I don't know how to explain Easter to my children—Penny, 5, and William, 2. I've tried two approaches.
I've talked about it directly: "Some people killed Jesus and he died and God made him alive again."
"What does died mean?" William asked.
I tried to explain death as something that takes people away forever.
"Where is Jesus now?" Penny asked.
"Jesus is in heaven and all around us," I said.
"But where is Jesus now?"
Then Penny went to Sunday school last week, where her teachers reenacted the Passion of Jesus. I was sitting in church when, halfway through the sermon, one of the teachers brought Penny to me. She sat by my side, coloring, for the rest of the service. Her teacher later explained that when Penny had seen Jesus nailed to the cross, she stood to leave.
I asked Penny later, "What happened in Sunday school? Did you learn something about Jesus?"
Without looking at me she said, "He died. I needed to see you, Mom."
"Do you know what happened when he died?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
The direct route didn't get us far.
I've also tried the indirect approach: "Do you know what Easter is all about?" I asked William.
His eyes lit up. "Bunnies!"
"Well, kind of."
I understood his confusion. He came home from preschool with Easter eggs. A man at the coffee shop gave him a chocolate bunny. And we have an "Easter tree" on our kitchen table, with forsythia in bloom and painted wooden eggs dangling from the branches.
I thought maybe I could explain Easter using springtime symbols, and we could talk about death and rebirth, about caterpillars and butterflies or chicks hatching or crocuses in bloom.
But the analogies fall apart quickly. First, nothing in the natural world is brought from death to life. What's dead stays dead. Furthermore, suggesting that the Cross and the Empty Tomb are just like the daffodils threatens to cheapen our faith and hope in Christ.
One reason I have trouble explaining Easter to my children is that I have trouble explaining it to myself. Even the New Testament writers couldn't find adequate words or images to explain what happened that weekend in Jerusalem. While the facts remain easy—Jesus died on the cross, and God raised him from the dead—understanding the significance of those facts remains a challenge.
Again and again, New Testament writers describe the impact of Jesus' death and resurrection as a "mystery." In Paul's long defense of the Resurrection's reality, he concludes: "Let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). In Ephesians, we read of the "mystery of God's will" in reconciling all things through Christ (Ephesians 1:9) and "the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19). In Colossians 1:27, we read that the "mystery" is "Christ in you, the hope of glory."