by Beryl Aschenberg, Director of Religious Education
One of the many facets of Unitarian Universalism that I appreciate is that we have such a great deal of theological diversity, and yet we are called together in love and support as we figure out our ways of being present in the world. That said, I have a confession to make. When it comes to Easter, I’m pretty lighthearted. I am more of a “Flowers that bloom in the spring, TRA LA!” type of person, than one who dwells on the weightier holiday themes of resurrection and salvation. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t recognize the opportunities for transformation that spring provides both to the earth and to my own spiritual /emotional dormancy after the shortened daylight hours and winter cold. Easter is my symbolic turning point, the embodiment of life and hope in pastel colors of new growth. And it makes me a bit giddy.
Over the years, I’ve known many a Unitarian Universalist parent to grapple with ways to address their children’s curiosity about Easter. Even the youngest children seem to hear details of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and naturally want to know more. I’ll get to that. But first I want to note that the celebration of Easter is older than Christianity; it reaches far deeper into our human heritage. The word Easter comes from the word “Eostre”, the Goddess of Spring. The oldest festivities were times set apart to rejoice in the return of sunshine, warmth, and new life after the icy hold of winter.
Easter customs and themes have come to us from many cultures. The Dutch gave us the Easter Bunny. The egg represented new life to the Egyptians even before the time of Moses, and came to North America via Russia, the Ukraine, and Germany. The tradition of wearing new clothes may have derived from the Jewish celebration of Passover (which begins this year on the evening of April 19.) And while Passover is primarily a celebration of freedom, it also has themes of rebirth in its story of liberation from slavery. The Passover Seder itself is a tool, each item on the plate a reminder of a piece of that story: heartache, bitterness, sweetness, and renewal. How appropriate to this season when nature works so hard to push its way back into life.
As for the Christian story of Jesus and rolling away the stone, one way of explaining it to children is as a symbol of rebirth. Or as Rev. Jane Rzepka, former Senior Minister of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship, wrote, “We know that when something as wonderful as the message of Jesus comes along, in real life it does not die forever. The message comes back to life. We know that when goodness, and righteousness, and love emerge in the midst of humanity, they continue to rise up and come back to us. We know that hope does not die. Hope comes back to life.”
Sacred stories offer an opportunity to take a deep dive into our own theology. For me, Easter is a reminder that life is a mystery. Blossoming bulbs and newborn babies may not be miracles, per se, but they still can convey awe and wonder as they grow in beautiful intricacy (notes this witness to the bright beginnings recently come in the form of my new grandson!) In my experience, celebrating Easter is a way of leaning in to hope; of letting the color of the world wash over me as I look out with fresh eyes. I invite you to enter into this season with curiosity and an open heart; share in the traditions, find what meaning you can, and develop rituals that help you (and your children) come more fully alive.
In Faith, With Love,
TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT EASTER
Here are some suggestions for Unitarian Universalist parents who might be wondering how to address the Christian perspective of Easter with their children:
- Ask your children what they KNOW about the Crucifixion stories and listen to what they say.
- Ask your children what they THINK about the Crucifixion stories and listen to what they say.
- If appropriate, let your children know that the Crucifixion and Resurrection stories are very important to some Christians and not important to some Christians.
- Be ready to answer questions about aspects of the story that don’t make sense from a UU perspective like “Why do folks call the day Jesus was killed ‘Good Friday’? What is ‘good’ about that?”
- Share your own thoughts about Easter with your child. What do you find meaningful?
- Be open to questions children may have about the man called Jesus—and how other families may perceive him differently than their family does.
EASTER PICTURE BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHILDREN:
- Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher by Lynn Tuttle Gunney
- Easter by Gail Gibbons
- The Birds’ Gift, by Eric A. Kimmell
If you’d like to share the Easter story with your children in a Unitarian Universalist context, consider this version written by Rev. Sophia Lyon Fahs, a revolutionary religions educator from the first part of the 20th century. http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/signs/session8/sessionplan/stories/287814.shtml/