Holy Week Ideas, Part III: Good Friday

Today, a few questions to guide your thinking:

Who are the children that we might see on Good Friday?

Are these children from the regular congregation, or visitors, or a mixture? How much will they know of the story? What will they know about Jesus apart from his birth at Christmas and his death?

Will they be back for Easter Sunday?

At my last parish, when Good Friday fell the day after school broke up, we had several families come to our Children’s Stations of the Cross.

“See you on Sunday!” I called as they were leaving.

“Oh, no, we’re off on holiday tomorrow – we just came to this before we left,” they replied.

Our service had ended with Jesus dead in the tomb, waiting, suspended, for the last chapter of the story on Sunday morning – and these families were going to miss it.  If your children may not be back for Sunday – incomprehensible as it seems to miss that of all days – maybe it’s worth including, at the end of the service, the reassurance that the story doesn’t end here. Don’t do a full-fledged celebration of Easter, but perhaps allow them to peek behind the curtain and see a preview of what comes next.

And then make sure you celebrate the whole season of Easter, all 50 days, so they can join in the celebration of the resurrection when they come back from wherever they are on Easter morning.

(Note: if you have very emotionally sensitive children, especially young ones, you may also want to include some reassurance of the resurrection at the end – I’ve had children burst into tears when Jesus died, and to leave them in that state for two days feels cruel. The disciples didn’t know how it ended, but we do. Again – don’t celebrate – but promise that this isn’t the end.)

What will happen for them between now and Sunday?

If they are likely to be back on Sunday morning, what will happen for them between now and then? Will Saturday be a day of quiet waiting, or of celebrating? Will any of them be at the Vigil?  How will they mark the transition from death to life – will there be middle-of-the-night mystery, or will they show up on Sunday morning and find the resurrection a fait accompli?  What will those different experiences be like, and does this change how you approach your Good Friday service in any way?

Where are their parents?

Are you providing children’s programmes during an adult service, or are you doing a family service? If the children are away from their parents, what experiences, if any, will they have in common with their parents from today?  Can you and the adult worship leaders work together to provide some links for families to carry on observing the day at home – maybe a take-home activity to do together, or some talking points?

How do they experience the space?

Are they in a church or a programme room? What mood does the space set? Is it relaxed and informal – if so, how do you get the awe and wonder of today’s mystery?  Is it formal and dignified – if so, how do you encourage children to relax enough to fully participate?  Where is the light and darkness in the space? Where is the noise and the silence?

What questions am I likely to get?

It’s impossible to prepare for every question that something as raw and primal as Good Friday might bring up, but you may be called upon to address such questions as “why did God let Jesus die?” “why won’t God raise my nan if he can raise Jesus?” “why are there still cruel things like Syria if Jesus has made it all okay?” and so on.  It might help to spend some time in prayer, considering how to address these issues.

It may also help to think a bit about your own theology of what Good Friday means.

The idea of Jesus dying to satisfy the wrath of a vengeful God has become very ingrained in many churches – so much that many people don’t know there are other theories. But this theology is, for many people, deeply troubling, and doesn’t fit with the characterisation of a faithful God who calls his people time and time again, who keeps his covenants with them.  It might be helpful to consider re-framing the event as Jesus dying not to satisfy God’s bloodlust but to do battle with death itself.  The greatest enemy is death, and this is the Good News – not that God is no longer angry with us, but that death itself no longer holds any power over us.

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Holy Week Ideas, Part II: Maundy Thursday

There are many opportunities for child-friendly multi-sensory worship in this service, so I’m just going to do a top ten list! Don’t try to do all of these, but maybe let 1 or 2 spark your imagination:

  1. If you’re in a school, baby and toddler group, or other setting where you have some time, the children can make bread. There are lots of unleavened bread recipes on the internet – even very young children can help add ingredients, stir, and shape the dough. Some unleavened bread recipes bakes in as little as 15 minutes – while it bakes, you can tell the story, do some singing and prayers, and finish by eating the bread you’ve baked.
  2. Start with a bring and share dinner, replicating, to some extent, the Last Supper.  While Passover celebrations in Jesus’s time would have been very different from modern ones (and there’s some debate as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal), if you ask people to bring a dish based around lamb, bread, or grape juice, you have a way in to telling the Passover story, connecting it symbolically to the Last Supper, and affirming the central roles played by these foods in both stories.
  3. Why not have the congregation was each other’s feet, instead of having the priest do it all? This gives children a chance to serve as well as be served, reinforces that we all serve one another, and allows them a more hands-on experience with water and with care-giving touch.
  4. If possible, include at least a few children in helping with stripping the altar.
  5. Have prayer stations around the church related to the Maundy Thursday story – plants to touch and smell (the garden of Gethsemane), bread and grape juice (the Eucharist), silver coins, and nails (Judas’s betrayal and the crucifixion).  Write a short reflection or prayer for people to read or use as they go from station to station.
  6. If your Eucharist service will have children present, and they don’t receive communion, what other opportunities will there be for them to engage with the centrality of the Last Supper story to this particular Eucharist? How can you help them feel less left out?  Maybe you can have a bread tasting table as people arrive, with bread from different parts of the world – naan, brioche, matzoh, scones, etc.
  7. If you have a separate children’s event for Maundy Thursday, don’t lose the drama of the adult service, with its transition from light to darkness. This is a really potent way for children to experience Holy Week – light to darkness and back to even greater light. Don’t shy away.
  8. If you have music during the stripping of the altar or processions, make it child-friendly – Taize chants are very good for this, and this one is particularly appropriate for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
  9. Display, around the church, a variety of artists’ interpretations of the Last Supper and Jesus’s arrest in Gethsemane. Invite the congregation to walk around and look at them (if your congregation isn’t the “get out and walk around” type, you can provide copies of the images in their service sheets or on screens) and reflect on  the different feelings created by the different images. Provide blank paper and pencils/markers for children to draw their own version of the story during the service.
  10. Send your congregation on a treasure hunt – this works best as a gathering activity or as part of an event that’s not the main Eucharist. Give them a piece of paper labelled in four parts with BREAD, WINE/CUP, WHEAT, GRAPES, and see how many times they can find these images within your church – in pictures, stained glass windows, memorials, carvings, etc.  In many, though not all, churches, there will be lots, which provides a way in for exploring the centrality of the Eucharist. (You can add “LAMB” if you want to include the image of the sacrifice whose blood saves the people – see previous note on the connection with Exodus!)

Holy Week Ideas, Part I: Palm Sunday

palm-sundayProcession:

If you have a live donkey, encourage children to invite friends to come to Palm Sunday.  The donkey can be a real selling point, and allow children who might otherwise be shy a way in to asking friends to church.

If you don’t have a live donkey, spend your children’s time this Sunday making a banner, or donkey puppets, or posters (which you can then laminate and put on sticks to make placards) or something else, for children to carry or use in the procession.

Buy real palms, not just palm crosses.  The fun of waving around big branches adds a real element of participation and excitement to this festival.  And they’re not that expensive.  If you have a large church garden, or parishioners with large gardens, you could ask people to bring in a branch or two from whatever shrubs or small trees they have, or provide branches from the church garden.

 

Storytelling:

The Passion reading is very dramatic, but many churches stick to the traditional way of reading it – a few adults standing in a line at the front.

With an hour’s rehearsal, the adults can dramatise it – act it out, use simple costume pieces – or with a bit more time, you could include children.

Include the congregation as the crowd and the soldiers. The drama of going, in half an hour, from shouting “hosanna!” to shouting “crucify him!” is incredibly powerful, and underlines the culpability of all of us in the death of Jesus. It wasn’t a few specific people in a faraway time who bear the guilt of his death – it’s the sin we all share.

 

Music:

Many churches will be singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour” – the chorus is easy to learn, and allows children to participate more fully in the procession. Take some time the week before, or a few minutes at the start of your procession, to teach the chorus so children can sing it with the rest of the congregation.

 

Holy-Week-Box-all-contents-inside-300x300Take-home:

Send home materials for the Holy Week Box, a wonderful way of extending children’s exploration of the story at home throughout the week.

Mothering Sunday

motheringsundayOkay, so this is a bit late, but if you’re still struggling for ideas for Mothering Sunday, here are a few:

  1. The Old Testament story (if you’re using Exodus) easily lends itself to being acted out, with no rehearsal needed.  Grab a baby doll, a basket, some blue fabric to be the river, and a crown for Pharaoh’s daughter, and ask for volunteers from the congregation to bring it to life as you read it.  Be careful that you don’t play it for laughs, though – this is a serious story of a mother’s sacrifice, that led ultimately to the liberation of God’s people.
  2. Pass out heart-shaped paper to every member of the congregation as they come in. During the prayer time, ask them to reflect on all the women who have played a mother’s role in their life, and write their names down. Young children can draw a picture.  Collect these hearts and display them somewhere in the church. Bless them, and the women whose names are on them.
  3. Don’t forget to pray for: adoptive mothers, foster mothers, stepmothers, godmothers, grandmothers, and all those who play a mother’s role in a child’s life.  Don’t forget people who have suffered from abusive mothers, for whom the celebration of motherhood may feel like an affront.  Don’t forget those whose mothers have died, and who are grieving.  Don’t forget those women struggling with infertility, who long to be mothers and feel left out and isolated.  Don’t forget women whose children have died, for whom Mother’s Day is another reminder of their loss.  Be pastoral.
  4. Think about the tradition of “Mother Church.”  This can provide the start for a great talk, or for wondering together – in what ways is the church like a mother?  How do we all mother each other?  How can we do it better?  How can we mother our community?