“No Easter, no Christianity … ,” wrote Frederica Mathewes-Green in an article titled “Easter Changes Everything.” “If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, who cares whether he was born in a manger or a 7-11? If he didn’t rise from the dead, Christmas is meaningless too.”
The apostle Paul explained it best in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. Verses 12 and 17 sum it up: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
In other words, if Christ was not resurrected from the dead then Easter and Christmas are meaningless as are the whole of Christianity and life. His Passion would have been without purpose.
Therefore, it is important for Christians to communicate effectively the Gospel message through Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter and year-round.
In 2007, AFA Journal spoke with several ministry leaders about the best ways to share the Easter story with children. Although almost a decade has passed since then and some of the leaders’ professional titles may be different now, their suggestions are still timely and applicable, and they serve as a refreshing reminder of the real reason one celebrates Easter.
The hearts of the young
How to share the Easter story and celebrate the season with young children raises questions among Christian parents. Bob Lepine, co-host of the radio program FamilyLife Today, encourages parents “to be wise about what kids are able to understand at various ages.”
Lynda Pongracz, leadership training instructor in the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) department of education agreed: “Parents need to know their own child regarding his or her developmental stage and previous spiritual exposure. They must also let the child’s own questions be a guide in how much the child is ready to receive.”
Quoting CEF vice president Martha J. Wright, Pongracz said, “You may doubt the child’s ability to communicate with God, but never doubt God’s ability to communicate with your child.”
This is all the more reason leaders in children’s ministry believe it is important to introduce youngsters to Christ, specifically his death and resurrection, as early as possible.
“Age is not a factor,” said Sue Jakes, children’s ministry coordinator for the Christian Education Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America. “The Holy Spirit can begin to take our words and plant them deep in the hearts of our children whenever He wills.”
But Jakes said it is important to use simple words with young children while keeping in mind that the same Spirit who teaches children also teaches adults. Pongracz agrees that simplicity coupled with concrete terminology and Scripture is key when teaching about Christ’s death and resurrection.
“[However] the younger the children are (not just in age but in emotional maturity, as well), the more concerned we should be in sharing the graphic nature of the violence,” said George Wiedmaier, parenting outreach director for Focus on the Family. “This is when it is very important for the parent to understand the emotional maturity of the child and slowly engage this type of reality with them as they are ready. …”
In other words, the more mature, the more details.
For example, when teaching preschoolers about the Passion of Christ, Karen Parks, director of strategic relationships for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) International, said the big idea is to begin laying the foundation for understanding the abstract concepts related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“God loves you is the big message at this age,” Parks said.
As preschoolers begin to mature, Lepine suggested helping children understand why Jesus was actually nailed to a cross and that great pain was involved. All of these details, revealed over time, work together to present the Gospel message.
The keys of truth
“I think what’s really essential to the message of the Gospel is that children understand that Jesus died. … That there was a literal, physical death of Christ and that God, through His Spirit, supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead and brought Him back to newness of life,” Lepine explained
“That Christ came alive again and lives in heaven” is a key point to get across, said Linda Weddle, senior designer of U.S. programs for Awana Clubs International.
Lepine added that emphasizing Christ’s death is a way for children to make a parallel that all people are spiritually dead apart from Christ, but there is a God who wants to raise people to a new spiritual life.
“So what God did with Jesus physically, He wants to do with us spiritually,” Lepine said. “And there you have the essential elements of the Gospel” – which is, after all, God’s purpose in Christ’s Passion.
“God hates sin, and His holiness (perfection) requires that those who sin must die,” Jakes explained. “But His love has given us a way out of death” – a life-changing message to share with children at Easter and throughout the year.
“Instead of thinking about how to magically make it understandable around Easter, perhaps we should think of rolling it out in bite size pieces as our children understand more,” Wiedmaier suggested. “We need to leverage the natural curiosity of the young mind.
“My goal as a parent is a life-long discussion and not a one-time speech,” he added.
How about you? How do you emphasize the death and resurrection of Christ in your children’s lives at Easter and throughout the year? Here are some resources to help:
Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs by Melody Carlson (Zonderkidz)
Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada (Crossway Books)
Why Easter? by Barbara Reaoch (Shepherd Press)
The Story of Jesus for Children from The Jesus Film Project – a 62-minute film that introduces children to the life of Jesus
Child Evangelism Fellowship – its official website contains easy-to-use helps for leading children to Christ
Editor’s Note – The above was adapted from an article that originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of AFA Journal.