Worship for Kids: March 28, 2021

February 25th, 2018

Palm—Passion Sunday

Consider the children when deciding whether to celebrate Palm or Passion Sunday. If they will not worship around the Passion stories on Holy (Maundy) Thursday or Good Friday, and worship last Sunday did not focus on the crucifixion, celebrate Passion Sunday rather than Palm Sunday. No worshiper of any age can fully understand or share in Easter joy without first exploring the betrayals and crucifixion.

Only the Gospel texts for Palm/Passion Sunday differ from year to year. Check other cycles of this series for additional commentary and suggestions.

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: (Palm) Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16. Mark's account of the triumphal entry is filled with details that make it the more interesting of these two for children. But both focus on what might be called the Palm Sunday Misunderstanding. That misunderstanding began with what Jesus "said" to the crowd as he came to Jerusalem. By riding on a donkey he "said" that he came in peace, as a humble rather than a warrior king. But the people "heard" only that Jesus was coming as a king. So they expected him to save them as a warrior king would. John points out that it was not until after Easter that the disciples understood what Jesus was "saying" and realized that he had indeed saved them but not the way they expected.

Gospel: (Passion) Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47). Two themes stand out in Mark's text: The King is crucified; the loving friend is betrayed and killed by those he loved. The second speaks more clearly to children, who value the loyalty of friends highly and know first-hand the pain of betrayals by those they have trusted. This theme is announced in verse 14:27, in language children understand: "You will all become deserters" (NRSV) or "All of you will run away and leave me" (GNB).

It is then detailed in the disciples failing to stay awake with Jesus as he prayed, Judas helping Jesus' enemies arrest him, Peter disowning his best friend, Pilate refusing to protect Jesus, the once welcoming crowd calling for his death, and finally Jesus' cry from the cross, wondering if even God had abandoned him. Children feel this kind of pain keenly and are impressed that God and Jesus could forgive these people. Though they cannot yet feel solidarity with the deserters and accept God's forgiveness with them, they can conclude that if God would forgive those who betrayed and deserted Jesus, then God will forgive them (the children) for their betrayals and desertions.

Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11. Children will grasp neither the language nor the theology of this hymn as it is read. They depend on the preacher to explain it's message. If the focus of worship is on Jesus' mission of forgiveness, verses 6-8 become a description of Jesus' commitment to forgive all those who betrayed and abandoned him during Holy Week. Jesus, who could have fought back, chose to love and forgive. Children appreciate such tenacious forgiveness. They also can be challenged to follow Jesus' example in forgiving their friends.

Psalm: (Palm) 118-2, 19-29; (Passion) Psalms 31:9-16 and Isaiah 50:4-9a. If either of these poems is well read, children will hear in them phrases related to the New Testament stories and Holy Week themes.

Watch Words

Hosanna may be used simply as a greeting meant only for Jesus, or it's meaning, save us, may be explored.

For most children, passion is related to sexual feelings. Go back to the dictionary definitions that speak of caring very strongly about and being ready to make sacrifices on behalf of, some object. In his crucifixion, Jesus showed passion for loving forgiveness.

Let the Children Sing

On the last Sunday in Lent, chuckle about the possibility of having a thousand tongues, imagine a choir of a thousand people singing God's praises, then sing "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." "To God Be the Glory," if the difficult verse that begins "O perfect redemption" is omitted, is another good choice.

Palm Sunday: "All Glory Laud and Honor" and "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" are the most familiar Palm Sunday hymns for children. "Tell Me the Stories of Jesus," which many children know, also includes a verse about Palm Sunday.

Passion Sunday: "Were You There?" is the most understandable and emotionally powerful crucifixion song for children. Remember that children have difficulty understanding hymns that speak symbolically of the cross and use abstract atonement language.

The Liturgical Child

1. Turn the crowd's shouts into an intergenerational Call to Worship. An adult choir might respond to a children's class or choir. Or the adults in the congregation, led by an adult, could respond to the children, led by a child or a children's class. A processional hymn led by palm-waving children follows naturally. For example:

Children: Hosanna!

Adults: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Children: Hosanna!

Children and Adults: Let us worship God together.

2. Use the part of the Apostles' Creed about Jesus as an Affirmation of Faith. After a worship leader recites each phrase, the congregation responds, "Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!":

Leader: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

People: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Leader: Who was conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary.

People: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

3. As the Passion is read, present a series of tableaus of events. Position the actors for each scene to emphasize the rejections by facing them away from Jesus, folding arms over chests and/or putting hands palms out to separate themselves from Jesus. Help actors show appropriate facial expressions. To keep the focus on rejection, dress actors in dark turtlenecks and pants rather than biblical costumes. Children pay close attention to such tableaus, but are not mature enough to do the acting. Well-prepared youths and adults are needed for these strong scenes.

Sermon Resources

1. Peter, the rough and ready fishing disciple, is a character to whom children relate. He was always first to rush in and frequently got into things he could not complete. He was one of Jesus' very best friends. So devote the sermon to telling and interpreting the stories of Holy Week from his point of view. Speak from the pre-Easter point of view to communicate the strength of Peter's feelings about his failures and about what happened.

2. If you explore the Palm Sunday Misunderstanding, begin by citing ways people want to be saved and things from which they want to be saved. Include some children's wishes, such as being saved from homework by simply not having to do it (rather than by getting needed help with it), or being saved from a pesty or bullying sibling by someone who would make the sibling "be nice" (rather than by someone who would help the child learn to get along better).

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