“That’s when he died, right?”
My four year old daughter was intently studying the picture in her children’s Bible. Jesus was pictured in silhouette, climbing the hill of calvary under the weight of the cross.
“That’s right,” I said. “He died on the cross.”
Talking about the realities of Holy Week with young children is never easy. We may worry about frightening them, or burdening them with thoughts of suffering and death. But the cross is central to our Christian faith. We know that there is no resurrection without death; no Easter without Good Friday.
Having these discussions at home is vitally important. At home I can speak with my daughter Maria one-on- one. Sitting on my lap, she can ask questions, secure in a context of love.. Even my younger daughter Grace can snuggle up and listen. She may not understand all the words and concepts, but she can grasp the meaning from my voice. She knows we are talking about something that is both serious and special.
There are a few things that I try to keep in mind when I talk to kids about Holy Week.
1. The cross is God’s great love letter to the world. It is no accident that crucifixion involves outstretched arms. Jesus literally died in the posture of embrace – as if he was answering the question, “How much does God love and forgive us?”
“This much,” Jesus says.
2. Jesus was killed by systems of power that neglected human life in favor of amassing power and control. The Roman government, the Temple authorities – Jesus offended these groups because he focused on people, not power. This is part of what cost him his life.
3. Jesus joins us in our sufferings. Christ’s passion reveals God’s solidarity with human misery. The cross, in addition to its saving power, is the place where Jesus meets us in our pain. To gaze at the cross is to see God with us in trials, difficulties, and sufferings.
Obviously, it would be difficult for me to share the above concepts – worded as such – with my young daughters. But with some translation, I think we can absolutely explain the deeper meanings of Holy Week to children. For example, at home with Maria and Grace, I try to say the following:
“Jesus died because he loves you. He died for your sins. And if you had been the only person to ever live, he still would have done it. He loves you that much.”
“The people who sent Jesus to die, they cared more about power (or being in charge) than they cared about people.”
“When you feel sad or hurt, Jesus knows what that’s like. God knows what it’s like to hurt.”
Of course, talking about Holy Week never stops at the cross. Easter and resurrection are always on the next page.
“What happened next?” I ask Maria.
“He came back to life! Remember? They came to the tomb with the rock in front, and there was an angel.”
“I remember, Maria. That’s probably my favorite part.”
“Yeah, me too.”
[Due to server and editor error this post was originally attributed to Nurya Love Parish. It is the work of Matthew Koslowski.]
How have you talked about the cross with young children? What advice do you have?