Children and Holy Week

February 24th, 2013

Holy Week: the Christian story in a nutshell. God has trans­formed death and despair into life and hope. The triumphal mood of Palm Sunday is forgotten when Jesus explodes in anger at the temple money changers. The twelve gather for a supper laden with meaning for the future. The suspenseful dark night arrest leads to a fearful trial and crucifixion. Our grief at Jesus' death is transformed into joy at the empty tomb on Easter day. Adults who enter into the journey of Holy Week find their emotions swinging wildly from celebration to concern, to anxi­ety and suspense, to deep sorrow and pain, to discouragement and despair, to elation and new life. The story of the last week in Jesus' earthly life is full of drama.

Adults, deeply moved by this story, shy away from including chil­dren. Will they be frightened by the arrest and trial? Do we dare expose them to the blood and cruelty of the cross? Given their lack of understand­ing about death, should we subject them to something they do not understand?

We may be selling children short. Children do think about death and pain and loss. Little Hannah Clem, who died in the tornado-struck rub­ble of Goshen UMC in Alabama on Palm Sunday 1994 had often spoken to her parents, both United Methodist ministers, of spiritual things. She pictured heaven as like DisneyWorld, probably remembering its beauty and order and the joy of people visiting there.

Children think about death and pain and sorrow; we ought not to deny the death and pain and sorrow of Holy Week. Without the grief and suffering, the joy of Easter day is less­ened. By inviting children into the whole story, we invite them into a more joyful Easter.

While children can understand something of arrest and betrayal and physical pain, like adults they may experience Holy Week best in connec­tion with their own stories. Children can tell stories about friends who moved away or the death of pets. Lis­ten to their stories.

God's transforming power may be represented by cocoons and butter­flies, making it accessible to persons of all ages. Extinguishing the lights and stripping the altar on Holy Thursday and bringing life back with lilies and white paraments on Easter communicates to children as well as adults.

Look for God's gifts of new life and celebrate.

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