Explaining Easter: where do you begin?

20140420-085420.jpgIt is the early hours of Easter morning. I have been up late with friends and should really go to sleep now, but instead I find myself holding a little Easter vigil. More than a day would have gone by since they buried Jesus, and now, after the initial shock, the bleak reality of life without him must have started to set in for his friends and family. Maybe they were lying awake, like me, wondering what the whole thing had been about if it was all going to end in a bloody, painful and humiliating death.

It isn’t easy to explain what Easter is about. In fact, Jesus had to supernaturally appear to his friends, undercover, to explain it in person because they hadn’t twigged. It took him the entire length of the road from Jerusalem to Emmaeus. That’s seven miles. On foot.

Good Friday, 11.30am, found me in a crowd of people walking from one end of the high street to another, to the beat of a solitary drum, carrying the limp body of the actor playing Jesus in the dramatisation. I was crying my eyes out, like I do every year. Every year it gets to me. He is dead he is dead he is dead.

And I know why. And I know that he rises on Sunday morning. But in that moment I feel the desolation of a world without Jesus.

“Are those people religious?” I hear a teenager coming out of Top Shop ask her friend as we process past.

“Oh my god, are they carrying someone?”

They look shocked. Outraged even.

I remember that look from the faces of the shoppers during the first Good Friday walk of witness I ever experienced. The looks of disgust. How dare you bring some morbid funeral procession to our high street? What is wrong with you people?

It is hard to explain. As I watched them lift half naked Jesus, covered in wounds, onto their shoulders I wondered what my children were thinking sitting in the buggy. Christmas is accessible. It’s easy to get excited about the birth of a new baby; there are fun dressing up opportunities (angel, donkey, three kings); they can identify with having birthdays, being the son of a wonderful Daddy and being special. You can even talk about saving the world a bit, and maybe they imagine the baby will grow up to be a superhero and that they – small now – can do the same when they grow up. But how do you explain Easter morning without Good Friday? And how do you explain why Jesus had to die to a three year old? He has no concept of death yet, let alone sacrificing yourself to pay the price for the sins of humanity.

As we walked back to the car, The Boy asked if we were going to the party now. I was still crying.

“Yes, we’re going to the party.”

“Is it my birthday?”

“No, it’s an Easter party.” I paused, feeling that I should now try to summarise and define for him why we were celebrating the gruesome death on the cross of this Jesus that we sing about, in whose name we pray, who we thank every day for making life beautiful.

“At Easter we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. Because of Jesus we can all be God’s best friends.”

I am someone who likes to start at the beginning and explain everything in great detail. This did not seem enough. But as we went on to the party – loud, busy, children running about laughing and collecting chocolate and sweets in their party bags – I thought that it was enough for now. At 34, I still discover more about the meaning of Easter every year. We start here, with best friends and chocolate eggs and sitting in a buggy while people walk down the shopping street carrying a very tired man with red make up on his body on their shoulders, and we add the rest as we go along.

They have just started their road to Emmaeus and I am only a few steps ahead.

If you have any ideas on how to explain Easter to children that involve Duplo or dressing up please help me out in the comments!

I am linking up to Loud ‘n Proud, as I very rarely blog about my faith. This is my virtual walk of witness.

21 responses

  1. I have no idea how to explain Easter either, my kids asked why it’s ‘good’ Friday when he died. Surely Sunday should be ‘good’ when he rose again?
    Very interesting to read about your faith, I hadn’t realised you were a Christian.

    • It’s good because on that Friday something wonderful happened for us: Jesus paid our ransom and so reconciled us all to God. He just had to suffer to do it, which wasnt very nice for him, but he redeemed that too on the Sunday. Thus endeth the lesson… This is my problem – I really feel like i’d need to start back in Genesis and explain what sin is and what the result of it is and then go on to the law and the prophecies of the messiah etc etc. i’m terrible. I can’t prioritise when doing housework either.

    • The most common theory i’ve heard and most plausible is that its good because its a holy day, the medievals interchanged ‘holy’ with ‘good’. Personally I always hate calling it Good Friday, and want to call it Black Friday, and Good Sunday! But I understand Judith’s point too.

    • There is “The Miracle Maker”, which is stop motion animation. But they’re still a bit young for that. I think I just have to drip feed bits of information until they;re older!

  2. I have found it useful to make an Easter Garden with tiny tomb made from large stones. Tell the story that Jesus had died and his friends were sad you may or may not mention that he died on a cross three year olds don’t usually ask for extra details! Then explain that he was put in a tomb or grave and that when friends arrived a couple of days later to put flowers at the tomb to show they would. always remember him they found it opened and the body gone then his friend Mary found him in the garden and they were so excited because he had come back to life and that does not usually happen. Using the little garden to tell the story keeps them focused on it. You can end by saying this was a sign that Jesus was very special. And the redemptive stuff can come later bit by bit as they are old enough to grasp it.

  3. Great post, J. Very honest and profound. I hate Good Friday, and find it so hard not to cry at services. My heart breaks at how horrendous it was for Jesus to have to take the weight of the worst sin upon himself. The Romans were barbaric in the extreme – what a time in mankind’s history to have to be a redeemer! And just the fact that he had to be sacrificed at all – i will never fully be able to get that. But Easter morning is so amazing, so incredible. I’ve just drip fed my kids, and not exposed them to anything more than they can handle or comprehend. The Miracle Maker is really helpful, as is the fantastic book The Jesus Story Bible (you HAVE to get a copy of that for when your boy is 5yrs). Focussing on the resurrection and the joy of it is the best at this stage I reckon.

  4. I love this post Judith. It’s so hard to explain to little ones but I’m sure Claire over at Clarina’s Contemplations has some good ideas. I think these things are good for us to watch, it really brings to life exactly what Jesus did for us. The fact it made you cry afresh will have a real impact on your children, I’m sure. It’s so easy for our children to assume that Easter is just about chocolate. Well done for even making an effort🙂

    • Thanks Claire, those are some brilliant ideas. I will definitely need to do an Easter garden next year, but I like the idea of an Easter countdown as well. You are so right, we don’t make enough of a big deal of it, given that this is actually the festival celebrating the very core of what we believe!

  5. Hello Judith I have never heard of a walk of witness, and so this was such a fascinating read for me. It’s lovely, I think, that you have shared a little about your faith. It can be such a personal thing, but I have learned so much from reading this, so thank you. It’s hard for little ones I’m sure to get to grips with the true meaning of Easter…my two are that bit older and going to a C of E school has obviously helped. I won’t profess to know how to go about explaining it, as I really am no expert. But what I will say, as with most things with little ones, is to just answer their questions ‘in the moment’ – they may not want the full blown explanations we think they might, instead it may take days weeks for them to process the little bit of information and I have found that as this happens they ask more questions then. Does that make sense? I think Suzanne is right, the fact that you were so visibly moved will have shown them how important it was for you. Do hope you might post again about your faith…as you know it’s something I struggle with a little and so I love reading about how others see things and to learn from that. Much love to you xxx

    • Yes, I think you’re right and just responding to what they want to know is a good approach, at least then you make sure you are meeting them where they’re at. And we must make sure they go to a C of E school, then the teachers can do the hard work, haha!

      I’m pleased that it is helpful to you to read about my faith – not sure how other readers feel… I imagine a wide mix from supreme indifference to bitter disappointment that I turned out to be one of those religious nutcases.

  6. You’re doing a much better job of explaining things than you think (I wouldn’t know where to begin). I’m sure that year on year it will fall into place more and more for them and they won’t need to know ‘everything’ all at once. Like you say we are all still learning just as they are too. x

    • Thanks, I hope so! I think in my head they are often a lot more grown up than in reality, and I don’t want to fob them off with half-answers. But really, it’s probably more important not to blabber on answering questions they’re not asking!

  7. Great post, Judith. I used to do a Good Friday walk as a child but haven’t taken my kids yet. Maybe next year. My kids’ headmistress semi-helpfully made an analogy between Jesus and The Hungry Caterpillar! I was a bit cross but my 4yo grasped the concept of Jesus coming out of the tomb as New Life by the cocoon comparison…! Happy Easter (belated) to you!

    • Oh I’m glad you explained the analogy because I wouldn’t have got there on my own!! Yes, I suppose it is a bit like a cocoon – but I think as a 4 year old I might have drawn the parallel on too far and started having some very interesting ideas about the purpose of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and the last supper…

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