Some days when the days are not long and I have time to sit with my children, I read stories from the Bible or St Faustina’s diary .The other day, I happened to come across a picture of Scourging at the Pillar of Our Lord Jesus Christ on my phone as I relaxed in the evening. Both my children were next to me and my Elder son asked me “Mamma what happened to Jesus, why are they hurting him, who are they?”…all in one breathe.
Soon, my younger son who is only two years also asked “What happened to our Jesus Mamma?
Teaching children about Good Friday isn’t easy, especially if you’re talking with younger children. How do you explain why Jesus had to die? That Jesus knew ahead of Good Friday that he would die? And the true meaning of the cross as Jesus’ sacrifice for our ultimate salvation?
The culmination of Easter on Sunday is great joy and celebration, but it is preceded by death, and not just any death – a very ugly, brutal, seemingly senseless death of an innocent person. It can be intimidating for us as parents to approach this subject with our children, but as one of the most important foundations of our faith, the crucifixion of Jesus is something we need to make real for them.
Ever since I was a child, I have always known Good Friday to be a gloomy, cloudy, rainy day. My grandparents used to take me in the sun for the Stations of the Cross and I understood from a young age the great sorrow accompanying the death of Jesus because my grandparents included me in the preparation for Easter. I wasn’t bombarded with gruesome images, but I felt the weight of the decision to have Jesus crucified and the fact that he went to the cross for all of us.
And so as my grandparents explained to me about the Cross and how it saved us from punishment for our sins, I took the opportunity to explain to my little boys the very same thing. Even though I was small, it did sink into me that Jesus does hurt when I say a lie, or get lazy or get angry without reason.
The Cross is a topic our children should know well and not hear about only on Good Friday, but this day was set apart for a reason – an opportunity for remembrance. It is healthy and necessary for us and our children to really grasp the great sacrifice that Jesus made through the crucifixion. To explain this to your children, the word ‘crucify’ means “to attach to a cross.” It was an awful, painful way to die. These are Bible verses which you can share with your children for more explanation: Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19; Acts 2:23; Philippians 2:8.
Teaching older children about Good Friday involves the reading of the Passion of Jesus as found in John 18 and 19. We spend the days leading up to Good Friday reading about Him being anointed, washing the disciples’ feet, the Last Supper, and His betrayal by Judas. Good Friday is the day we focus on His suffering. Each child will handle what happened to Jesus differently, but this is where you as a parent have the discretion in what you share and how you discuss it.
The events of Jesus’ death are shocking and violent, but we cannot fully live into Easter if we have not experienced Jesus’ death. There are ways to approach this with children that make it easier to share the whole story. Here are some of the things I have learned in the few years of my life both as a parent and a person who loves children of all ages.
- Children understand tragedy…they really do
Children – even very young ones – know that bad things happen. The Easter message is that good always triumphs over evil – even if it doesn’t seem to at the moment. This is a message children can hear and understand.
- Emphasize the full circle of Easter
When you talk about the crucifixion, always continue immediately with the Resurrection. I have found the following kinds of language helpful: “Jesus loved people so much that some people were frightened by it and so they put Jesus to death on a cross. But love is so strong, that not even death can destroy it, so God raised Jesus from the dead.”
- Be conscientious with images
If the children you work with are visual learners, you may only want to share the story in words – the shorter the better. Use art that reveals the empty tomb instead of Jesus on the Cross as you tell the story. Or the coconut palm that we receive on Palm Sunday.
- Basic details of the Cross
Some children are curious about how crucifixion actually kills. They will ask questions such as “Did it hurt?”,” how does crucifixion kill someone?” You do not need to dwell on the exact events, an honest answer that is short and to the point is helpful to children and allows you to move on to the resurrection.
I want to encourage you today to not miss the opportunity of talking about the Cross or shelter your children from the crucifixion but to help them to accept and understand that they are a part of the whole story of Christ’s life and Death and Resurrection and that every Holy Mass we attend is partaking in this mystery itself.