How to Talk to Your Kids about Easter
© 1999 by Paul Thigpen
For most children, Easter is a strange mix of bunnies and angels, colored eggs and special church music. "What do jelly beans have to do with Jesus?" they may ask. To help them sort it all out, here's some background for talking about the holiday.
Easter is the oldest and most important celebration of the Church, and for good reason: If the first Easter had never taken place, there would be no Christian faith. On that day nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus came back from the dead to prove that evil could not defeat God.
Younger children especially might have trouble understanding why Jesus died such a terrible death on the cross in the first place. Since he was a kind and gentle man, they may wonder why anyone would have wanted to kill him.
To explain Easter, then, we must help our children understand that the world is a terribly broken place, where people act selfishly and hurt one another. When Jesus showed people how selfish they were, some felt sorry and changed their ways. But others were too proud to admit they were wrong and in need of help, so they decided to get rid of him … or at least, they thought they were getting rid of him.
But Easter caught them by surprise. No one expected a dead man to come back to life — to get up out of the grave and go walking and talking once more with the living. That's not normal. And that's exactly the point of Easter: Jesus wasn't just a "normal" man, and his resurrection proved it.
Easter helped make something clear to Jesus' friends that they hadn't fully understood before. They all had known that Jesus was in every way a human being, with a body and mind like theirs and like ours; in fact, his death had shown his humanity all too clearly. They also realized that Jesus was no ordinary man; he had lived a life of perfect love and worked miracles such as healing the sick.
But when Jesus came back to life, his friends came to realize that he was much more than just an extraordinary man; He was God as well.
That wasn't an easy truth to accept. After all, why would the mighty Creator of the universe be willing to live on earth as a man? Why would he allow himself to be born in poverty; to suffer hunger, thirst and weariness; to endure misunderstanding and hatred; and to be cruelly tortured and murdered?
After Jesus' resurrection, he answered those questions. The world was so hopelessly broken, he told his followers, that the only way to fix it was for God himself to climb into it and begin changing it from the inside out. And that's exactly what God had done when he came to earth as Jesus.
How did Jesus start the process of changing the world? He did it by working God's justice and God's mercy at the same time.
When someone does something wrong, justice demands that the person be punished; he or she must pay a price for what has been done. That's why judges have to sentence criminals to prison or other punishments.
Yet the world is so full of wrongdoing that if God had simply punished it for its sin, he would have had to destroy it. But God's desire was to save the world, not to destroy it, because his mercy was as great as his justice.
So he devised a plan: God himself became a man so he could take onto himself both the wrongdoing and the punishment of the whole human race, including us. That way he could offer us forgiveness instead of judgment. It's as if the judge in a courtroom sentenced a man to die for committing horrible crimes, but then took the criminal's place in the electric chair so the criminal could be pardoned.
As a human being representing all the rest of us, Jesus carried our sins and died in our place. That's what Good Friday is all about.
But Good Friday wasn't the end of the story. After Jesus paid the price of death for us, he proved that, as God, his power was even greater than death. By conquering the grave, he showed that he was Lord — the Ruler — of heaven and earth.
But there's more. Since Jesus was one of us, his victory on that first Easter morning was our victory too. His resurrection was a promise to all the rest of us that if we'll give our lives to him, we don't have to be afraid of dying, because we'll also be raised one day to live with him forever.
That's glorious news! No wonder Easter is the most joyous celebration of all!
And what about the jelly beans and bunnies? Well, over the years Christians have looked for ways to picture the new life that Jesus made possible when he rose from the dead. Easter comes in the springtime, so it made sense to symbolize the resurrection with pictures of the new life that comes forth in spring–lilies and other flowers, eggs and jelly eggs (or "jelly beans"), bunnies and other baby animals.
All those cheerful symbols should serve as glad reminders to our children and to us as well: Because of that first resurrection morning, Jesus has the power to make everything new.
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