Teaching kids the story of Holy Week is not easy, but it helps them more fully appreciate Easter. The story of Holy Week is not exactly family-friendly, but that doesn’t mean we can skip the part about Jesus’ journey to the cross when sharing our faith with our children.
“I think it’s important for parents to share the whole story of Holy Week,” says Kathy Schmucker, Spiritual Formation Director at Faith United Methodist Church in North Canton, Ohio. “Often children are in worship on Palm Sunday and then not again until Easter Sunday and they miss out on these important stories of our faith.”
Mark Burrows, Director of Children’s Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas agrees. “One of my mantras around here is, Children need more, and want more, than rainbows and butterflies… Without the Holy Week experiences,” he continues, “the story is incomplete.”
Adults should be mindful of how they tell children the difficult and sad story of Jesus’ death, but children are capable of processing it when shared appropriately.
“Children are open to the cycle of life and the reality that everything has birth and dies,” Melanie Gordon, former Director of Ministry with Children with Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church explains. “We only need to make it simple for them. Talk to them in terms they will understand.”
Maundy (Holy) Thursday – Foot Washing
We can create similar moment in the home at bath time, while washing the dishes, or watching rain fall. As the water makes everything clean, Jesus makes us clean and new through the forgiveness of our sins.
A family meal: Dinner on Holy Thursday can also be a teaching moment. Share with your children how when Jesus gathered his disciples for that special meal, he told them he was excited to be with them before things got difficult (see Luke 22:15).
Tell your children how much you enjoy eating dinner together. Remind them that they can come to you when things are hard, and that you and Jesus will always be there for them. Teaching children about sadness and prayer can be an important part of what is learned during Holy Week.
Acknowledge sadness: Sharing the painful and sad story of Good Friday with your children can be challenging.
“We talk about the day Jesus died, that he died on a cross, and that it hurt,” Burrows explains. “But we don’t focus on what people did to Jesus. Instead, we focus on what Jesus was doing for them—blessing the people, asking God to forgive, he even blesses another who is on the cross.”
Burrows reminds parents that “children can’t un-see images or un-hear words.” He continues, “I work very hard to be honest without being graphic.”
It is a good time to remind children that sometimes we feel sad, and that is OK. God is with us even in our sadness.
We can set aside places in our homes for our families to write their prayers on scraps of colored paper each day during Holy Week. Then on Easter Sunday, the family can work together to take the colored paper prayers and fold them into colorful butterflies as a symbol of resurrection and new life.
Some of the events of Holy Week may be hard to hear and tell, but they are important to our understanding Easter. This is a story of God’s amazing love for us.