Our children seem to spend their lives counting down the sleeps to something. Birthdays, Christmas, end of term, family vacation… there’s always something for our 5 and 7-year-olds to count down the sleeps to.
It’s their natural response to a day approaching on the horizon of their young lives which they know will be out of the ordinary. It’s what they do about anything that others around them are talking about with enthusiasm—be it family, friends, or the wider culture. It’s how they look forward to events that they remember from previous years when their memory fuels their anticipation.
Which should beg the question for parents: as Christians, what do we want our children to be counting down the sleeps to? And, what can we do to kindle our kids’ excitement about the things we want them to love?
Our answer to that first question is: Easter. But that doesn’t happen by accident.
With Christmas, it’s not hard for kids to get excited about it, because our culture tells them it’s exciting from (at best) October onwards. (In fact, the challenge each December is not so much to engender excitement but to seek to ensure the excitement is about Christian things, not cultural things.) But at Easter, it’s easier for it to pass by without much excitement because by and large, with the exception of a brief focus on eggs, the culture passes by the weekend.
Yet, precisely because Easter hasn’t been adopted and overwhelmed by the wider secular culture, it’s easier for us to make Easter exciting for all the right reasons within our families. Of course, Good Friday and Easter Sunday should not be the only time we talk to our kids about the death and resurrection of Jesus, anymore than Christmas should be the only time we marvel together at his incarnation. But this is a calendar-given opportunity to celebrate the center of our faith in a way that shows why it’s so exciting.
1. Communicate Easter Excitement
Excitement is caught as much as it is taught. So if we talk about how much we are looking forward to Easter, then our children will, too. You could help your kids to work out how many sleeps away Good Friday is. You could use or make an Easter calendar, that works in just the same way as an Advent calendar, to enjoy a shared sense of anticipatory excitement in the weeks before the Easter weekend.
2. Create Easter Traditions
Traditions are repeated shared activities that form memories. Of course, traditions can become empty of meaning, or inflexible impositions. But at their best, they teach, they excite, and they shape us. So, form traditions that work for your particular family that create memories and foster excitement about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
What might this look like? In one sense, we don’t know! The point of Christ-centered family traditions is that they are produced by that family, for that family. But here are some suggestions that may work out for your particular context: some are things we do, some are things we’re planning to do, and some are things we’ve heard of others doing:
Teach and Enact
Find visual ways to enact what happened on the cross. Each Good Friday, we create a two-foot tall cross out of cardboard and tack it to a wall. Every member of the family writes down on post-it notes some recent ways we know we have sinned. We then each stick them on the cross. We talk about why Jesus died – look at a verse such as 1 Peter 3 v 18 – and then we turn the cross over on the wall. The sins are gone. And we give thanks that that is what Jesus did with our sin.
Share the surprise of the empty tomb. On Good Friday, we make an ‘empty tomb’ cake – a normal cake with a hollowed-out, inverted muffin stuck on the top. We put a Lego guy inside the tomb and roll a stone (well, a round biscuit) over the entrance. The kids go to bed… and when they wake on Easter morning, the stone/biscuit is rolled away and the Lego guy is gone!
Pause your normal family devotions for a week or two before Easter, and use them to focus in particular on the events of the first Easter, or their place in the whole arc of the Bible’s redemptive-historical story.
Head outside and find things in nature that enable you to teach the events and significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sail a toy boat on a pond and talk about the calming of the storm… pick up fallen branches and re-enact Palm Sunday (parents make good donkeys)… climb a tree and tell the story of Zacchaeus, and of the tree on which Jesus died…
Celebrate and Enjoy
Decorate your house with Easter decorations—home-made paper-chains, Bible verses, spring flowers, children’s Easter-themed crafts, a mini empty-tomb garden. Almost all of us decorate at Christmas—why not at Easter?
Look back over the year since the last Easter, using some photos, and talk about what difference the Gospel has made to you as individuals and a family in that time. What prayers have you seen answered? What have you particularly learned/appreciated about Jesus?
Share and Reach Out
Invite some of your church family round on Maundy Thursday, recline on the floor, and share a simple Passover meal, reading the account of the Last Supper together.
Invite neighbors into your home—it is amazing what a conversation-starter Easter decorations, an advent-style Easter calendar, an empty tomb cake, and so on can be.
Find ways to “wash feet” for your community—whether it is helping at a homeless shelter, giving gifts to local charities, visiting an elderly care home, litter picking…
The possibilities are endless—and so is the potential for growing in excitement! The cross of Christ and the empty tomb are the highlights of the Bible story. Let’s make it the highlight of our families’ year, too.
*Used with permission from www.challies.com.