by Tina Houser
This year I noticed that Christmas decorations were in the hobby stores by mid-July. People no longer wait until Thanksgiving to put up their tree or adorn their homes with twinkling lights. And the church begins its observance of Advent four weeks before Christmas Day, counting down the days with great anticipation. I am a Christmas addict…a real Christmas nut…but every year I am confronted with an ache in my heart when I compare the intensity that we teach our kids about Christmas to our approach to teaching Easter. When was the last time you spent four weeks talking about Jesus’ last days? Both Christmas and Easter are cornerstones to our faith. They need each other for the impact to survive. What would Christmas mean if there was not Easter?
The week that transpired between the time of Jesus entering Jerusalem and His resurrection is jam-packed with significant stories. Jesus sure was busy in those few days! During that time He curses the fig tree, overturns the tables in the temple, is anointed by a passionate woman, makes a profound statement about honoring God versus honoring Caesar (paying taxes), tells the story of the marriage feast and declares the most important commandment. Then, there is the Passover meal-the Last Supper-where He shares this last meal with His disciples, washes their feet, presents us with the sacrament of communion, then leaves to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. His disciples fail Him-Judas betrays and Peter denies. There is a mock trial and an out-of-control mob. And this is all BEFORE Jesus goes to the cross!
Two Sundays. Yes, two Sundays! That is the amount of time that we devote to teaching our kids about all of these incredible events. We cram it all in by including one sentence for each scene. But, the reality is that each one of these inspiring stories has a message of its own. We need to take our children along on a biblical “dig” to explore the significance of every encounter that Jesus had that last week He walked this Earth. What Jesus chose to address and what He lived that holiest of weeks deserves more than a one-sentence mention in the midst of a CliffsNotes version. This is the foundation of the Christian faith and we need to teach our children more diligently about each part of it.
Think about the possibilities if you celebrated and remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem-Palm Sunday-but did that in the middle of January. That would give you at least twelve weeks to really address what Jesus went through and what He felt important to do in His last days. This week’s story would reinforce what had gone before and introduce what will happen next. It would all fit together and flow. But even more importantly, it would help kids engage in every part of Jesus’ last week as one of us.
Each meal, each parable, each moment shared with His disciples tells us something important about our Savior. Jesus did not heal everyone who came to Him. He did not attend every dinner or party that He was invited to. He did not individually talk to all the people who wanted an audience with Him. What He did and what happened to Him in that last week was extremely significant. Each encounter was chosen for its impact, so that it would teach a divine lesson and further the Kingdom of God. Our children need to know the magnitude of each moment of Jesus’ last week on Earth.
When we separate the events of this week and look at the significance of each one and why Jesus chose to experience it, we give children a glimpse of the bigger picture. We elevate Easter! By intentionally teaching everything that happened between Palm Sunday and the resurrection, we really drive home the tremendous impact Jesus has made on the world and can make in our own lives. Each story is a piece to the puzzle and by presenting it as pieces rather than the completed puzzle, children have the chance to digest something that is otherwise pretty difficult to comprehend. The road that Jesus walked those last days is not one simple story; it is many stories brought together to point us toward the greatest event in history-the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus. He was the Master Teacher, and many of the most important lessons He taught were crammed into that last week.
Intentionality and anticipation is key. Anytime we say that something is important but fail to address it with intentionality, then its importance is diminished. I believe our intentionality will ultimately draw children to faith. When you celebrate Easter intentionally and give it more time to be celebrated, others will notice. Your kids will notice. They will get the unspoken message that “this is important to my leader.” Anticipation will naturally come from your intentionality. If your mind is dwelling on the resurrection and your actions are building toward it (teaching the individual stories), your anticipation will be contagious. It would be great to have kids anticipate Easter Sunday the same way they anticipate Christmas morning.
So many kids think Easter is about a new outfit, a Saturday egg hunt, marshmallow chicks and a basket of jellybeans. Those things are fun, and I love incorporating them into object lessons and games, but I do so in order that it will benefit the teaching of God’s Word. We cannot allow the Truth to fall under the shadow of a giant rabbit costume. I believe there is a way to enjoy both the celebration of our culture and still keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. That is by making Holy Week more than two Sundays. Anticipate the resurrection for four weeks, six weeks, or even three months. Study it and celebrate everything that Jesus went through that week, so that when Easter Sunday arrives, your kids are ready to pull out all the stops and rejoice that…Jesus is alive!
Warner Press recognized my deep conviction about teaching kids ALL of Easter and they have gave me the wonderful opportunity to write a new book called Easter-rific.In its pages I share activities, games, storytelling techniques, science experiments, crafts and snacks that will get you started on each of these stories. I will also be sharing more about Easter-rific at both the Orlando and San Diego CPCs.
After thirty-two incredible years in children’s ministry within the local church, Tina is now the publications director for KidzMatter. She loves training volunteers and professionals who have a heart for seeing kids become disciples of Jesus.