A governor of the Bank of England once said the ‘the full effects of Christmas will not be known until Easter’. He was referring to the economy, but much the same is true of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are often great opportunities to share the gospel at Christmas time. However, without Easter people will not know of the fullness of the joy and peace that were promised by God the Father, achieved through his Son and applied through his Holy Spirit. Increasingly, the connection between Christmas and Easter is lost. At a time when opportunities for sharing the gospel seem to be declining, Easter Cracked has provided the chance to share Jesus’ finished work with junior school children.
Easter Cracked is based on a Scripture Union programme that is promoted and run by Matt Lewis (CCSW, Christian Council of Schools in Wales). Matt helps local churches to plan and run the programme in ways that suit the local church setting. The programme looks at symbols that surround Easter and explores the importance of the last week of Jesus life and what it means for Christians today, before looking at what a communion service involves.
We’re in the 7th year of running the programme, and are seeing an increasing number of schools visit the church each Easter, with all returning each year. So far we estimate that over 1,200 children have learnt about the true meaning of Easter.
A team of around half a dozen helpers use various methods to share the exciting fulfilment of God’s promises using story-telling, video clips and music. The children have a workbook they use to record what they have learnt about symbols, the eyewitness accounts and communion.
In addition, each year we set a poetry competition. We ask the children to use what they have recorded in their workbooks to help them write a short Easter poem. The winning entry receives an Easter egg and sees their poem published in next year’s workbook.
So what is included in the two-hour programme? As the children enter the church they are confronted by a large display of Easter items, eggs, chicks, bunnies, cards and always a Bible among the colourful display. We explain that whereas Christmas is a well-known Christian celebration Easter is far more important and that we will explore why.
We begin by looking at how important symbols are – using common symbols like recycling. The final symbol is a cross and the children are challenged as to what this means for them and to put their own answers in their workbooks. Answers range for ‘Christian’, ‘chapel’ or ‘church’ to ‘graveyard’!
We are then able to share that the cross can remind us of how when we do things wrong; in maths wrong answers are marked with a cross. As Christians, the cross reminds us how it is the same in our lives when we fail God.
We go on to explain how when we receive a card or a text message — a cross means something very different – it’s a symbol of love. As Christians a cross reminds us that despite the wrong things we do, God still loves us!
Finally, we share that a cross can also remind us of choices we make and how we select a candidate for the school council or in an election. The cross can remind Christians that rather than face God alone with all the wrong things we have done we choose Jesus to represent us through his perfect life and sacrifice.
We now turn to the four accounts of Jesus life, explaining what ‘gospel’ means and how the Gospels were written by men who knew Jesus. or had spent time with those who had. We emphasise the importance they attach to the last week of Jesus’ life and explore why this is the case.
The children then become ‘witnesses’ to the last week of Jesus’ life themselves and explore through music, narrative and video the key events during that last week. We see how the crowds welcome him and recognise him as their Saviour. We look at how Jesus takes the Passover celebration and takes the symbols for himself as an act of remembrance of his forthcoming sacrifice. We look at Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and Jesus’ arrest.
We explore Jesus’ trials by the Pharisees, Pilate and Herod and demonstrate how Jesus is innocent of all charges. We look at the crucifixion, sensitively emphasising that he really died and the soldiers’ recognition of who Jesus really is. His resurrection and appearance to his disciples is shared emphasising that at least two of the Gospel writers were actually there. We also look at his ascension, how he rules today and has promised to return. At each juncture the children write what they consider to be important about what they have ‘witnessed’.
We then return to where we began the program and look at symbols around Easter, explaining what the elements of communion mean. We have a variety of red coloured drinks and different breads – emphasising that these are not special in and of themselves but what they symbolise is most precious to Christians and is only for Christians.
Finally, we close the session with what has often turned out to be the most exciting part of the day. Questions and answers, where the children ask about what they have learnt over the last couple of hours. There are often searching and insightful questions and we have an opportunity to deal with big issues in an honest and Bible-centred way. As well as sharing Bible truths, this session has helped build a high level of trust with the teachers as they listen to how we handle the questions.
A week or so later we call at the schools to collect the poetry entries and award a prize of an Easter egg to the winner whose entry is reproduced in next year’s workbook.
The feedback from the schools has been very encouraging and it remains a huge privilege and responsibility to explain Easter in an age appropriate and accessible way while remaining true to God’s Word. We never presume that this opportunity will always be available, but while God in his mercy provides openings we will seek to honour him and share the good news of Good Friday.
On the back of Easter Cracked we have also been able to support many of the schools in classroom lessons as they seek to teach what Christians believe as part of the curriculum. Opportunities have arisen to look at what the Bible teaches about ‘light’, ‘heroes’, ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ as well as lessons with Year 6 on biblical accounts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We also help Year 6 pupils in their transition to comprehensive school by looking at the importance of ‘friends’, ‘focus’ and ‘faith’ and how Jesus demonstrates these qualities perfectly.
Easter Cracked is a Bible-centred resource that schools have found helpful in teaching children about Christian beliefs. As well as providing an opportunity to naturally share the gospel it has been helpful in building and deepening relationships with local schools.
For more information about Easter Cracked visit www.ccsw.org.uk or email Matt Lewis: firstname.lastname@example.org.