With COVID-19 moving all worship services to home church, parents have a new opportunity to share the Easter story with their kids. Read on for Nina Simone's tips to share the Easter story with kids of all ages.
This Easter, face it, you're not dropping them off in Sunday School. COVID-19 is our current normal and continues to change our routines - including physically attending church and worship. Many faith communities offer resources online for children's ongoing formation. Zooming with Jesus. It's a thing. Or it's about to be.
But, in the end, Get excited, my friends. THIS is the year for parents to tell the Easter story. We feel confident at Christmas right? Sheep, cows, a promised king, a sweet new baby, singing. Done.
Easter just feels a bit tricky. There's deceit, betrayal, abuse, blood, sadness, graves, appearances, and terror. Somehow that connects to new dresses and chocolate Reeses peanut butter eggs. Or does it?
Parents tend to get bogged down in abstract concepts, first. They use big words such as redemption, or they think they should. Remember, Easter didn't happen for the vocabulary. (Even resurrection is a word usually used in this one context.)
Don't sweat the big words. Tell the story, and make it connect with your child, depending on their age:
Infants and Toddlers learn with their senses. (We all learn with our senses.) But our youngest humans experience the world and traditions primarily through their senses
Introduce them to the music of Easter, the visuals of Easter eggs, and Easter lilies. Let them play with Easter baskets even before the holiday arrives, hunting for eggs in plastic grass. Say hosanna, teaching them to clap their hands with the rhythm. You are shaping their understanding of Easter celebrations with their senses. Soon it will be time to tell the story.
Senses continue to be important for older toddlers. They enjoy learning the Easter phrases you can use to greet people such as, "Happy Easter," "Jesus is Alive," and "Hosanna."
But now they can begin to hear the stories. Young children follow the emotions of the stories rather than the facts. Never tell the crucifixion without the resurrection. Use emotional, excited voices to talk about Jesus no longer being in the tomb. Emphasize "Jesus is Alive," more than the word resurrection which can cause confusion.
Preschoolers are not as interested in life and death as they are in power. Most of them do not have firsthand experience with death and the emotional impact. But they do understand power, who has it, and who doesn't.
So for our preschoolers, we talk about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection in terms of power. Angry people killed Jesus. But Jesus was more powerful than those people. He was more powerful than even death. What else is Jesus more powerful than?
Around age 6, children are ready to hear and understand more of the Easter stories. At this time connect children with friends of Jesus, particularly, Mary. In the book of John (John 20:11-18), we find Mary, crying outside the tomb. Jesus appears to her and comforts her with the news that HE is alive and still with her.
Friends are beginning to be important to young elementary-aged children. Specifically, during COVID-19 quarantine, they are first encountering the pain of being separated from friends. Mary felt this pain.
The first thing the Risen Jesus does is comfort his friend and assure her that He is still with her. Children this age begin to be comforted by the promise that Jesus is with us, even after death.
Older children are challenged to get stories in chronological order. Ever had an argument with a nine-year-old on the specifics of, well, anything?
Children in grades 3-5 want to explore the significance of details in the stories. They want to absorb the facts and master the sequence of events.
At this age, when they are so focused on knowledge, children will connect with the story of Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29.) Thomas doubts that it's really Jesus who is with them after the resurrection. Jesus shows Thomas the holes in his hands from the nails, and Thomas fully believes.
Children will connect with Thomas and his demand for evidence. They will be reassured by the story of Jesus offering it to him.
Also, at this age, children are curious about death. They have absorbed the culture's fear of death, specifically during a pandemic. But still, it is God's presence with us that will provide the most meaning - presence even beyond death.
As children grow into middle school and high school, they struggle both with identity and community: Who am I? Who are my people?
These questions motivate much of how they both think and behave. These questions will also allow them to connect to Peter's story at Easter.
John 18 describes Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, lying about knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Remember, Jesus had predicted this and Peter had been indignant and offended. But then Peter gets scared and he lies, which our adolescents understand. They also will connect with the shame Peter no doubt feels when he realizes what he's done.
Make sure you resolve the story with Jesus cooking breakfast for Peter, after his resurrection (John 21:15-19). He asks Peter three times, if he loves him, giving Peter a chance to be reaffirmed in who he is and where he belongs.
We will spend Easter apart from friends, extended families, and church communities this year. Most of us, and our eyeballs, have already wearied of Facetime. We are anxious and unsettled about our health, our finances, our futures.
The book of Luke tells of two disciples leaving town on the day of Jesus' resurrection. They had heard the news but were not buying it. The newly-resurrected Jesus encounters them on the road and they do not recognize him. Instead, they tell him the whole story. They talk about their disappointment and confusion. They say "We had hoped he was going to be the one to redeem Israel."
I connect with these two who are fleeing the scene. I resonate with the disappointment and confusion and overall "It was not supposed to be this way!" vibe. Then I am struck that Jesus is alive standing with them. And they don't even realize it.
Share the Easter story with your children. Be brave and authentic and even awkward. There will be no test.
Remember, the Easter story was not meant to just be told, but to be shared, and lived. That is going to look different this year. But this year's difficult circumstances could open up many new opportunities to experience the hope of Easter together.