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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If God is so good, why do we ignore Him?

Something that’s always bothered me is why some humans believe in God and others don’t. Where did it go wrong? We are I believe mostly good people, trying to raise our families and live our lives well, so if God was so instrumental to this why aren’t the churches packed with worshippers?

Since diving full on into a life with Christ, my Bible reading has ramped up and I relish learning more about God and Jesus. It really is true that the more you read, the deeper your faith grows. But… if someone told me this a few years ago, I would have been more than a little sceptical.

Like many, I would have thought:”Yeah right, they only want to brainwash me with their religion. Who has time to read the Bible when there is so much else to do? Give me OK magazine any day! And why go to church? If God loves us all, He’ll know I’m fine as I am and will love me whether I bother or not. We’re not all meant to be pious martyrs!’

Yep, pretty cynical and, if I’m honest, I was brushing it off because I didn’t have time in my life for God, I didn’t find church very exciting, I didn’t understand much of it, I’d had some bad experiences and I simply wasn’t ‘holy’ enough… so I just didn’t go there.

I considered myself, for most of my life, to be a Christian (of sorts), someone who (mostly) believed in God and felt a sense of something special when I went into a church (which became more as a tourist or spectator). I’d look at Christians and feel a bit envious that they had something I didn’t, that depth of faith that I seemed to be lacking, yet also I’d be very wary of them….

But all that changed when my daughter died and I found God waiting patiently for me.

Just as an atheist struggles to understand why anyone would believe in God, once you have experienced God you look at people who haven’t and wonder why. Why don’t they feel this? Why don’t they see what you see? They are missing out on so much deep joy! It really does make you want to spread the Word!

But the thing is, people don’t want to be saved.

Right from the beginning, Genesis, since the Fall (yes, I totally believe all that about Adam and Eve) we have turned away from God. God gave us free will, which in the main we love and make use of, but it means He won’t interfere to turn our hearts towards Him. He’s no wish-granter, but it’s a bit like the idea of a genie where you can have whatever you wish for but he can’t make you love someone, including himself.

And early in Genesis, we start doing our own thing and losing touch with the creator. So much so that God sends the flood to wipe the earth clean! Then, in Exodus, God is obviously involved with his people and communicates to them through Moses and others and numerous signs. Time and again they go to him then it’s not long before they seem to forget. Forget how powerful and loving he is. Forget the creator! If he’s not there, right there, performing miracles or some other wondrous act, he’s forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind! And just like children, once we are left to our own devices we usually get up to no good!

I imagine it to feel, to Him, the same way we do when our children grow up, gain independence and not need us any more. Some children stick around and keep in contact with their parents, often or occasionally. Others don’t. In God’s case, many of his children have said, ‘See you later Dad, we can do it by ourselves, that is, until we need something so we’ll pop back just in case you can help, or we’ll blame you for everything and never speak to you again!’

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Mixed blessings at Easter

Just like all big occasions, Easter isn’t the same without Abi here. The girl who loved chocolate, egg hunts and holidays.

This is our second Easter without Abi, and while we’re keeping it low key again, this year I didn’t cry when I contemplated which chocolates to buy my other children so I suppose that would be considered ‘progress’. Only a flat feeling remains.

I feel low at this time in the Church calendar, as now I tend to focus on the gloom of the days leading up to Jesus’ death rather than the joy of his resurrection… I’m reminded of the painful days when we lost Abi.

 

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