Worship for Kids: March 21, 2021

February 18th, 2021

From a Child's Point of View

In planning today's worship, consider the following:

Children are quickly overwhelmed when confronted with all these texts. It is better to explore either the New Testament crucifixion texts or the Old Testament "heart" lessons.

During Lent, all worshipers need to encounter the crucifixion story. If you celebrate Palm Sunday next week, and few children participate in Good Friday worship, this Sunday would be a good time to focus on the crucifixion. If, on the other hand, you celebrate Passion Sunday next week, you may prefer to work with the Old Testament texts this week.

Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34. For literal thinkers, the possibility of having their heart cleaned creates a strange, rather humorous picture. But at an early age, children send valentines and begin to understand such phrases as "I give my heart to you." Therefore when it is approached deliberately, the clean heart, or a covenant written on the heart, begins to make sense to children.

Children know the difference between keeping rules someone else forces on you and keeping rules you have chosen. You keep the first because you have to; you keep the second because you want to. Sometimes, as the Hebrews carried the Ten Commandment stones with them, they were happy to have the rules. But sometimes they felt as if God had forced the rules on them, and because of this, they often broke the rules. Jeremiah said that one day God would make a covenant with us that we would keep because we want to, not because we have to.

Psalm: 51:1-12 or 119:9-16. Psalms 51 is one of those familiar prayers that is loved in part for its beautiful language. Unfortunately, that language is often foreign to children. The challenge is to introduce such prayers effectively to children while preserving their beauty for adults. In this case, it is more meaningful to tell the story behind the psalm than to explain the difficult words and phrases. When children have heard that David had murdered a man in order to steal his wife, even the youngest ones recognize the repentant mood of the psalm and understand a few of the phrases. As their vocabularies grow, they catch the meaning of more and more of the confessional phrases.

The compelling story behind Psalms 51 makes it a better choice for children than Psalms 119 's eight loosely connected verses expressing love for God's Law. If you do read this psalm portion, point out all the synonyms for God's covenant, or Law, that are written in our hearts. (The New Jerusalem Bible provides an especially clear translation.)

Gospel: John 12:20-33. To explain why Jesus accepted the cross, John tells this complicated story instead of the Gethsemane story. While the Gethsemane story is easier for children to understand, this one can make sense with some adult help. Like the Jews of that time, and many adults today, children wish for a hero who will conquer all their enemies and solve all their problems. They can understand Jesus' insistence that God did not send him to be that kind of hero. Jesus taught us to love our enemies into friends and to solve our problems by taking care of one another. Jesus accepted the cross because he knew that self-giving love was what we needed.

Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10. For children, the crux of this lesson is found in verses 7-9. They will not grasp its message as it is read, but with help, they can appreciate how hard it was for Jesus to accept being crucified. He, like anyone, wanted to run from the horror of being crucified. If these horrors are described in detail, children are impressed by Jesus' willingness to carry out his terrifying mission.

Watch Words

If you focus on the Old Testament texts, avoid penitence and repentance. Speak of feeling sorry about and confessing what we did wrong, and promising to do better.

A covenant is an agreement. Avoid using the word repeatedly unless it is featured in your children's church school curriculum.

Remember that in everyday use, passion refers to sexual feelings. If you use the term to describe Jesus' self-sacrifice, redefine it accordingly.

Crucifixion, fortunately, is no longer used as a method of execution. Children need to hear how a person was crucified, how crucifixion killed, and why it was so terrible.

Let the Children Sing

Choose Passion hymns carefully. Children are baffled by those that speak symbolically about the cross. "Were You There" is probably the best because it tells the story simply and with great feeling. While children cannot understand the meaning of "O Sacred Head Now Wounded," they do pick up on its strong emotions. Older children can follow the Passion story as it is presented in "Go to Dark Gethsemane," especially if they are alerted to the story line before singing it.

"O for a Heart to Praise My God" is filled with references to hearts that belong to God. Instruct worshipers to listen for those references as they sing.

The Liturgical Child

1. For a powerful beginning for worship focused on the Passion, have a soloist sing the first two verses of "What Wondrous Love Is This?" a cappella as he or she walks down the aisle, lights any candles in the chancel, and takes a seat. If the choir normally processes, it may silently follow the singer. Though children understand little more than the first phrase of each verse, they respond strongly to the mood created.

2. Pray a responsive Prayer of Confession, with the congregation responding, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me," to confessions voiced by a worship leader. If the prayer follows the reading of Psalms 51, relate it to David's confession. For example:

Leader: God, like David, we see things we want. We want cars and homes and clothes and toys. We want to have good jobs and be on the winning team. We want to have popular, interesting friends. All our wants get us in trouble.

People: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader: God, like David, we know what is right and wrong but we forget . . .

Sermon Resources

1. To explore the meaning of the clean heart, have fun imagining the literal possibility of removing a person's heart, scrubbing it down, then stuffing it back into place. Next tell about an old car engine or bicycle clogged up with dirt and rust. Describe how poorly it works, how it can be cleaned up, and how it works afterwards. Finally, point out ways we can get too clogged up with bad feelings to work properly. We feel so terrible about mean things we have done, we forget we can do kind deeds. We have been so mean to someone that we hide from them. Describe how we can let God clean us up so that we work again, like a clean heart or bike or engine. Be concrete and specific.

2. Compare the Son of Man (as the Jews expected him to be) with cartoon heroes who win the day with force. Popeye, for example, after eating spinach, beats up Brutus the bully. But in the next episode, Brutus is back, still the enemy. So the problem really has not been solved. Jesus, in the crucifixion, chooses another way to deal with enemies and bullies.

Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press

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