This year I celebrated Good Friday twice again: at 11:00 a.m. with children and at 3:00 p.m. classically. In direct comparison, it becomes abundantly clear to me why I love to talk about God with children.
We did pretty much the same thing at 11:00 a.m. that is in the traditional liturgy on Good Friday: we read the Passion, venerated the cross, and prayed the great intercessions. In addition, there were a few prayers, songs, and instead of the homily, my catechesis. Of course, I rewrote all the texts so that the children could understand them. We read the Passion with divided roles, so that the children would also understand what was actually happening. When "all the people" get into an uproar and cry out "crucify", then you also have to hear that. If it's read by one person, it's way too abstract. Our people were quite lively and chanted (four of them) with quite convincing volume: "Away with him! On the cross with him! Away with him! To the cross with him!"
On the other hand, I don't tell the children in detail what that means. The Bible describes the torture of Jesus quite drastically, so children don't need to hear that yet. Much more important are feelings and relationships: why does Peter deny his friend? Out of fear of the Romans. Why does Pilate condemn an innocent man? Out of fear of the Jews.
And finally, the question: why did Jesus have to die at all? Why this accusation, and why didn't he run away?
Adults have answers to such questions that seem to me like rice crackers: you think you have something neat in your hand, you bite into it - and you don't get full. "Jesus died for our sins." What does that mean, "He was beaten for our crimes." Excuse me? In reality, of course, this is "brown bread," that is, something you have to meditate on and chew through for a long time until it opens up. But if I don't have the time to meditate right now, they remain platitudes, and I bob along on the surface of theological half-knowledge.
Of course, this is not possible with children. In order to explain Good Friday to them, I have to "elementarize": break the theology down to the elements that are so essential that even children can understand them. And it is precisely through this that the message often really grabs me.
Why was Jesus accused? For blasphemy. He preached a loving and merciful God, which was threatening to the religious leaders. When people are no longer afraid of God, the priests cannot control them as well. Jesus was ultimately accused because he told us not to be afraid of God. He did not deviate from this when things got dicey. If he had run away, the message would not have spread. But all people should know that God loves them. And because he persevered for us, we now know that even when things are bad for us, Jesus is always with us. He never abandons us.
That is actually already everything. But still very important: At Easter comes the good end of the story. God is stronger than death. But this is only a spoiler.
By the way, for the veneration of the cross we put hearts on the cross. Jesus wants to be our friend, we want to thank him for that and show him that we love him too. This is a children's phrase, but the adults also put their hearts on the cross. They seem to have understood the message as well.