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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If possible, include at least a few children in helping with stripping the altar.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)