Approaching Holy Week at Home

Thoughts for Families with Younger Children about Holy Week

I shared these thoughts in an email to parents at Eliot Church in preparation for Holy Week:

Carolyn Brown has a wonderful suggestion for you to use at home next week: a family observation of “Jesus Week” complete with simple activities and Bible stories to read together.  Find it here.

A word on Good Friday.  In my personal opinion, it’s not “good.” There’s debate about the origin of the name – it seems to come from a variation of “God’s Friday” or a German term with a meaning closer to Holy Friday. A pastor friend of mine goes so far as to call it Bad Friday. It is certainly a day to be deeply sad about Jesus’ death. But with young children we always want to preview the surprising, amazing Good News of Easter. Easter tells us bad news is never the last news.

If your kids are wrapped up in the sadness of the story, perhaps do something with them to re-enact some of the compassionate parts of the Holy Week story. Mary anointed Jesus with ointment; you could rub their hands with lotion.  Jesus taught the disciples to wash each other’s feet; would your kids wash your hands?

If Easter seems mysterious after the cross, celebrate the mystery. Yes, it is a mystery. It’s amazing. We don’t have to understand it to appreciate it.

This is where I would make (thank you Terry H from Eliot Church!)

If you want to think more about how to talk with your kids about Holy Week, I suggest reading some of Carolyn C. Brown’s work. I like her book, available on Kindle for instant reading, Sharing the Easter Faith with Children. It has age specific suggestions. The following are from her blog and from her book.  (She speaks of going deeper into Good Friday with kids – I would not suggest that for our younger kids! But she has great language for answering questions that might come up.)

Sharing the Good Friday Story with Children 
– notes from Carolyn Brown

Good Friday is often the very last day of the church year when we expect and plan for children in the sanctuary. The story we tell this day is so filled with violence, evil and death which we barely understand ourselves, that we hardly know how to share it with children. But, it is the heart story of the faith. Indeed, it is impossible to jump from the Palm Sunday parade skipping Good Friday and going straight to Easter joy without wondering what the big deal is. When our children walk through the crucifixion story with us, they make sense of the whole Holy Week saga and they are prepared to face the violence and evil that they will surely encounter in their own world.

At first children need to hear the Passion stories with the Easter stories. For preschoolers the first story goes something like, “There were people who were angry with Jesus. They were so angry they killed him. Jesus’ friends were so sad. They cried and cried. But God had a wonderful surprise. On Easter Jesus was alive again. His friends were very, very, surprised and happy!” They really follow the emotions rather than the facts of the story. Every year as the church walks through the story, children add more details. They slowly collect the list of people who contributed to Jesus pain and death. In their adolescence they begin to identify ways they betray and deny God’s love.”

“Especially on Good Friday, children gain more from hearing and pondering the story than from hearing theological explanations of its significance. Sacrifice, mercy, grace, salvation, atonement, etc. are abstract words that very quickly lose them. By exploring the details of the story, they will come to some of the same ideas theological vocabulary attempts to express. ”

“Adult worshipers know that the crucifixion is not the final word. Children, especially those who may be hearing the details for the first time or may have not heard the story for a year, may not. These children are often upset by the thought that “they killed Jesus.” So, clearly point out to them that things looked really sad and hopeless on Friday, but God had a wonderful surprise waiting for Easter. Encourage them to come back on Sunday to hear about that surprise. Even whisper an “alleluia” together or write “alleluia” in small letters in the palm of young hands at the end of the service to remind yourselves that something wonderful is coming.”

One more topic: older children may want to know, why did Jesus die? And younger children may overhear “____ killed Jesus” and ask you if that’s true. There’s a common approach that might work in response.

Again, I quote Carolyn Brown, this time from her book:

“Why Did People Want to Kill Jesus? The first question children ask upon hearing that angry people killed Jesus is “I thought everyone loved Jesus. Why did people want to kill him?” How could the people who welcomed Jesus with a palm parade on Sunday want to kill him on Friday? They need the answer to this question before they can pay much attention to the rest of the Holy Week stories. When one four-year-old asked his assembled class that question, a wise classmate replied, “Because Jesus told them they had to share and they did not want to.” He was on the right track. …Jesus made the religious leaders of Jerusalem very angry and uncomfortable. (Note: The most significant thing about these angry leaders is not that they were Jewish, but that they were religious leaders whose authority and vision were being questioned. To avoid suggesting to children that Jews were/are responsible for killing Jesus, use terms like religious leaders or church leaders. *Reebee adds: and remind children that Jesus was Jewish and deeply committed to the Jewish faith.*)….In summary, Jesus did and said things that angered the religious leaders of his day for some reasons that children can understand. He broke their rules. He “acted out” in the Temple. He associated with unacceptable people. He told the leaders off in public. These are infractions children can understand in the present and which they can grow to understand more fully as they mature.”

Okay parents – this might have been a long email, but – I’ve got to use those books somewhere! Want to talk more? Let me know….

Blessings to you,




Reebee offers two workshops for local congregations and parent groups:

  • Parenting and Christmas: Some Ideas for Progressive Christians
  • Bible 101 for Progressive Christian Families

Both workshops are designed to give parents tools they can immediately use at home to nurture their own faith and the faith of their children.  To schedule a workshop please email rev[dot]reebee[at]gmail[dot]com.