From a Child's Point of View
First Reading: Acts 8:26-40. Some older children will recognize Ethiopia as a modern country. Others will need to have this pointed out. (Identifying Ethiopia on a globe or map enhances everyone's sense of its reality.) In any case, Ethiopia seems as far away and foreign to children today as it did to Luke. So they can appreciate Luke's point that God sent Jesus not just for people "like us," but for people as far away and as different as the Ethiopians. By sending Philip to tell the Ethiopian about Jesus and to baptize him, God further insisted that people of all nations and races be included in the church.
Psalm: Psalm 22:25-31. This is a complex passage filled with difficult poetic images. Children are more likely to catch occasional phrases that describe people who should praise God than they are to hear the whole text. The New Jerusalem Bible offers the most, though not completely, satisfactory translation for children.
Epistle: 1 John 4:7-21. Worshipers of all ages have the same problem with this passage. It overwhelms us with good one-liners about God and love, all of which are true and important, but we need to pick each one up and examine it alone. Some speak more powerfully than others to children.
"Let us love one another because love comes from God" speaks more clearly to literal thinkers than does "God is love." The latter associates a "person" with an activity or feeling. The former suggests an activity that God inspires and endorses.
"Those who say they love God but hate their brothers and sisters are liars" and "Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters" are related to one of children's daily concerns. They need to hear that this applies both to our brothers and sisters at home and to all our brothers and sisters in God's worldwide family. They also need to be reminded that love describes a way we treat people, not just how we feel about them. We can treat with respect even people we do not like or admire.
Gospel: John 15:1-8. Urban children, except those with gardening parents, have little experience with the process and purpose of pruning. It will need to be explained, and then its relation to the way God works in and through us must also be explained. (That's a lot of explaining!)
Provide specific examples of what it means for a person to be pruned. Bad habits can be cut out. The way we spend our time can be changed for example, we can watch less TV so that there is time for more stimulating and giving activities. We can learn something new that will change the way we do things (a good reason to go to church school).
Speak of the Ethiopian official, to avoid dealing with the definition of a eunuch. Or define a eunuch as a man who had an operation so that he would never have children. Point out that often eunuchs were the only men allowed to serve queens. Still, few men chose to become eunuchs, even in order to obtain the high office of the Ethiopian Philip met. So the Ethiopian probably had had an unhappy life and knew what Isaiah was talking about when he wrote of being humiliated and denied justice.
Abide is not a commonly used word today, especially among children. The New Jerusalem Bible's translation of today's Gospel does not use the word at all. If you use it, define it as staying close to, and provide lots of specific examples babies must abide with their parents to survive; dedicated students may abide with or "shadow" their teachers in order to learn everything they can from them; Christians abide in their church in order to grow as a disciples. Some children will have heard the exclamation, "I can't abide him!"
Children often define love in terms of sexual passion or drippy sentimentality. Be sure they know that John is talking about caring about people and being ready to give up what you want so that others can have what they need.
Let the Children Sing
For children, "Come Christians Join to Sing," with all its Alleluias, is the best hymn for the latter part of the Easter season.
Invite a children's choir or class to present, as an anthem, one of the many songs about love from its Bible school and church camp repertoire. "We Love Because God First Loved Us" and "Love, Love, Love" are two that are generally well known. "For the Beauty of the Earth" is one of the easier hymnbook hymns that list the ways God loves us.
Many new hymnals intentionally include hymns from other cultures, and even other languages, to celebrate the worldwide Christian family. Sing one of them to celebrate Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian. The simple words and melody of "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love," a Ghanian hymn, make it a particularly good choice.
Children have trouble with some of the traditional hymns about God's presence. "Abide with Me" is filled with impossible poetic images. Though the language of "I Need Thee Every Hour" is certainly child-accessible, the melody and passion with which some adults sing it can lead many children to sing it overdramatically, through giggles.
The Liturgical Child
1. Feature Ethiopia in your worship center. Display a map or globe with Ethiopia highlighted. Hang a banner or other art by Ethiopian artists. Display flowers similar to those that bloom in Ethiopia.
2. Be ready to tell worshipers about your denomination's connection to the church in Ethiopia. Pray specifically for the church in Ethiopia and for the people of Ethiopia in general. As I write, Ethiopians face both famine and war.
Another prayerful response to the story of the Ethiopian is to pray not only for Ethiopians, but for people all over the world. Pray your way around the globe, noting specifically the joys and needs of national and ethnic groups. To participate more fully, the congregation can respond to each prayer, "Lord, hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters."
3. To keep the Easter Alleluias going, turn the psalm into a praise litany. During the reading, the congregation says, "Alleluia!" after each of the following verses: 25, 26, 28, 29a, 29b, and 31 (based on the versification of The New Jerusalem Bible).
1. Display prominently a large potted plant that has been allowed to grow profusely. During the sermon, demonstrate, or ask a gardener in your congregation to demonstrate, while you describe the pruning of this plant. Work in the order of the verses of the Gospel text. The result should be an attractive plant that will grace rather than disgrace the chancel.
2. When churches welcome refugee families, it is often the children on both sides who form the quickest, strongest bridges. Because children can play and work together with few words, refugee children often learn American ways by mimicking American children, and then they teach their parents. Children also learn new languages more readily than most adults. If the story of Philip and the Ethiopian leads you to speak of refugee resettlement, be sure to include stories about the ways children have helped. Point out to children that because they can do what adults cannot, they have special responsibilities in reaching out to "foreigners."