I remember very clearly the first time I thought about this question. It was my first year of college and a group of us were eating dinner in one of the school cafeterias. The conversation turned to the topic of figures like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, and whether or not children should be taught about these traditions. Then someone said that she thought that people should teach their children about the Easter bunny rather than about the resurrection, because the the crucifixion and resurrection narratives were just too confusing for little kids to understand. It's just easier to think about an Easter bunny and Easter eggs. Most of the table verbally agreed or nodded in assent.
I think this position is similar to the candy that fills so many Easter baskets around this time of year. It is easily and rapidly consumed, but leaves you with a sick feeling and a nauseated stomach. A steady diet of only these sweet niceties will leave your spiritual body racked by malnutrition and your ability to speak spiritual truths hampered by a mouthful of rotted, diseased teeth.
Russel Moore writes about a Sunday School curriculum for preschoolers that has omitted the resurrection narratives from the week of Easter Sunday. The publishers shared my friends' sentiment about the nature of the Easter story. They even have an "alternative ending" to a simplified Easter story for the younger children. Moore reminds us that the Gospel is indeed disturbing, but not just for children:
Peter was no preschooler, but he was disturbed. Matthew tells us that he began to rebuke Jesus. His cognitive development was not yet to the point where he could understand such things. This will never happen, Peter said. He loved Jesus. He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to stand with Jesus. He just didn't want the Jesus of the cross or the empty tomb. Jesus didn't call this shallow theology. He didn't call it inadequate teaching. He called it Satan (Matt 16:23).
Our children need to hear the Gospel. They need to see Jesus. That's graphic, sure. It's confusing, of course. And not just for kids. But it is the only message that saves. It's the only message that prepares one for salvation. It is, as Paul says, that which is "of first importance," the message he received from Jesus Himself (1 Cor 15:3-4).
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel. That's the first word. If we cannot speak of that, we would be better off not speaking of Jesus at all, rather than presenting another Christ, one who meditates but does not mediate, who counsels but is not crucified, who is accessible but not triumphant over sin and death.
The apostle Paul told us the word of the cross would be folly to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). He didn't warn us that it would sometimes also be folly to those who are publishing. No matter. It is still the power of God
This Easter, preach the Gospel... to the senior citizens, to the middle-aged, to the young adults, to the teenagers, to the seekers, to the hardened unbelievers, to the whole world. And, yes, preach the Gospel to the preschoolers.
I'm not saying it won't be scary. The Gospel will disturb the children. And, if you understand it, it will disturb you too.