High River United Church of High River, Alberta


Good Friday, Children & Death

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It is natural for us as parents to want to protect our children from the sadness, tragedy and grief of life.  We’d rather they not know about the harsh realities that humans face, until they are just a bit older.  The knowledge of death is one of those things that we’d rather protect them from knowing about.   But then it happens – a pet dies, a grandparent dies, a friend’s parent or tragically a student in the school.  Suddenly we are faced with their questions about death and existence, questions that we are still trying to figure out ourselves as adults.


That’s why I like Holy Week, Good Friday & Easter.  It gives us, and our children, a chance to gently practice how to be in the midst of death and grief.  Not that it is easy.  Not that it is nice.  But it is necessary.  Death and grief are going to come to all of our lives.  The pattern of the Christian celebrations at this time of year helps us, and our children, get ready.


Starting with Palm Sunday, moving through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then waking up to Easter – we move through all the great themes of life.  Betrayal. Jealousy. Compassion. Dashed hopes. Lost dreams. Grief. Fear. Emptiness. Bitterness.  then Wonder. Awe. Joy. Hope.


Wonder. Awe. Joy. Hope.  Now those are the ones we love to do.  Bunnies. Chocolate. Brightly coloured Easter eggs. Little chicks. Tulips. We can do wonder, awe, joy, and hope – no problems there.  It is what comes before that is the challenge.  What happens is that we usually try to skip over the parts that come before?  Bring on Easter.  Baskets of brightly coloured chocolate Easter Eggs.  A rich and generous Easter meal to share in celebration.  Beautiful flowers. The gifts of springtime.


Here’s the thing: the celebration of Easter is as hollow as some of the chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies we buy if we don’t first walk with Jesus and the disciples through the betrayal, jealousy,  dashed hopes, lost dreams, grief, fear, emptiness, and bitterness.  We can celebrate – oh yes!  But the celebration is all the better, all the more joyful, when we have first faced what comes before.


So how do we talk to our children about death, betrayal, grief, lost dreams, and fear? 


First of all, children, starting at a very young age (2-3 years) experience these in their own way, whether we want them to or not. Betrayal – a sibling takes away their favourite toy.  Lost dreams –  mommy or daddy say that it is time to put away the play-dough and go to bed.  Fear – all sorts of things cause fear for little ones.  Grief – mommy or daddy go away for a few hours and it seems that they will never come back.  Our children know these feelings.  We don’t’ have to talk about the feelings or explain the feelings.  These are all natural experiences for humans of every age.


So, our children naturally experience these feelings and that means that when we start telling the stories of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, they have an intuitive connection with what happened to Jesus and the disciples.  Our children, if we allow them to make the journey with Jesus and the disciples, understand sub-consciously what it is all about.  Jesus’ friends welcome him to Jerusalem with joy and celebration – that they understand.  Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss – they’ve felt betrayed & know what that is like.  Jesus shares a meal with his friends – that they know too.  Jesus’ friends are sad and sacred when he dies – kids connect with those feelings.


We can’t protect our children from these feelings and experiences.  They are going to experience betrayal, jealousy, dashed hopes, lost dreams, grief and fear when we’re not looking.  We can’t prevent it.  But what we can do is give them a template to help them walk through these experiences. That is what Holy Week is all about.  It gives us all a template, a path through grief, tragedy, and death.  It teaches us and our children the truth that we recite in the United Church creed:


“In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us – we are not alone!”


That’s what our children need to know.  That’s what we need to know.  That’s what we need to practice by moving through Holy Week together.  The drama we enter into and walk through together is a gentle way of learning the truth that God is with us, that we are there for each other – in life, in death and in life beyond death.


We can’t protect our children from these things.  We can show them the way.


That after all is what Good Friday is about.  That is what Jesus did!


Jesus came to show us the way through death.


In his living, he taught us the Way of loving God, loving neighbour, welcoming stranger and doing good to those we consider enemies.  In his death, he showed us the path through death to new life in God. He walked the path of tragedy, grief and death before us, so that we can know that we are not alone in the midst of those experiences.


Now that is something to celebrate on Easter morning – and celebrate we will, with shouts of “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”  And those shouts will be all the sweeter, all the more joyful, because we have first acknowledged the death and tragedy that have led us to Easter morning.

April 6, 2017                            ©Susan Lukey 2017

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