One of the suggestions I was given for things to write about was to ask what have we done to explain Good Friday to our young children and ways to make it understandable and accessible. First, a disclaimer. We have done a lot of things, but it is not a comprehensive list of everything that can be done to teach children about Good Friday... and many of the ideas are not original to me, but our own twist on an idea I found elsewhere. It is also good to keep in mind that there is no formula for creating faith in children. I fear that sometimes we parents act as though we believe that if we follow a certain set of tasks and activities then we can assume our children will have a saving faith in Jesus. Ultimately, a child's faith becomes his or her own responsibility; it is between the child and God. As parents we can certainly do things to help or hinder that faith, often in extreme ways, but the converse is also true, that parents can do everything 'right' and still have a child who wanders away from God.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to help make Good Friday (and the whole Easter season) understandable to children. We certainly haven't done all of these things in one single year, and this year we kind of 'skipped' Lent, what with preparing for travel and then being out of the country. Having skipped Lent, it means that we also skipped our favorite Lenten activity... our Lenten tree. We start at the beginning of Lent with reading from Genesis and continues through the 40 days tracing the course of the Bible and ends with reading the events of Holy Week on their matching day. So by the time we get to Good Friday, we have read about the birth of life of Jesus and read about what happened on Good Friday. I believe that the first and best way to teach about Jesus is to read the stories of Jesus straight from the Bible. Having the ornaments to match the Bible reading gives children a visual cue for each passage.
Also in past years, we have celebrated a Seder as a family. My children love this and really wanted to do one this year, but there was just no way. For those of you who don't know, a Seder is the meal that is celebrated as part of Passover, the observance of the Israelites being led out of Egypt. It is also the meal that Jesus celebrated with His disciples at the last supper and is a foreshadowing of Jesus' work on the cross. I think one reason my children like it is that it seems as though it was designed with children in mind. Yes, there are a lot of places where they have to sit and listen, but it also engages all of their senses... sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. And consequently the entire event becomes very memorable. And if you do as we do and make it a formal meal with everyone dressing up, it just adds to its memorableness.
The last thing we do routinely is participate in our church's Good Friday Family Workshop. There are crafts, fellowship, and a small worship service. I like spending the morning of Good Friday at church with my family because it helps to highlight its importance. My children always look forward to the food and to the flower cross. During the fellowship time, tissue paper and pipe cleaners are set on all the tables so that everyone can make tissue paper flowers while they visit and eat. These flowers are then brought downstairs and into the sanctuary for the worship service. In the front of the sanctuary is a roughly made wooden cross which is covered with chicken wire. To put it bluntly, it's pretty ugly... which is the point. During the service the point is made that Jesus died because of our sins, which are pretty ugly. Then at the end of the service, the children are invited forward with their flowers and the flowers are attached to the cross through the chicken wire. By the time the last flower has been place, the cross has been transformed into something beautiful, with no ugliness showing through. Through Jesus' work on the cross, ugliness has been transformed into beauty.
Over the years we have also used Resurrection eggs (plastic Easter eggs filled with a small object and an accompanying Bible verse), but we dropped these because they were so similar to what we were already doing. We also made Easter story cookies. These are essentially meringue cookies where each part of the process has a Bible verse to read with it. The cookies are made Saturday night and put in the oven. On Easter morning, you open the oven and when the children bite into a cookie they are hollow, empty just like the tomb. We did these once, but since no one in my family really likes meringue, no one was terribly excited to bit into the cookies, empty inside or not. If these two ideas are new to you, a very quick Google search will give you multiple instructions as to how to make/do them.
Ultimately, Good Friday can be uncomfortable for parents to explain to their children because 1) it's a tricky thing for even adults to understand and 2) it means you have to talk about death. We don't like to talk about death with our children. Heck, we don't even talk about death among adults. We just don't talk about it. So then when we come up to Good Friday, we just don't know what to do. I don't make any assumptions that we are better at it than anyone else, but we do talk about it. Once you start having people around you die, you don't really have a choice. We have always brought our children to funerals and allowed them to say good-bye to their loved ones... even with an open casket. Children are smart. They know that the person they loved isn't there anymore. And it's sad. It's OK to let children experience sadness. In fact it's healthy to let children experience sadness. If a child has experienced this in their own life, it is very easy for them to identify with the sadness the disciples and the women felt when Jesus was killed.
Without the sadness, and for adults and older children the realization that our own personal sins are somehow responsible for the whole thing, there can be no corresponding joy on Easter morning. But that has to wait. Good Friday is the time to focus on the sacrifice. The loss. The pain. Both ours and His. And to realize that only a God who deeply, deeply loved us more than we can know or understand would willingly make Himself nothing, humble Himself to go through that kind of death for us.