JESUS ISN’T DEAD ANYMORE.
HE IS ALIVE AND ALWAYS WILL BE!
I care so much about helping children get into the Easter story that I wrote a whole book about. In the post for Easter Sunday for Year A I did my best to distill the book into specific suggestions. Start there clicking on Year A - Easter Sunday. Below are a few new general ideas and material related to the texts that are unique to Year B.
Don’t assume children (or anyone else) will notice and understand all the Easter flourishes in today’s sanctuary and liturgy. Before the call to worship, take a moment to look around in happy wonder. Point out the flowers and paraments, briefly telling why they are there. Point out additional instruments and note that the choir has prepared special music. Say the word “alleluia!” Invite people to say it with you. Challenge children to count all the alleluias in worship today promising a treat (hard candy from your pocket) to all who can tell you how many there were as they leave the sanctuary. Point to anything “out of the ordinary” in the order of worship. If you are beginning with a “this is the day…” call to worship, practice it together once urging people to join in with Easter joy. Then, invite children and all worshipers to sing and pray and listen together.
If you have been featuring crosses throughout Lent, today’s cross is a beautiful, golden one. The key message is that on Friday the cross was an ugly, bloody wooden cross on which Jesus was killed. On Sunday Jesus was alive and from that day on crosses were beautiful reminders that God is more powerful than any other power in the universe – even death and that God loves us and forgives us always – even when we don’t deserve it. There are several ways to highlight this message.
U Identify all the crosses in the sanctuary. Ponder their similarities and differences, e.g. the shiny brass cross on the central table, the cross in a stained glass window, the shape of the floorplan, even little crosses painted or carved in the walls or tables. A girl sporting a new cross necklace might point to it. Celebrate their beauty and the amazing story to which they point.
U Bring out all of the crosses of Lent. Review their meanings. Then, point to or bring out the shiny Easter cross. Insist that it is the best of the crosses and even makes all the other crosses possible.
U If you have a free standing brass cross, begin the service with it still covered with a black drape. Recall the cross story on Friday, then announce that the story did not stop there. Jesus is alive! With that pull off the drape and move into an Easter hymn.
U One thing I would not do is offer children wrapped chocolate Easter crosses or cross shaped lollipops. These are increasingly available. To my mind they cheapen this story. The day that changed history cannot be reduced to candy. It is displayed in our best art and architecture and lead us to ponder the story behind it.
I suspect that this text is here today because of the reference to “this mountain.” If you read it, be sure to encourage listeners to listen for the mountain in it and tell them that today the unnamed mountain is the mountain where Jesus was killed on Friday. For the children the other readings of the day have much more power. So, I’d choose the other readings.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
If your sanctuary has a cornerstone with a cross on it, be sure to include that cross in the your discussion of the Easter crosses. Ponder the fact that an Easter cross is what makes your church possible. (This will be easier if you have discussed the cornerstone previously. There is too much going on during and Easter service to take time to introduce cornerstones and explain their significance.)
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
One commentator said that worship planners have 3 choices today: two speeches about the event and one story about the event. He suggested that the story was the best choice.
Several other preacher helps suggested that the liturgy on Easter carries more of the message than any sermon ever could. So rather than unpacking Paul’s list of resurrection appearances which are unfamiliar to children (and lots of other worshipers), focus on the phrases about Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed. Print the entire creed for worshipers. Before calling the congregation to read it together, point out the phrases about Jesus. Take time to recall details of each story possibly illustrating each phrase with a picture, e.g. a nativity for “born of the virgin Mary.” Then, invite worshipers to say the creed together.
Gospel: John 20:1-18
Because Mark’s account is so very short and because John’s account of Mary Magdalene offers children a simple, emotional story, I’d go with it. Go to Year A - Easter Sunday for ideas.
Because the John account is so much richer for worshipers of all ages, I’d tend to go with it. If you do read Mark’s account….
Help the children pay attention to the story. Bring a Bible, maybe the big Bible, forward. Announce that today we read the most important story in the whole Bible. Set the story context in words children will hear.
On Friday Jesus was whipped and then killed. It was a horrible, sad, bloody day. Jesus’ friends could hardly believe what happened. They could hardly breathe. Friday evening Joseph bravely claimed Jesus’ dead body. He and a few of the women quickly wrapped the body in a sheet and put it in a cave tomb. There was a law that you couldn’t tend or even touch a dead body on the Sabbath. So, everyone went home to hide and cry and try to figure out what happened. The women gathered supplies to wash Jesus’ body and some good smelling spices to wrap into the sheet when they rewrapped it. That is where our story begins. Listen.
Then read the story from the Bible there. Close the book, maybe even hugging it, and go straight into the congregational response to scripture.
Older children are fascinated by the “they told no one” original ending and the shorter and longer additional endings. It would be possible to have different readers read the two endings with the preacher pondering between the readings why each was added and why the original couldn’t be left as it was. It would also be possible to have worshipers find Mark 16 and the different endings in their Bibles.
$ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $
I’m reprinting this reminder from Year A because it is so important and so easily lost in all the other preparations for Easter. Stop everything right now. Make whatever contacts are needed to be sure the Easter nurseries are being as thoughtfully prepared as the sanctuary.
A word about Easter nurseries: Many parents who have not brought their infants and toddlers to the church nursery during the winter out of fear of catching the bugs other children bring, will decide to try it on Easter. If their experience is a good one, they will come back. If not, they may disappear, some for a very long time. So, it is important to be sure the Easter nursery is spotlessly clean, well staffed, and ready to receive the children. If it is also decorated with an Easter lily and a picture of Jesus, there is quiet Easter music playing in the background, and families are greeted with “Happy Easter,” parents assume that more is going on than warehousing children so their parents can worship. Find more directions and resources to use with preschool children who are not in the sanctuary for worship in Sharing the Easter Faith With Children.