Many parents are perplexed about how to explain Easter to a child. It’s all bunnies and bloomers and brunches until their tyke spots a cross with a purple drape and starts asking questions. Time stands still. How do you explain something as awful as a cross? And why would people celebrate something like that?
Sooner or later, prepared or not, parents will have to have answers. You could just sit your 5-year old in front of Mel Gibson’s The Passion and let them sort it out for themselves, but I don’t recommend that. Here’s what I do recommend.You could just sit your 5-year old in front of Mel Gibson’s The Passion and let them sort it out Click To Tweet
Begin with the end in mind
If you know the history yourself, you’ll know what you want your child to understand about it. In case you need a refresher, here are the orthodox facts of Easter.
Jesus of Nazareth lived a sinless life on Earth. He was put to death by Roman and Jewish officials for the crime of blasphemy (claiming to be God.) He was scourged and crucified on a cross. His execution fulfilled Old Testament prophecy to the last detail. His body was laid in a tomb before sundown on a Friday. On Sunday morning, it was discovered that, while the burial linens remained in the tomb, Jesus was gone. Many eye-witnesses reported that Jesus was alive.
So how to communicate this to children?
Be age appropriate
Most 3-year olds who see a cross, and ask what it is, will be happy if you simply tell them it’s a cross. They’re learning shapes, and as far as they’re concerned, a cross is another shape. If you want to take them further into the Easter story, you can tell them it’s Jesus’ cross. Explain that Christians believe Jesus is God. He’s the One who made the whole world and lives in heaven.
Four and five-year-olds can go a little deeper. They have seen death, even if it’s only been a lifeless animal on the side of the road or a mosquito squashed on their arm. They can picture what death is. You can tell them Jesus died on a cross. Don’t gasp. Four and five-year-olds by the tens of thousands learn this in Sunday Schools across the country and handle it. But expect they may express sadness over the treatment Jesus received from people who didn’t believe him. That’s a good thing. They’re expressing sympathy which indicates growing maturity.
At six years and older, most children recognize injustice and have likely experienced what they would categorize as unfairness. They can also understand the concepts of debts and payments. They’re ready for the next level of information.
Why did this happen?
Even a two-year-old knows what it is to do wrong – to be naughty. No one ever had to teach a child to selfishly grab a toy away from another or to defy mom or dad’s instructions. They pull that behavior right out of their own hearts. That saves you a lengthy explanation of sin. They get it.
What they need to understand is that sin puts a barrier between people and God. They know their sin against a sibling puts up a barrier in that relationship until it is resolved. Because God takes His creation seriously, He takes their sin seriously too.
And if the barrier that separates people from God was ever to be knocked down, only a perfect person could do it. So long before those angry Roman and Jewish leaders were ever born, God planned that Jesus, His Son, would give his life to pay for people’s sins. That was the only way to restore the relationship between a holy God and sinful people.
You can acknowledge to your child it was a very hard thing for Jesus to do (as a child could imagine), but he was glad to do it. Jesus said he could have gotten away from the bad people who wanted him dead, but he went to the cross because he loved us and knew his death would save us. That’s really why the cross happened and that’s the gospel message.
So why celebrate?
Anyone’s death is a sad event because it’s a loss for us. The only reason to celebrate is if the loss was temporary.
Easter is a celebration because God accepted Jesus’ payment for our sins. The proof is that He raised Jesus out of that tomb. His death was just temporary. Jesus is alive in heaven right now. And the best news of all for people is that everyone who accepts Jesus as their Savior will also be raised to life to live forever with him in heaven.
This is a very simple explanation of the Easter story and why Christians celebrate it.