Oh gosh, it’s Good Friday again
Jonathan Brooks shares some ideas and thoughts that can be helpful in broaching a conversation about Good Friday with children.
There are moments where the Bible is unsuitable for children (sex, violence, the unchecked wrath of God) but we can generally gloss and glide over most. But Good Friday is different. We can’t ignore it, yet we cannot possibly explain it to our children.
If that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. Many parents and churches would agree with you, and are to be commended for protecting childhood from cruelty and brutality. But I don’t really agree: Good Friday is accessible for children; it just takes a bit of care and courage to broach it. I need to muster courage too, and here are some ideas that have helped me:
- Children won’t know about Jesus’ death unless we tell them: I often think myself inadequate to the task, but my motivation is normally ‘If not me, then who?’ Our faith story makes no sense without Jesus’ death, so we have to tackle it. We also can’t outsource Christian teaching to our church: yes, I’ll tell the story of Good Friday, but children need to hear it from parents as well; to know that the story means something to everyone, not just to me.
- This story should be read from a book – and there are some great versions around: The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Bible Storybook and anything published by Lion all cost less than £10 online.
- I try not to tackle Good Friday in isolation: We need to talk about the events leading up it – the Jesus who healed people, taught people, loved people – and give a hint of the resurrection to come soon after.
- I cut out all the violence when talking to children: ‘Jesus was killed’ is shocking enough, and nails, the spear in the side and other cruelties are not needed. This is a story about Jesus, not a horror film.
- I know that children will understand Good Friday in whichever way God leads them to, so I don’t need to force it: For the very young, it’s completely fine if they do not understand death, and know only that it was a sad day for Jesus and his friends.
- I try to remind myself that I open my mouth, but God opens hearts: I begin by praying, for myself and everyone listening, knowing that God is nearby.
Why did Jesus die?
Story told, this is a tricky question – spoken or silent – that always follows. I sadly don’t have a complete answer to this, but I do have some ways of thinking about it that might be helpful. When stumped, I try thinking about one of these:
- Jesus could have stopped it all on Good Friday, but chose to die because he would do anything for you and me. Jesus died not because he was weak, but because he loves us.
- Jesus was let down by even his closest friends, who all ran away. But Jesus doesn’t let us down; he came back to us and is always with us.
- Jesus’ kindness made other people jealous and angry. But even the very worst they could do didn’t work – Jesus still came back to life. Jesus shows he is more powerful than even death.
- Jesus’ death looked like a failure, but it was actually God’s triumph and victory. Good indeed.
- If a child breaks something, the parent usually pays the cost of the replacement. Just as we broke our relationship with God, so Jesus – like a parent – paid to mend it. He loves us and takes responsibility for us.
- When we do something wrong, we separate ourselves from God. Jesus, by dying, crossed that divide to come to us. He was separated from God, but he made a way for us to get back.
Lastly, I remind myself that, “I don’t know, but let’s try to find out together” is a perfectly acceptable answer for children. I find Good Friday hard – we all do – but I know that children must face it if they are to know God’s love for us all.
Jonathan Brooks is experienced in children’s ministry and works as a primary school teacher.