive! You probably have a cross somewhere in your home (or around your neck) to demonstrate.
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.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.