Easter has always been a holiday I’ve struggled with.
Not because I don’t deeply appreciate what it’s all about — it is perhaps the most important day we celebrate each year.
But I can’t seem to figure out how to incorporate the beauty of the life of Jesus Christ and his resurrection with the excitement and anticipation of the Easter bunny. I have never wanted Easter to be about candy and collecting eggs, but it seems no matter how hard I’ve tried in the past — spiritually themed baskets, re-enacting the last week of the Savior’s life — I couldn’t get the message through to my boys.
That is, until now.
Emily Belle Freeman is a friend of mine, and one of the most inspirational women I know. She has a beautiful blog at dailyclosertochirst.com, where she shares her thoughts and feelings about all things good, uplifting and inspirational, and she always points back to the Savior. It was just recently when I was browsing around her page that I came across her Easter celebration traditions. I saw a banner hanging from a mantel that had pictures of important people in the Savior’s life and lessons we could learn from them. Each week during “Easter month” (which is March this year), she suggests two activities that pertain to the people and stories pictured on the banner.
“More than anything I want the celebration of Easter to be as important to my family as Christmas is,” she writes in her blog post. “For years it was a weekend celebration for us. Then, for a time, we celebrated Holy Week. But it wasn’t enough. I longed for the preparation of the heart that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the counting down the days, the remembering the reason for the season, the hope and joy and anticipation that fills my heart in December. I wanted all of that to somehow find its way into this holy season. I wanted my kids to know the stories of Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and Thomas as well as they knew the shepherds, the wise men and the angels.
“So I began to study all of the stories of the most important people that filled the last moments in the life of Jesus. The people who he loved. The people who are a part of the story of Easter.”
I immediately felt this was the answer to my prayer. This was one way I could help my boys understand and be excited about the true meaning of Easter.
“In the Church, the goal of gospel teaching is not to pour information into the minds of God’s children. It is not to show how much the parent, teacher, or missionary knows. Nor is it merely to increase knowledge about the Savior and His Church,” wrote LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in “Learn of Me” in the March 2016 Ensign. “The aim is to inspire individuals to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles. The objective is to develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to become converted to His gospel.”
I wanted my children to think about and feel something special this Easter season so they could begin to build a stronger testimony, which would help them live and be converted to the gospel.
Week 1, we started with the story of Lazarus.
We went to the store and purchased some potting soil and red wheat berries, as Freeman suggested. Then we headed to the copiers and printed off the banner on sturdy glossy paper, and strung brown twine through the top.
Interestingly enough, a week before, we had been given a DVD with an animated version of the story of Lazarus. I showed it to my boys soon after, and they had mixed feelings about the film.
“It was sad,” my 5-year-old said.
So instead of reshowing the cartoon, I went on LDS.org and found the “people” version of the story in the Bible Videos. After baths and jammies, we headed downstairs. I said a silent prayer that the Spirit would be present as we started this journey.
Two minutes later, the boys were fighting over who got the biggest pillow to sit on.
“Sit down!” I bellowed. And in that instant, I almost gave up. Maybe they’re just too young, I thought. Maybe they just aren’t ready. Maybe this is too “grown up.” They probably won’t get it.
But something inside me decided to push those thoughts aside and continue on.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” I said to three wide-eyed boys. “That’s not the way I wanted to start. Let’s try this again.”
I pushed play, and as soon as the short clip started, all three boys fell silent. In fact, they were so transfixed, I turned the iPad around so I could watch, too.
Even though the actors spoke with a slight accent and in scripture, my boys — even my 3-year-old — caught every word.
“Mom!” he said. “Jesus said bo-leeve? Just bo-leeve?”
“That’s right,” I said. “He told them to believe.”
We quietly talked about what we learned, how Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the light of the world. We talked about how even when life seems darkest, Jesus Christ can give us hope of new life, everlasting life, eternal life. We talked about having faith in him and not giving up when we don’t feel like we are receiving answers to prayers, and how sometimes greater blessings and miracles await us, as it was for Mary and Martha with their brother Lazarus.
We poured our dark soil into little plastic cups and spread our red wheat berries over the top, then covered them with another thin layer of soil. In three or four days, the seeds would begin to sprout.
“We must remember that ours is a God of miracles. Most often the healing, the deliverance, will come in unexpected ways — that is the way of the Lord," writes Freeman. “Always, he is the means of bringing hope. The account of Lazarus reminds us of the truth that hope can come forth unexpectedly out of dark places.”
The next morning, we went downstairs for breakfast. My 3-year-old asked to watch the “Lazarus music” again. He watched it three times, each time looking up during the clip and saying, “Mom, Jesus loves me soooo much. Mom, is that a cover on Lazarus’ face? Is he going to take it off? Mom, they so sad?”
After answering him, I asked a question of my own: “Briggs, do you know who made Lazarus come alive again?”
“The Lord,” he responded immediately.
My heart filled with wonder as I realized the teachings and truths of this gospel are not “over their heads.” They were ready to listen and learn. They did get it. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is so simple a child can grasp it.
“Boston,” I said, getting out the little bowls and cups for breakfast. “Did you know that Briggs just watched the movie about Lazarus for the third time? He loved seeing how Jesus brought him back to life.”
“Jesus is, like, the coolest man ever!” he exclaimed.
I laughed. For a split second, I wondered if “cool” was an appropriate word for the Son of God. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that was a very acceptable feeling for my son to have. I want him to look up to Jesus Christ and think he is “cool.” I want him to want to be like him, to try and follow his example. If he has any heroes in this life who he thinks are “cool,” I want the Savior to be one of them.
“Yes, Jesus is cool,” I said. “Jesus is awesome.”
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (see Matthew 18:3).
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.