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Exploring Lent, Holy Week with young children

By Anita Peebles

Raising children in faith is one of the biggest responsibilities for faith educators — clergy, lay leaders, family members and others. Lent and Holy Week hold their own particular challenges with stories of Jesus’ life, ministry and crucifixion and themes of sin, betrayal, political machinations, death and resurrection. Such topics are difficult for adults to understand, let alone children.

Dear Grown-ups: You don’t have to know everything. Wherever you find yourself on this journey of sharing the way of Jesus with the youngest of seekers, you are welcome. That’s the starting place, for grown-ups and for children. Welcome. Invitation. Inclusion.

The overall goal in this delicate season is to accompany. Even if you have heard the gospel stories more times than you can count, as you walk with children who may be learning about Jesus for the first time, try to receive those sacred narratives anew. If you have questions — such as “How do I explain Jesus’ death? What is important for children to learn about the resurrection?” — discuss them with other adults, journal about them, pray about them and do some research. These are important questions, and it’s OK to figure them out as you go along.

Children will likely have many questions as you travel through Lent together. Holy Week stories invite questions that may be troubling and require tender handling when sharing them with children. The purpose is not to protect children from the violence within the stories, but to treat children as autonomous persons who will make meaning from what they are provided.

Invite and welcome questions. Strive to receive difficult questions with grace. By asking, “Why did Jesus die?” or “How did God make Jesus live again?” children are inviting you to join them as they engage a season in the church year that is both important and difficult. Their questions might even reveal or resonate with some of your own. When we accompany children, we have the unique opportunity to explore biblical texts and to let the stories, in turn, explore texts of the children’s lives, helping them to experience empathy and draw connections between Jesus’ life and their lives, between God’s work in the world and the Christian life.

Wherever you are in your journey, know that God is with you, as you accept the humbling and sacred task that is Christian education of young children. God accompanies you in your learning, even as you accompany the youngest Christians in their learning. May peace, love and justice be your guide throughout this Lenten season and throughout the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar. Amen.

The Rev. Anita Peebles is a Master of Divinity candidate at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, and is seeking ordination in the Alliance of Baptists.

New Lent, Holy Week resources
American Baptist Home Mission Societies offers two new resources for Lent and Holy Week.
“Celebrating Holy Week with Young Children: A Guide for Families provides tips for talking to children about Jesus’ death in ways that emphasize God’s love, justice and mercy. Included are ideas for activities that can help concretize the story of Jesus’ death without dwelling inordinately on the violence of the crucifixion.
• “A Tenebrae Service for Children” is a child-friendly alternative to traditional contemplative Good Friday or Maundy Thursday services. The service includes reflection activities throughout to allow children to process their emotions related to the stories in a supportive communal setting.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.