Talking to Kids About Holy Week
By Steffanie Methvin, Director of Children And Family Ministry | April 9, 2019
Talking to kids about the events of Holy Week can be somewhat intimidating because there’s so much important stuff going on and it can be hard to know what your child will understand. It’s easy enough to find the actual stories in any children’s Bible, but being prepared for the questions and emotions kids may have related to the stories is the tricky part. However, in the same age-appropriate way that you would explain what happened to your first grader’s fish while he was at school —“Fred the fish went to be with Jesus in heaven” rather than “He was floating upside down in his bowl and your dad flushed him,” you can talk about Holy Week in a way that’s not so dark and confusing.
For starters, I would make sure that you, as the parent, know something about the major events of Holy Week, beginning with Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, moving on to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday. You may not have grown up in church or may have come from a faith tradition that didn’t observe these higher Holy Days. Regardless, the Christian faith hinges on what happened this week in the life of Christ and we, as parents, need to understand it so we can pass it along to those little Christians we’re growing in the faith. Plus, if your children are in Sunday School at St. Philip’s, they’re already learning the major stories and I promise you, if they’re like my kids, they’ll let you know when you’re wrong. Here are two simple articles I’d recommend for brushing up on your personal understanding of Holy Week. This article from the BBC is great for a summary of the whys and wherefores of each day. This one by Amelia Hamilton is short and sweet.
Secondly, the events of Passion Week are heavy and somber. How do you address them with your children? Christian educator, Sharon Harding, has written specifically about talking to children about Jesus’ death. She suggests this approach;
“… include the story of Jesus’ death as part of the bigger narrative of Holy Week. This allows us to emphasize those stories that are age appropriate, such as Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, the last supper, and even Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Then as part of that story, we simply explain that Jesus was led out of the city and killed on a cross. There is no need for further details; the fact that Jesus was killed is sufficient. Don’t stop at Jesus’ death though! We cannot assume that the children in our churches have heard the whole story, so give them a hint of what is to come. Let them know that it isn’t the end and something wonderful is about to happen. To quote Tony Campolo, “It was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the cross, but that’s because it was Friday. Sunday’s Coming!”.
Amanda White, writing for the blog, jellytelly®parents, takes a slightly more theological approach in her article, suggesting that even preschoolers can understand the concept of sacrifice (when explained with simplistic examples), but brings the point of Jesus’ death home by reminding us to emphasize that what Jesus did brings new life to those who believe.
I encourage your family to start a new tradition this year by reading about the events of Holy Week from scripture together (even if it’s from a children’s Bible), talking about it, and attending as many of the Holy Week services as you can. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more special Easter morning will feel because you’ve walked with Jesus together as a family.