How does a Quaker explain Easter and Jesus to a child?

At our first day school meeting no one seemed to want to do the Easter lesson that was planned in the agenda. How does a Quaker explain Easter and Jesus to a child without offending anyone? Kathy Summers

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Young children may already be intuitively aware that resurrection is real, so I don't believe the First-day school teacher needs to worry about nuances. Just tell the story as it is, using whichever account speaks most deeply to you. It is an amazing and touching story as presented in the Gospels; the story has been ratified by many generations of believers and re-experienced by saints and mystics over the centuries--it is the "sense of the meeting" for the broad sweep of world Christianity. (And we Friends are not, after all, some new and separate religion.)

Asking "I wonder" questions (as in Godly Play) might open the session up a bit. This kind of ventilation, for me, is the difference between teaching and indoctrinating. You open your heart and invite the children to do the same. And as Mackenzie says, you can add something about why Friends don't celebrate the church feasts in quite the same way as others--that might be a good opening to introduce Friends discipleship. But comments about Friends distinctives can and should support the central message (the resurrection) rather than distract from it.

My heart does shrink a bit at the idea that in order to tell the story of Easter, it's hard to avoid the subject of the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. You'll know best how much injustice and violence the children already hear about--in other words, how much context they have for Good Friday. But maybe the loving circle of First-day school is a good place to touch upon these difficult but urgent themes, to whatever extent is appropriate for their age and experience.

As for offending some sector of the parents, this calls for a separate, if related, discussion. How can anyone teach First-day school without the trust of the community?--and what does it take to create that trust? Without it, all you'll offer the children is a diet of lowest-common-denominator platitudes.

Maybe I'll be led to say a bit more on my blog. Thanks for asking this question!

One place to start is the story of Passover and how Jesus and his disciples gathered for a seder as observant Jews still do today.

Johan Maurer said:

Young children may already be intuitively aware that resurrection is real, so I don't believe the First-day school teacher needs to worry about nuances. Just tell the story as it is, using whichever account speaks most deeply to you. It is an amazing and touching story as presented in the Gospels; the story has been ratified by many generations of believers and re-experienced by saints and mystics over the centuries--it is the "sense of the meeting" for the broad sweep of world Christianity. (And we Friends are not, after all, some new and separate religion.)

Asking "I wonder" questions (as in Godly Play) might open the session up a bit. This kind of ventilation, for me, is the difference between teaching and indoctrinating. You open your heart and invite the children to do the same. And as Mackenzie says, you can add something about why Friends don't celebrate the church feasts in quite the same way as others--that might be a good opening to introduce Friends discipleship. But comments about Friends distinctives can and should support the central message (the resurrection) rather than distract from it.

My heart does shrink a bit at the idea that in order to tell the story of Easter, it's hard to avoid the subject of the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. You'll know best how much injustice and violence the children already hear about--in other words, how much context they have for Good Friday. But maybe the loving circle of First-day school is a good place to touch upon these difficult but urgent themes, to whatever extent is appropriate for their age and experience.

As for offending some sector of the parents, this calls for a separate, if related, discussion. How can anyone teach First-day school without the trust of the community?--and what does it take to create that trust? Without it, all you'll offer the children is a diet of lowest-common-denominator platitudes.

Maybe I'll be led to say a bit more on my blog. Thanks for asking this question!

First, I would like to say that I have never posted on a 'blog' before, and reading some of the responses to Kathy's question does not make me want to start. I don't know if it is the medium or what, but I am hesitant to post something that will lead to criticism and blame. There is a difference between respectful disagreement where we engage in dialog when we disagree and disrespectful argument. No wonder Kathy is worried about offending people! 

In my experience, kids, in the vulnerability they experience every day of their lives, know better than anyone both that we live in a broken world, and that we need to rely on our faith in God to make it better. In the Sunday School class I lead we use the Godly Play curriculum, and at other times I have used Way of the Child curriculum. Both lessons use the method that others have suggested here, reading the kids the scripture, inviting their thoughts about it, and providing them some quiet ways to further think through what they have heard. Way of the Child suggests, among other things, that children can choose to sit quietly with a candle and spend some time in quiet contemplation, or to do a simple art project to reflect. In Godly Play we had a wonderful discussion about the significance of the colors purple and white and about how Jesus' life as well as our own lives are mixed, and that we find God in the difficult times as well as in the joyful times. The kids really took to telling stories about struggles they were experiencing at school and how sorrow as well as joy are a fundamental part of life.

I will never forget when I took my 4 year old daughter to a Tenebrae service, kind of by accident. When we were getting in the car to go home she burst into tears crying "Mom, I don't want to die like Jesus!" I didn't have the chance to prepare her beforehand, and didn't even realize I had to. But it was a teachable moment, and she came to a better understanding of who Jesus was and about the Christian faith. The best thing is to present the stories themselves in a loving atmosphere, and give the children the loving, sacred, safe space to explore what the stories mean to them in their own time, and in their own way. Loren

Kathy, I'm curious if you have found the variety of responses here helpful? I'm mystified how my response has disappeared, and confused at the latest response which decries the variety of ideas - and seems to have found negative criticism in the posts....

Just curious. Love your question, loved the dialog you 'birthed' here.  Not sure why my thoughts disappeared (twice), but what the heck... ;o)

Warm regards.... Joan

I'm having difficulty with this thread.  This kind of question is why I often feel that there is a shadow side to Quaker Universalism.  It isn't really as open and accepting as it likes to present itself: it seems to make communication, even of the simplest kind, more difficult and complicated, creating problems where none should exist.

I mean that explaining Easter to children shouldn't be at all controversial and it is something that also should be easy to do.  You simply say that Christians celebrate Easter as the day of the resurrection of Jesus.  You don't have to personally believe in the resurrection to explain this in an easy way.  It's like explaining Buddha's Enlightenment Day to children -- this is the day set aside in Buddhist cultures to celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha.  Again, you don't have to agree with the Buddhist view of the Buddha to easily explain the meaning of this day for Buddhists.  Or it's like explaining Passover to people.  You don't have to be Jewish, and you don't have to believe in the historical basis of Passover as actual history to easily explain to Children, or adults, what Passover means and why it is celebrated.  For that matter, it's similar to explaining July 4th to a visiting foreigner: it's just not that difficult. 

Why would this offend anyone?  Unless, of course, those who take offense find Christianity particularly and/or inherently offensive which, I suspect, is the underlying objection brought against teaching the meaning of Easter.

Thy Friend Jim

Lovely reply, Jim, thank you.

Bruce


Jim Wilson said:

I'm having difficulty with this thread.  This kind of question is why I often feel that there is a shadow side to Quaker Universalism.  It isn't really as open and accepting as it likes to present itself: it seems to make communication, even of the simplest kind, more difficult and complicated, creating problems where none should exist.

I mean that explaining Easter to children shouldn't be at all controversial and it is something that also should be easy to do.  You simply say that Christians celebrate Easter as the day of the resurrection of Jesus.  You don't have to personally believe in the resurrection to explain this in an easy way.  It's like explaining Buddha's Enlightenment Day to children -- this is the day set aside in Buddhist cultures to celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha.  Again, you don't have to agree with the Buddhist view of the Buddha to easily explain the meaning of this day for Buddhists.  Or it's like explaining Passover to people.  You don't have to be Jewish, and you don't have to believe in the historical basis of Passover as actual history to easily explain to Children, or adults, what Passover means and why it is celebrated.  For that matter, it's similar to explaining July 4th to a visiting foreigner: it's just not that difficult. 

Why would this offend anyone?  Unless, of course, those who take offense find Christianity particularly and/or inherently offensive which, I suspect, is the underlying objection brought against teaching the meaning of Easter.

Thy Friend Jim

I wonder if those who 'take offense' do so because they may feel judged by some folks who are pretty adamant about their view being the 'right' view. I know I can get a little prickly when someone starts in with 'you're not a Christian unless this, this, and this.' I think Jim's reply goes right to the heart of things. Really good discussion.

Thanks all,

Ken


Funny you have this question, Kathy, and it's a great one ... I know from teaching first day. I just posted a blog using a story I wrote about Easter for my daughter when she was 6. You may find it helpful. Bless you for looking outside the box. I'll paste 2 links; one on QQ and the same post on my own blog.

THANKS!

-- Cathy

PS Let us know what transpires

http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/unpeeling-our-hearts

http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2012/03/unpeeling-our-hearts.html

"Here is why I am telling you this story: This is an important story. If you want to understand Christianity, you need to understand the Passion and the Resurrection. They have been the single story at the heart of Christianity for almost 2000 years. Think about that, one story people have been listening to as the center of their religious year, for almost 2000 years. And here's one good question to ask: why is this story so important?

"Now, some of you come from families where the grownups mostly don't believe that what I'm going to tell actually happened. Some of you come from families where pretty much everyone believes that every word I'm going to tell you actually happened. What I'm going to tell you is this: people who argue about whether someone with a video camera in 27 AD would have seen this as described, or not, are missing the point. It's a story. Listen to it, and think about what it means. Don't worry if it seems strange or mysterious or just weird, most people who study these stories think about this their whole lives and can't totally figure it out. Ready? OK.

"Jesus came into Jerusalem, on the day most Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday..."

That's how I'd frame it.

There have been so many rich responses here. I'm coming to this discussion late, but hope this might contain something helpful.

It seems only sensible to me that the adults in a meeting are communicating  and listening  about how the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is speaking to them.  For a number of years my meeting had a gathering on Good Friday, read scripture aloud, then had worship sharing.  It felt safe, cozy even, and gave people a wonderful space to reflect, something they may have rarely or never experienced.    Among other "Easter" songs, (Were You There?) my meeting sang "Lord of the Dance" quite frequently and I remember our young children joining in singing quite lustily.  It's true, children pick up on everything.

Backing up to Palm Sunday and Jesus' last supper with the disciples-- one Sunday the children came into the worship room with their teacher, a parent,  waving palms and singing "What a Friend We Have In Jesus!" Another Sunday (could have been the same one) the children came in at the close of worship explained the story in the Bible and washed the feet of anyone who wanted their feet washed. These are the wonderful shared times adults and children never forget! 

It seems right that the developmental age range of the children is important to consider.  Our children can surprise us though; a sweet mama in our meeting told the story so gently, and showed a book illustrated at the end with 3 empty crosses far away on a hill.  Her little 3-4 year old however made a drawing of the cross with Jesus' body drawn squarely on it!  As I said, children pick up on what the adults are talking about. For example, at least one parent was quite upset to find our meeting children pretend playing "electric chair".  Mmm…. well we live in Florida, some of the children attended prayer vigils at the Capitol or the Governor's Mansion, at time of executions.  That's what children do-- they try to figure things out,  (even the unfathomable)  through play. Jesus was killed by the state too. 

Somewhere on Brian MacClaren's website, he recommends not telling the story of the crucifixion and Easter Separately  from Jesus' life and actions leading up to these events.   At least make these connections to Jesus life and ministry prior to Good Friday.   Jesus healed and helped people.  He stood for those where were being bullied, he stood up against violence and people hurting other people.  He is all about  reaching out to people different that himself,  those that others looked down on, disliked or were afraid of.   Rather than following the rules of the Empire, he was all about  living Love, following God's will and responding to violence with love- even unto death.  Bill Taber, beloved Friend, expressed a deep belief and experience  that Jesus' life and death released a new energy of universal Love into the world, into the Cosmos. (Or words to that effect!)  We don't need to all agree theologically , it seems to me, to tremble, to be fed and amazed by this! 

A few resources to consider- Quaker bookstores have resources for teaching the life of Jesus for children. .. Also, Network of Bible Storytellers-the August 8-11, 2012,  at Ridgecrest Conference Center, Asheville NC area, "telling stories of faith in a pluralistic culture.". .. Lastly, Gainesville Fl Mennonite minister of very peace and justice oriented Men. church wrote "Children's Illustrated Bible" by Eve MacMaster. MennoMedia. 

Hope this is helpful!

Love, Alice

this is in response to richard r davis    you my friend speak my mind plain and simple

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