Explaining the first Easter to children represents a particular challenge. Their heads are full of bunnies, daffodils and chocolate eggs. We are wondering how to tell them about the bloody death of a naked man on an indescribably brutal torture device. There is potential for disappointed expectations!
My Dad remembers the time his teacher demonstrated the cause of death from crucifixion to the class. A boy was held aloft by his outstretched arms, until he no longer had the strength to raise his diaphragm to breathe and his face started to change colour. It made quite an impression on Dad, and presumably on the little boy who feared he might go the same way as the Messiah.
Times have changed. Completely. There are other, better (and safer) ways for children to be taught about the events and the meaning of Easter. Let’s run through some essentials for teaching children about the first Easter:
Firstly, Easter is being celebrated, so join the party! The Easter eggs and hot cross buns arrived in our supermarkets as the Christmas puddings were being sold off at half price. By Easter weekend, almost every child in the land will have been given more chocolate eggs than they can carry. There is a residual memory that Easter is a Christian festival so while that remains, we want to offer ourselves for school assemblies, school RE lessons, Good Friday parties and Easter Sunday all age services. As with Christmas, we have the reason for the season, so let’s not keep it from the children.
Secondly, Easter concerns a painful death, so tread carefully. There is no need to shock children with Jesus‘ horrendous floggings, his humiliation and eventual death. None of it will help children to understand Easter better. Children do not engage emotionally as adults do. Instead children need to be told the simple facts and the simple explanation of the first Easter, in an engaging way. For instance, we can helpfully say that, “Jesus died on a cross”; there is no need to say that “Jesus was nailed to a cross” and no need to use words like, “killed”, “murdered” or “flogged”. A visiting speaker to a school or a Church preacher can explain that Easter is for remembering Jesus’ death while leaving the gruesome details of Jesus' death to the parent’s discretion.
Of course every tiny detail of the Resurrection can be laid out with reckless abandon! Tell every child, at every opportunity, that Jesus Christ came back to life again. Convince them with the evidence: Jesus presented himself, alive and well, to hundreds of people. He was definitely dead and now he is certainly alive. Every chocolate Easter egg speaks of the new forever life that Jesus Christ experienced and now offers each child. Don’t let children eat vast quantities of chocolate this Easter without them knowing why it’s all been crafted into eggs.
Thirdly, Easter offers a chance for forgiveness and resurrection, so explain it brilliantly. While the narrative of Easter is gripping, the meaning of Easter is life-changing. Let us be creative, visual and engaging in how we explain and illustrate the effects of Jesus' death and resurrection. For instance:
- The torn temple curtain shows how the crucifixion allows us to enter freely into God’s presence. (Mark 15: 38)
- The swap of the cross (1 Peter 3: 18) can be explained using a dirty T-Shirt belonging to us and a clean T-Shirt belonging to Jesus. At the cross, Christ died for my wrong attitudes, while I am given Christ’s perfect life, allowing me to walk into God’s family, as only Christ himself can.
- Christ dying as the final sacrifice in our place (Romans 3: 25) can be visually demonstrated by putting one raw egg (Jesus) on top of another raw egg (me). When the cricket ball drops down a gutter pipe smashing the top egg, the bottom egg is left untouched. Leave time for the wild round of applause. Seize the moment! Say that in exactly the same way, God’s fair punishment for our attitudes, smashed Jesus, but he kept me safe.
The first Easter is the centre of all history. Allow the children to see Christ’s love for them when it is most clearly seen, at the cross. It is in his death and resurrection that we have new life. Let us not keep it from the children. Instead, let us join the party, tread carefully and explain it brilliantly. And we don’t even need to lose the fluffy bunnies and chocolate eggs.
Faith in Kids has a variety of Easter resources for you to use. From Assemblies to RE lessons, toddler talk to All-Age service, you can find it all here!