The journey of Jesus’s temptation and last days is coming up in the Christian calendar. The kids are beginning to explore the story of Jesus’s death and rebirth. The resurrection. It’s pretty deep stuff to explore, especially for kids.
The story of the resurrection can get really big and heady and philosophical and theological. So…how do we explain the concept of resurrection, in particular Jesus’s resurrection, to young kids?
I think the first step is exploring what the story means to you. There’s nothing wrong with not having your own answers. There’s nothing wrong with still exploring. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid that you don’t have the “right” answers (hint: there are no right answers, there are only answers). There’s nothing wrong with having completely different answers from the person sitting next to you. Or me.
Sometimes, it simplifies thing to think about it from a kids perspective (even if you don’t have kids or your kids are long grown up). It can bring us back to a beginner’s mind or a fresh mind that’s not already full of the “right” answers and those grown up biases (and fears).
On a very basic level, we can discuss the resurrection as a time when God is here with us. He is incarnate and embodied, human, just like us. He walks with man. He makes friends. He loves. He struggles just like we do. He dies just like we do. And, because He is God, he comes back to remind us that we are not alone. There is something bigger than us.
Jesus is the bridge between God and us. Jesus is a friend (this is a great concept to share with kids: Jesus is your friend who listens. He might not answer back in the normal way, but listen, the answers are there). Jesus is an easier God-concept for kids.
We can deepen the layers. We can also begin to look at the resurrection as a cycle of life and death. These are the cycles that rule our existence and nature. We are born, we live a little while, we die. (Whenever I say that, I think of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”).
There’s a reason the resurrection takes place in spring. It’s the time of rebirth of the earth. We can look at the resurrection story as a reminder that after every death, shedding, letting go, there is new life, new births to come in. It is a time of Hope. What is Christ’s message if not one of Hope and renewal and love?
I always find it helpful to remember some of the time periods we’re talking about as well. Death and rebirth. The early Christian church actually believed in reincarnation. I’ll leave that for you to explore, believe, or not believe. (interesting aside, it was Augustine of Hippo who rejected the idea of reincarnation). So the idea of death, rebirth, resurrection would have been a very real concept of the times.
The archetypal part of this story here is familiar to us all. The journey of leaving the familiar (leaving home), setting out on the adventure of life, the journey changes us, and we come back home different versions of ourselves. It’s in our blood and bones. It’s in every story. Myths of old. Stories new. The journey of the hero, ready for adventure, and the fool stumbling every step of the way, but still coming back anew. Becoming new and better versions of ourselves.
I say this because looking at the resurrection story as a journey is familiar to kids. Look at, for example Harry Potter (our kids love HP), it’s all about the journey to becoming good. What is right? What is wrong? Who am I? All the stories follow this same familiar path. Stories are great for children. Comparing it the others stories they know and love can be helpful.
Jesus’s story refines this journey. It’s a story for young and old, but we have to share it wisely. In layers as people are ready. One God, but who can walk with you in Jesus. A friend who shows us how to live a good and loving life. He experiences temptation and resists. He experiences anguish and hope stolen away. He experiences love. He questions. He dies. The deepest journey possible.
Jesus is human. He experiences the same struggles we do and shows us it is possible to do it and maintain a life that is good and loving. He is an example of what we could be on earth. ALL the horrible things: temptation (lenten season is coming-as a practice in discipline, there is nothing wrong with cultivating a 40 day practice/self-test), faith, and through his anguish we are united in his anguish. One. God knows our same pain and struggles. Others have the same pain and struggles. We are united together as people. People. All of us.
He dies. We will all dies. The journey of death. The inevitability of human loss. And he is resurrected.
This can be a tricky part for kids. It’s confusing. How does he come back? Because he is God or, for some, this may simply be a metaphor for hope and rebirth. Truly, that is ok. To a young kid, they may not be able to understand why Jesus can come back, but not…a close relative, a friend, or a beloved pet.
For young kids, this depths might be more than they can handle and it might be wise to come back to resurrection as a reminder of spring and light and hope and love. Always come back to love. Or a way of, teaching them that people and pets don’t come back, but we resurrect them in our memories of them, in remember and following their good work, in keeping them in our hearts. No one really dies when we keep them alive. Maybe it’s the resurrection after the anger and despair of grief; the resurrection of the persons beauty and good works.
I feel like there are so many more terrible things kids are exposed to these days. Resurrection may help us to explain horrible things to kids.
It can be a way to explore with kids that horrible things happen. Death happens, but we are not alone. Jesus suffered the same way. God suffered the same way. Others suffer the same way. We are not alone. There is love and hope and always an after in the journey. Our journey with others; we each experience different situations, but we all struggle and are tested. This knowledge brings us together.
Jesus can be the intermediary between a God that is on high or a God as Witness or a God as Consciousness or a God as Universal. God that may not be as easy, always, to connect to. Jesus can be a friend to us and a go-between.
Layers. These stories help to remind kids, and us, that we are not alone. The cycles of death and rebirth will happen. Hold tight to love and hope. Hold tight to the memory and work and passion of those who pass. Do good work. Be good people.
There is no greater good than helping one another and continuing the good work. Love, hope, justice, kindness, friendship, compassion, joy….