The account of what happened to Jesus during what we now call Holy Week is one of the most important narratives we can share with our children, and yet it is one of the most difficult.
|page from Patricia Pingry's The Story of Easter
We ask ourselves, How much of the cruelty that Jesus faced should we really expose them to? How can I explain that Jesus was killed so that we can escape the punishment we deserve for our sins? Will I scare my children, upset them, cause them harm by talking about cruelty and death?
With my children, I approached the topic cautiously. When they were toddlers, we read The Story of Easter by Patricia Pingry, which presented the basic idea of Easter without too many details—that Jesus loved all the boys and girls, and moms and dads, and that moms and dads and boys and girls loved Jesus, too. But some men, Pingry writes, did not like Jesus, and put him on a cross to die, which made his friends sad. (The book has a picture of sad people in the foreground, with three small empty crosses in the distance.) On the first Easter, an angels met Jesus’ friends to tell them that Jesus had risen and is alive. “Now on Easter morning you’ll know that Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life for us so that we can live too.”
|another page from Patricia Pingry's The Story of Easter
Pingry’s book gave my girls a solid basic understanding of why we were celebrating Easter. Their main question was, “Why didn’t some of the people like Jesus?” I explained that the people who were in power were afraid that if everyone started following Jesus, they would lose their power. If people followed and obeyed Jesus, then they wouldn’t be following and obeying them. Also, Jesus was teaching the people that He was God’s Son, and not everyone believed that what He was saying was true. They thought He was telling lies. These answers satisfied their toddler and early-preschool minds.
Once the girls were solidly in preschool, they were ready to hear more of the story. They were ready to try to understand that Jesus had died to take on the punishment for our sins so that we did not have to endure that punishment ourselves. They were ready to try to understand that when He came back to life, He overcame death for us, too, so that we can live with God in heaven. As they have grown older, we have continued to develop the idea that by taking punishment in our place, our relationship with God has been repaired.
|Resurrection Eggs from Family Life
One of the greatest tools I have found for developing my girls’ understanding of Jesus’ experiences of death and resurrection is something called Resurrection Eggs. I purchased a set from Family Life through a local Christian bookstore that is no longer in business. The set can be found online through the Family Life web site. (I also discovered while writing this post that the web site includes some helpful articles with ideas for using the eggs with our children.)
|Items inside the Family Life resurrection eggs
The set includes a plastic egg carton filled with the kinds of eggs we usually fill with candy at Eastertime. Inside each egg is a token that symbolizes some aspect of the Easter story. An accompanying book provides Bible verses related to each item, as well as a summary of its significance.
|An example from the Family Life resurrection egg booklet
Once we had read through the narrative a few times, the girls were able to tell the significance of each item without referencing the booklet, and that knowledge has held up from year to year now that we have used the Resurrection eggs for a several Easters now.
I read some reviews on Amazon for this particular set, and most people responded favorably to the teaching tool. A couple people pointed out that the booklet is written from a Protestant rather than a Catholic perspective, though, because it says that the Passover wine was a symbol of Jesus’ blood rather than his actual blood. Also, one person had a problem with the fact that so many of the items in the eggs focus on the violence done to Jesus—a whip, a crown of thorns, nails for the cross, and a spear. We know our own children best, and will know if they are emotionally equipped to handle the details of the story. I have found that my girls accepted the details of the story much more readily than I might have expected, and, of course, knowing the extent of the cruelties Jesus endured for us makes his sacrifice on our behalf all the more precious.
The egg set is very affordable, since it costs less than $15 and holds up from year to year. But you could also make your own set, either for your child or with his or her help. It might even make the eggs more meaningful if you are using them with older children for the first time.
Most of the items are extremely simple to come up with; others take just a bit more imagination. Here are some suggestions if you want to try to make your own set. Some of the items I’ve included here would need to be replaced year to year, since they are not made of durable plastic.
Egg #1: You could include a small donkey if you can find one among your child’s toys, or use a blade of grass or a small leaf to represent the palm leaves waved by the people when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Jesus was greeted by many people like a new king who would save them.
Egg #2: You could include three dimes. Some people hated Jesus so much that they wanted to kill him. They were afraid that they would lose power if people followed Jesus instead of them. Some of these people paid a man named Judas Iscariot 30 silver coins to help them catch and arrest Jesus.
Egg #3: You could include a small cup if you can find one among your child’s toys or game pieces, or use a small piece of cracker or bread. Before he died, Jesus had a special dinner called Passover with his closest friends, called disciples. During the meal, he told them to remember Him whenever they drank a cup of wine and ate together from a load of bread. We remember this meal when we take Communion at church.
Egg #4: You could include a small fabric flower, sold in craft stores. After the meal, Jesus took his friends with him into a garden to pray. He knew he was about to die.
Egg #5: You could include a small piece of leather, brown shoelace, or rope. In the garden, the people who wanted to kill Jesus came to arrest him. They took him to their ruler Pilate, who ordered that Jesus be whipped, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Egg #6: You could include a small piece of thorny rose stem. After he was whipped, Jesus was forced to wear a crown made out of thorny branches that cut into his head. Even though he hadn’t done anything wrong, Jesus went through this punishment for us—so that all people past and present—could be forgiven for their sins.
Egg #7: You could include a nail or a cross charm, as from a necklace. Jesus was forced to carry a heavy cross to the top of a hill, and then he was nailed to that cross to die. Jesus was powerful enough to stop all this from happening, but he chose not to so that he could receive punishment in our place. Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to die in our place so we can live with him in heaven forever.
Egg #8: You could include a die from a game. Dice are used to play some games. As Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers who put him there played a game to decide who could keep his clothing. Even though this was a cruel game, Jesus prayed to God that these men would be forgiven, too. (See Luke 23:34).
Egg #9: You could use a small spear that is a kid’s toy, or a toothpick or the end of a wooden skewer. Once Jesus had died on the cross, the soldiers stabbed him in the side with a spear to be sure he was really dead.
Egg #10: You could include a small square of cloth. A man named Joseph asked if he could bury Jesus once he had died and been taken down from the cross. Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in cloth and buried him in a tomb cut from rock, like a cave.
Egg #11: You could include a rock or stone. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb’s entrance to make sure no one could come in and get Jesus’ body. Soldiers sat by the entrance to guard it. When an angel showed up at the tomb, the soldiers were so afraid that they fainted, and the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb.
Egg #12: Leave this egg empty! When two of the women who followed Jesus came to visit his tomb, they found the stone rolled away, and the tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was no longer there! The angel told them, “He has risen!” Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. Jesus had told his friends that he would die, but then he would come back to life after three days. He kept his promise! Because he came back to life, we can live on after our deaths with him in Heaven.
With smaller children, you might want to try a modified version of the Resurrection eggs, with just six eggs. You can choose any of the six you would like, but to get to the heart of the Crucifixion and Resurrection narrative, I would suggest using #1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 12.
I based these suggestions on the set of eggs I purchased from Family Life, but if you do an online search for “how to make your own resurrection eggs,” you will find some great ideas. I especially like the homemade set found at PlayEat Grow and Creative Bible Study.
I keep our set of Resurrection eggs in the bin of spring and Easter decorations in our basement, and bring them out on Palm Sunday each year. They can be created and used any time of the year, though, because the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—the Gospel story—is the foundation of the Christian faith, and worth telling every day of the year!
Wishing you and your family a blessed Holy Week, as we remember Jesus’ tremendous gift of death to sin and life in Him!