1. DON'T skip the story!
The Passion of Christ during Holy Week is essential to the Christian faith. Try and share the complete story with kids during Holy Week so they know what is happening and understand where our services fit in remembering that week. There is a lot that happens between Palm Sunday and Easter, and kids have questions. One I always hear is "Why is it called 'Good Friday'?" So help children get a basic understanding of the events.
For very young children, try these YouTube videos that are cartoon versions (without blood and appropriate for younger viewers) There are lots to choose from but some are better than others. Always preview materials!
Beginner's Bible for Kids - Easter
Animated - The Easter Story
When children are older, watch a film about the life of Christ. Some of the classics are usually shown on TV at this time like Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth". But again, YouTube offers some good choices at your fingertips...
The Jesus Movie (1979)
The Visual Bible - The Gospel of John
PLEASE stay away from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". It is too violent and brutal for children and most teens and even adults. Some of the other Jesus movies can also tend to be on the bloody side so please be sensitive to how older kids and teens respond to the visual. On the other hand, I think we do an injustice if we don't let kids know that the cross and suffering of Jesus was difficult and painful and a horrible thing to do to a person. Just explain in a manner that is appropriate to them developmentally and emotionally.
2. REDEEM the Easter Basket!
Easter Baskets are traditionally filled with colored eggs, chocolate rabbits, jelly beans and many other sugar-filled goodies that make them a treat to look forward to all year. Many churches have egg hunts on the church lawn – weather permitting in New England – or in the parish hall. As well as the hunt at church, many have egg hunts in their homes on Easter morning with plastic eggs filled with candy hidden in strategic spots around the house or yard.
I love egg hunts and baskets and chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. But growing up, my parents also included some gift in our baskets that reminded us of the reason we celebrate Easter. Perhaps I found a cross necklace, a Christian book, or a religious-themed game in my basket.
So if your child is focusing on candy and wonders “why do we have to go to church?” then creating an Easter basket that puts a focus on Jesus can help shift the focus. As someone told me at Christmas time, their children used to open presents on Christmas morning and then quickly get bored with an “Is this all?” attitude. Then the family started going to church on Christmas day. The children accepted it and after 2 years it transformed the family. Instead of the mad rush to rip open packages and then sit around, the family would enjoy opening gifts but then really look forward to going to church. Let’s make Easter a time to look forward to going to church as well!
Here are some great things for the basket (besides the candy):
- Stuffed animals or soft toys that have a Christian message or theme, such as a Jesus doll
- Board books or picture books about Easter
- A children’s Bible. (A great one is the Children’s Illustrated Bible by DK Publishing, or Bishop Tutu Children's Story bible)
- Christian stickers – could also be put inside eggs
- jewelry such as a cross necklace or some other Christian symbol
- a Christian-themed game or craft set
3. Be READY to LISTEN to the questions
This past Sunday as I was sharing the events of Holy Week, one child mentioned that she thought the cross was set on fire. Obviously she had seen a picture or seen some sort of clip of a burning cross from a hate crime incident. I didn't want the entire group to be sidetracked by this so I didn't get into the differences, but I did tell this child's parents at coffee hour to let them know about this misunderstanding.
It is a hard story and not an area that we usually explore with children (historical torture and death) but one that they are exposed to none the less because of our faith. Kids will misunderstand, misconstrue, and get stuff wrong as they wrestle through the enormities of seeing the ugliest side of humanity balanced against Jesus who they have mostly understood as some great guy who did good things and loves everyone.
On the other hand, I had some kids last week who are normally bored in church who were really listening to the story of Holy Week. It is compelling. The person of Jesus is compelling, and even young children can be drawn into the enormity and depth of the Passion of Christ. Help them to experience that depth.