"Experiencing the events of Holy Week and Easter can be a powerful way for children to share in the defining action of our Christian faith while being held in a safe and familiar environment."
Holy Week with Children
It is hard to believe that Palm Sunday is almost here, and Holy Week is not far behind! Parents and educators, most often those who work with younger children, are often confused as to how best handle the crucifixion as we tell the story the Easter miracle.
The events of Jesus' death are shocking and violent, but we cannot fully live into Easter if we have not experienced Jesus' death. There are ways to approach this with children that make it easier to share the whole story. Here are some of the things I have learned in twenty-five years as an educator and a parent:
1. Children Understand Tragedy
Children - even very young ones - know that bad things happen. The Easter message is that good always triumphs over evil - even if it doesn't seem to at the moment. This is a message children can hear and understand.
2. Emphasize the Full Christ-Event
When you talk about the crucifixion, always continue immediately with the Resurrection. I have found the following kinds of language helpful: "Jesus loved people so much that some people were scared by it and they put Jesus to death on a cross. But love is so strong, that not even death can destroy it, so God raised Jesus from the dead.”
3. Be Conscientious with Images
If the children you work with are visual learners, you may only want to share the story in words - the shorter the better. Use art that reveals the empty tomb instead of Jesus on the Cross as you tell the story.
4. Basic Details of the Cross
Some children are curious about how crucifixion actually kills. They will ask questions such as "Did it hurt?" ("Yes"), "How does crucifixion kill someone?" ("Slow suffocation"). You do not need to dwell on the gore, but an honest answer that is short and to the point is helpful to children and allows you to move on to the resurrection.
5. Jesus Did Not Die Alone
Other children worry that Jesus was alone. He wasn't - his mother and the Beloved Disciple were there, along with other women. Two other men were crucified with him. And most importantly, God was with Jesus.
Conclusion: The Mystery and Wonder of Holy Week & Easter
Experiencing the events of Holy Week and Easter can be a powerful way for children to share in the defining action of our Christian faith while being held in a safe and familiar environment. The events of Holy Week are all great places for embodied learning – we shout and parade with Jesus on Palm Sunday, have our feet washed, taste bread and wine, strip the altar and raise the joyous “Alleluias” on Easter Day. With careful planning, worship leaders, teachers and parents can help children experience the mystery and wonder of both Holy Week and Easter.
Dr. Elizabeth L. Windsor is the Director of Christian Education at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts. She is an accredited Godly Play storyteller. Christian formation throughout the life cycle is both her profession and her passion.