Worship for Kids: April 2, 2023

March 1st, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

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

Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11 (Palm). In Matthew's account of this event, all the people of Jerusalem turned out to welcome Jesus. Children know that a king should enter town on a spirited white charger and ride over a plush carpet or a carpet of flowers. Jesus rode on a donkey on a path of tree branches and coats. His choice of a mount shows what kind of king Jesus intended to be. The pathway of coats demonstrates the people's devotion. (Imagine explaining your soiled coat to your mother that evening!)

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus was welcomed as the Son of David. If you explored David's character on the fourth Sunday of Lent, children will be ready to compare David and Jesus. Both were God's chosen kings, though neither was born as a wealthy prince and both were overlooked at first. David was known as "a man after God's own heart," while Jesus was "God's own Son." Jesus, however, was "God with us," and is therefore far greater than David—or any other king.

The challenge of this Palm Sunday account for children is to welcome Jesus as king of their own lives, with as much enthusiasm as the crowds in Jerusalem showed.

Psalm: 118:1-2, 19-29 (Palm). This psalm is a liturgy for welcoming a victorious king to the Temple. Children enjoy acting it out as it is read and learn from the process that even kings are subject to God. Though they have trouble identifying Matthew's quotes because the English translations of the psalm do not use the word Hosanna! children quickly identify the similarity of Jesus' entrance to that of the king.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11-54 (Passion). Children respond strongly to the pain of Jesus' betrayal by Judas, his denial by Peter, and the desertion of the others. They know from experience how it hurts when friends fail us.

Children need to hear a clear physical description of the crucifixion in order to understand its pain. They need to know that Roman whips were tipped with metal and glass, and people sometimes died from the whippings. Unless they comprehend that Jesus died as painful and terrible a death as ever was invented, they cannot fully appreciate the wonder that God still allowed it and forgave the human race for doing it. So we do them no favor when we downplay the gore and violence.

Psalm: 31:9-16 (Passion). If it is presented as a prayer Jesus could have prayed on the cross, children will hear in this psalm a number of short phrase which they can imagine Jesus praying.

Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11. This great hymn of the early church describes in cosmic terms the things that the passion story describes in earthy realities. Children will understand the story first. To help older children, alert them to the "down" direction of verses 6-8 and the "up" direction of verses 9-11. Point out the call for us to be as obedient in our lives as Jesus was in his (verse 6).

Old Testament:Isaiah 50:4-9a. Children will hear in this suffering-servant song the words and phrases that Jesus could have said, or those that describe Jesus.

Watch Words

Hosanna! the big word for Palm Sunday, is a fun word to say over and over, knowing that it is a greeting meant only for Jesus. It need not be translated or defined.

Be sure to define passion as one title for the story of Jesus' death. Remember that its common use today is to describe sexual feelings.

The word crucifixion is used only in the Christian church today. Be sure to define and explain it.

Let the Children Sing

Palm Sunday Choices: "Lift up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates" is a song with which the crowds might have welcomed Jesus. Before singing it, point out that we will be singing about opening the gates of a city, and also of opening "the portals of our hearts," or getting ready to love and serve Jesus. "Tell Me the Stories of Jesus" is a Palm Sunday hymn many children know.

Passion Sunday Choices: "Were You There," with its repeated lines that tell the passion story, can be sung even by nonreaders. "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem" traces Jesus' whole life and ministry with simple words and tune. Avoid hymns that speak of "the cross" as a symbol for the passion events and those that are filled with abstract atonement language.

The Liturgical Child

1. Matthew's account claims that the whole city was stirred up. So, if there are other congregations nearby, plan palm processionals of choirs and congregations from several churches to an outdoor gathering place where a Palm Sunday litany is read and hymns sung. It is best that worship services in each sanctuary precede such a procession.

2. Act out Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. The congregation, standing in place, takes the role of the welcoming crowd, reading verses 1-2. A worship leader in the pulpit, as the priest, reads verse 20. A second worship leader, taking the role of the king, enters from behind the congregation and stands about halfway up an aisle to read verses 19 and 21-23. The congregation replies with verses 24-29.

3. To confess fickle loyalty to King Jesus, pray:

Almighty God, on Sunday it is easy for us to say, "Jesus is Lord!" It is easy to sing about you as our King and make big promises about being your servants. It feels good to be among your people. But it is different at school and at work. Too often, we are ready to try anything to get good grades or to be successful. We ignore your rules to satisfy our own wishes. We listen when friends want us to try things we know are unloving and wrong. Forgive us. Help us remember that you are the King of all our lives, every day of the week, everywhere we go. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Jesus is Lord—the Lord of love and forgiveness. From the cross, he forgave the people who had praised him on Sunday and called for his death on Friday. And he forgives us too! Thanks be to God!

Sermon Resources

1. Instead of preaching a sermon, read all or parts of the passion narrative. Prepare a lively, dramatic reading. Consider illustrating the reading with slides or large pictures. Select a variety—some great paintings and some simple pictures from the church school picture files. If you plan ahead, you might even include some drawings done by children's classes, mounted on poster board or photographed on slide film.

2. Matthew's Gospel stresses the fickleness of the crowd. On Palm Sunday, they shouted, "Hosanna! Save us!" Five days later, they shouted just as loudly, "Crucify him! Let his blood be on our heads!" In preaching about our fickle loyalty to King Jesus, tell stories about . . .
• a girl who recited a dozen memory verses about love in Sunday school, but played only with her chosen few friends at school.
• a boy who promised to give all the money he usually spent at the store to the Easter Hunger Offering, but kept putting it off to buy a candy bar "just for today."
• a grandchild who enthusiastically made Easter baskets for older church members, then complained about staying home for an hour that afternoon with Grandpa.

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