Dear Sister Sunday,
Please help! My children are small, three and five years old. How can I explain Holy Week (especially Good Friday) and Easter to them? My five-year old keeps asking me why Jesus didn’t kill the bad men who hurt him? They believe that good always wins. The bad guys are beaten. But there’s Jesus, dead on the cross, and that upsets them. I really don’t know what to say.
Praying in Portland
Not all things can be explained. I don’t recall explaining the delights and challenges of married life with my pre-school children. They grew up as part of the family, and so, part of our marriage. They watched what was happening all around them and grew, bit by bit, into an understanding that allowed them to make their own marriages, each with its own delights and challenges. But the experience preceded the understanding, because experience, good or ill, lays the groundwork for understanding or misunderstanding the vocation of marriage.
We stand before the truth of the One who steadfastly refuses to hate, to return evil for evil.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Any one who can read can make out the instructions in a car manual. But there is less mystery in a car; it is a tool and most of us master its use. During Holy Week and through Easter we stand before the truth of the One who steadfastly refuses to hate, to return evil for evil. Because we are, most of us, so ready to retaliate for even the smallest offenses, we can’t begin to understand that love. It’s simply beyond anything we mean by the word “love.” So, we stand under the mystery, year after year, in the sure and certain faith that, like rocks in a stream, we will be shaped and formed by the living water that flows from the side of the crucified Christ. We kneel, we bow, we bend, we listen. We inhale the odor of incense and watch as lights pierce the darkness and sing glad alleluias as our brothers and sisters emerge dripping from the font.
The best thing you can do is keep the days of Holy Week, Triduum (the three days that begin at sundown on Holy Thursday and end with the first kindled light in the darkness of the Easter Vigil) and the days of Easter that follow. Share what little children are able to hear: you might talk about the donkey that bore Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and how a donkey bore Mary to Bethlehem. It can be a fine thing for a small child to think about such a humble and small animal being chosen for such a great honor. You might talk about Peter, and that, even though he was frightened and ran away from Jesus, still Jesus loved him and used him to do mighty works. You might talk about how, even hanging on the cross, Jesus showed concern for the man suffering alongside him. And make sure that in the midst of the chocolate (and there should be chocolate!) you spend some time on the triumph of the empty tomb. The good guys do win!
The five year-old is probably ready to listen as you read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe aloud. C.S. Lewis calls it “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time” and manages to tell the story of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection in the form of a fairy tale. To my mind, no writer has done it better, and he doesn’t give it to us an explanation, but as a story: a story that encompasses all of history and a story that changes the course of history.
Please don’t worry too much about this. Just live the days and the feasts and fasts we have been given and bring the children with you. Because example always counts more as an explanation when it comes to kids, and for more, check out our Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life.