Worship for Kids: Palm/Passion Sunday 2016

February 1st, 2016

In choosing whether to celebrate Palm or Passion Sunday, give special consideration to children. Often children are rushed from the palm processional to the Easter sunrise. Adults hesitate to explore with them the violent Passion events. Many congregations neither expect nor plan for children to participate in Holy Thursday or Good Friday worship. Consequently, because they have not shared in the pain of the betrayals and the crucifixion, children are unable to experience fully the Easter joy. Instead of protecting children from the darkness of the Passion, we diminish the joy of resurrection. So if children will not worship with the Passion story during the week, you would do well to celebrate Passion rather than Palm Sunday.

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel (Palm): Luke 19:28-40). Luke's account of the triumphal entry mentions neither children, palm branches, nor the word Hosanna. The differences in this account and the other Gospel accounts are instructive for careful Bible students. Unfortunately, traditional Palm Sunday hymns include what Luke does not mention, and most worshipers, whether young or old, will "hear" these things in Luke's account anyway. Since there is little for children to gain in recognizing these differences, it is probably best to celebrate the story of the "combined account" of the Gospels.

The key theme in both Luke's account and the "combined account" is that Jesus is King. Many recent theologians, especially feminists and those in the third world, rightly point to problems in this authoritarian picture of our relationship with Jesus. But children live in a world in which people constantly, and of necessity, tell them what to do and how to do it. A king or teacher or parent is needed for the present. In fairy tales and other children's literature, the king (or queen) is the one who has the right to give the orders, to tell everyone else what to do. This person, like a parent or teacher, is judged bad or good only by the way he or she chooses to use that power.

So the key point of this set of texts is that Jesus, who could have demanded his right to be served by his subjects because he was and is King, chose instead to die for the people he ruled. It is a powerful description of God's love, and a challenging description of how we should treat those we lead when we are the oldest in the group, the patrol leader, the team captain, the class president, and so on.

Gospel (Passion): Luke 22:14–23:56 or 23:1-49. Older elementary school children need basic facts about crucifixion. One fifth-grader, after a very detailed discussion of Roman whips and nails, observed, "The movie I see every year at Aunt Ruth's kind of jumps from Jesus carrying his cross up the hill to the tomb on Easter. I always figured that Jesus was so weak that carrying that cross up the hill had killed him. But he was quite a man to stand all that stuff, wasn't he?" So the gory details do make an important difference.

The betrayal by Judas, Peter's three denials, and the flight of the other disciples are personal injuries that all children can appreciate. The loyalty of friends, especially best friends like Peter, is highly valued. Most children have experienced painful betrayals by friends. Many have been embarrassed or hurt when a friend told a secret (as Judas told where to find Jesus). Most childrenhave known the disappointment when a friend broke a promise (like Peter's boast that he would stick by Jesus always). Although their experiences are minor compared to those Jesus experienced, the pain is similar enough to be meaningful to the children.

Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11. The language of this hymn is complicated for children to follow. But its central message speaks clearly to the childhood concern that "I not miss out on anything that is rightfully mine." Often this concern is presented as a demand for justice or fairness, but behind this demand is a drive to get "my share of the goodies." Therefore, the fact that Jesus refused to insist on what was rightfully his is significant. Without getting tangled in how Jesus preexisted with and in God, children can recognize that Jesus should have been treated royally and given the best of everything. Instead, he spent all his time taking care of others.

He healed people, even when it got him into trouble. He made friends with people others ignored or treated badly even when this embarrassed important people. He argued with leaders who claimed that God loved only people who did what the leaders told them to do; Jesus said that God loved everyone. Finally, when he had to choose between being killed and changing his loving ways, he chose to keep on loving. God then raised Jesus from death, made him more powerful, and gave him greater fame than any earthly king ever had.

There are two points in this passage for children. The most important is that Jesus loves each of us enough to give up what rightfully belongs to him in order to care for us. Second, we are called to follow Jesus' example and take care of others rather than worry about whether we are getting everything we deserve.

(Palm) Psalm 118:1-2, 9-29; (Passion)Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16. Each of these passages parallels Jesus' Holy Week experience. As each is read, children will catch words and phrases that remind them of either the triumphal entry or the crucifixion. The Gospel or Epistle readings will, however, be the focus of the children's attention.

Watch Words

The word of the day in hymns and prayers is Hosanna! It is a fun word to say and sing because it is a greeting meant only for Jesus.

Be sure the children know the difference between Jesus' Passion and the lusty feelings the word passion usually describes today. Remember that crucify and crucifixion are terms children will encounter only in church. Translate big words atonement means at-one-with, as in Jesus helped us be at one with God; salvation is being saved from all the trouble our sinful behavior causes.

Let the Children Sing

"All Glory, Laud, and Honor" or "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" are Palm Sunday hymns that children can sing easily, either as a children's choir or in the congregation.

Sing "This Is the Day" (The United Methodist Hymnal) responsively between choir (or leader) and congregation as the Call to Worship.

If you focus on the kingship of Jesus, close with "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." Thoughthe ideas in the verses are difficult, the repeated chorus, "Crown him Lord of all!" can be sung by even the youngest worshiper.

"O Sing a Song of Bethlehem" calls us to sing our way from Christmas to Easter in four verses, and thus is a good Passion Sunday hymn to help children connect the baby to the man.

The Liturgical Child

1. If your worship will include a processional with children carrying palms:

—Provide each child with a palm branch, rather than one strip of palm leaf. (Try to get a mental picture of a crowd waving those stringy palm leaves and laying them on the road for Jesus' donkey to walk on! Those people used full branches.) Most local florists can provide branches for a nominal fee.
—Include the minister(s), choir(s), and others in the processional so that it isn't a "cute children's thing." Remember that Luke says it was adults who thought of this parade and led the way.
—Instead of processing into the sanctuary at the beginning of worship, before the story can be told, hold the palm processional at the end of worship. By then worshipers will have heard the story and explored its meaning, and now can be challenged to go out into the world to proclaim Jesus as their King. Ushers (perhaps children) can give a palm branch to each worshiper—beginning with the minister(s) and choir(s), then the other worshipers as they leave their pews.
—Suggest that the palms be displayed in homes all Holy Week (perhaps on the dinner table or in a vase on the TV), as a reminder that Jesus is our King.

2. For Passion Sunday, devote the entire service to a "Walk Through Holy Week with Jesus." Alternate Scripture readings with hymns, or sing hymns followed by a prayer. Some of the hymns can be choir anthems:

Triumphal Entry Luke 19:28-40
Last Supper Luke 22:7-23
The Betrayal and Arrest Luke 22:47-53
Trials Luke 22:66 –23:25
Crucifixion and Burial Luke 23:32-46, 50-56

Summary: Philippians 2:5-11 (This may be the base for a very brief meditation.)

Sermon Resources

1. Prominently display two crowns: a golden crown (perhaps from the Christmas pageant props) and a crown of thorns. In the sermon, explore two kinds of kings. The first lives in a palace, is strong enough to scare off enemies, and make rules for the country. Paint a picture—not of an evil king, but of one who is authoritarian. Then describe the king that Jesus became by spending his life taking care of his people and finally dying for them.

2. After describing how we treat kings (we do whatever they say, we try to please them, we give them the best of everything, we bow or defer to them), explore who and what we tend to treat as "king of our life." Children often let a special adult, such as a teacher or professional sports figure/hero, become their king. In some neighborhoods, a child may become king of the block and totally run the show (this king may be an overtly evil gang leader or a benevolent natural leader to whom the other children always defer). The scriptural challenge is not to let anyone but Jesus be King in our lives. Jesus and his ways are to be more important than any other child or adult leader.

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