Sunday Notes: Is the Easter story too scary for children?

Having just celebrated Easter, I noticed a definite preference for bunnies and chocolate than the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. Beliefs aside, I wonder if it’s because we feel death is too hard for our children to understand… bunnies are better… right?

I read a blog a few weeks ago where a mother complained about Christianity being taught in schools. That she didn’t want her child to be exposed to stories of torture, human cruelty and the horrific execution that is crucifixion. Especially as an atheist, she didn’t see why her children should learn this distressing aspect of a religion which is supposed to claim a loving creator God. (I’m not saying this mother’s opinion is wrong, I wouldn’t want my child doing yoga in school because it goes against my beliefs, she’s of course within her rights to say the same about what offends her unbelief. This is about what we should tell our children about the real events around Easter.)

I could understand her point, as a mother, I have wanted to protect my children from the death and evil in this world as much as anyone. To focus on the good is the most natural thing in the world. My four-year-old refers to Jesus as ‘baby Jesus’, so to explain to him that the man hanging on the cross is Jesus grown up wasn’t the easiest thing. But I explained it as simply as I could, and he grasped it. He said it was sad and in the same breath talked about Buzz Lightyear.

Watching the news with my 10-year-old son, my heart was broken to see tears roll down his cheeks at the fighting in Syria. The confusion on his face as he watched news story after news story about humans terrorising each other not just in far away countries but in his own county. The evil in this world shown on TV is far more distressing than the story of Jesus.

My younger son starts school this year and already I’m saddened at exposing him to the big wide world that is school life. The anxiety as he learns new things and his world expands, the struggle of trying to find his place among a classroom and being told off for not doing the expected thing. School of course, has so much excitement to it, but I know that it brings fear and worry too. But of course he must do it, to live a protected life away from other people is not to live at all. I want him to find his way to God through an understanding of what happened, not that Jesus brought him some chocolate.

At Christmas, we throw ourselves all in… with bells on. Christians and non-Christians alike gather gifts and decorations to express their joy of the season. The school plays often feature a nativity where the children learn that a baby was born and that’s why we are all doing this Christmas thing. It’s an innocent, happy occasion. A baby Jesus is the most harmless image in the world. We are comfortable with a chubby baby, gentle shepherds and donkeys.

Easter, which in the Christian church is like Christmas with extra tinsel, is the marking of the resurrection of the King. The cornerstone of our beliefs. It’s our biggest day.

But Jesus’s death must come first.

I attended the Good Friday service at my church as usual and saw familiar faces and a reasonable attendance, but it was nothing exceptional. There were a number of empty seats.

The Good Friday service is reflective but there are hymns and crafts for children and we think about the way Jesus’s death relates to our lives, to who we are. As a bereaved mother, I often think of Mary watching her son be strung up by these hunters. And, while my own grief is opened up, I take immense comfort from this.

Still, it’s about death, no one really wants to talk about that bit. Why celebrate death? Where is the love in all this?

By contrast, Easter Sunday service is heaving, standing room only. So many new faces and a buzz of celebration. The party is here…

Outside of church, in the family life, there are chocolate, eggs, bunnies and chicks. We have made Easter colourful, fluffy and child-friendly, we can focus our attention on the commercial aspect of buying gifts and treats. ‘Jesus has risen from the… erm… oh, but look, let’s go and find some chocolate!’

Can children not cope with the evil in this world, the evil way Jesus was killed? I find that they can. I have struggled myself in the past to explain the story to my children, I know it’s not easy. But children can handle far more than we realise. My children aged just 5 and 10 had to handle the sudden traumatic death of their much loved sister at home. All children will experience a personal loss of some kind. I like to teach them that because Jesus was God, he knew that the people wouldn’t understand and would be scared so they would kill him, which is an emotion where most of the evil in the world today comes from anyway. But he also knew that he would come back to life, not as a spooky ghost but as a living breathing man. I teach them that because he is God, he came back to show us that he loves us and has a wonderful place for us to go to, when it’s our turn to die.

Celebrating is great, but sometimes we can learn a lot from the tough stuff. The Easter story is not meant to be frightening, it’s meant to be the most hopeful, comforting story we humans have and that, in my opinion, is the most important story of all.

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