Worship for Kids: Easter Sunday 2019

March 25th, 2019

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12. Both stories of the discovery of the empty tomb can be read to children with little explanation. The response of the children is, however, different from that of adults. For children, Easter joy has more to do with the victory of God's powerful love over the forces of evil than with resurrection from death.

It is hard for children to understand death. Most children, even those who have experienced the death of a close relative, have trouble grasping the physical finality of death. Children who grow up in Christian churches, hearing the resurrection faith that God loves us even beyond death, do not easily share the fear of death described in the New Testament. Psychologists tell us that even teenagers have little meaningful understanding of their personal mortality. So it is hard for children to get into the celebration of resurrection from death. This part of the Easter message will mean more later in their lives.

In childhood, the central message of Easter is that God refused to let the hate of Good Friday be the last word. Considering everything that had been done to Jesus, God deserved to become angry and punish the people severely. But God did not do this. Instead, God continued to love the people who had betrayed, denied, and killed Jesus. And God refused to let Jesus stay dead. Jesus rose from death to prove to us that God's love is more powerful than the worst evil and that God will continue to love us, no matter what terrible things we do. So for children, the empty tomb is God's biggest surprise, and Easter joy is our delighted response to the discovery that even though it looked as if the "bad guys" had won, they had not. God and God's love had defeated the forces of evil and were more in control than ever.

Old Testament: Isaiah 65:17-25. The rich poetic images of Isaiah's vision of God's dreams for the world are like coded messages for which literal-minded children have no key. The Good News Bible decodes some of these images as part of its translation and therefore is easier for children to follow. Even if read from this translation, the vision is challenging for children, but if it is presented as the dream of the Easter God who has defeated and continues to defeat evil, this passage becomes a glimpse into the future toward which God is working. Children will hear in specific phrases the possibilities to anticipate.

Acts 10:34 (During the Easter season the Revised Common Lectionary suggests a reading from Acts as an alternative to the Old Testament reading.) Taken in context, Peter's statement in Joppa is about the fellowship of God's family, which crosses all human boundaries of nationality, race, and so on. But for Easter Sunday, it is a summary of the good news about Jesus and an opportunity for listeners to view themselves as witnesses, like Peter. Children who have celebrated the events of Holy Week are ready to respond by becoming witnesses. At the very least, they can recite the story in worship and claim it as their own. Some also can recognize the need for Christians to share the story with others.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26. This is a difficult passage for children. That we should all die beccause Adam and Eve ate the apple seems terribly unfair. That God should punish us for what Adam and Eve did seems inconsistent with our insistence that God is loving. In their teen years, youths will begin to understand that what links us and our fates to Adam and Eve is that all of us disobey sometimes, in spite of our very best intentions. But this link is beyond the comprehension of most younger children. So read this passage for worshipers who are old enough to grasp the fear of death and so have the mental ability to feel inked both to Adam and Eve and to Christ.

Psalm: 118:1-2, 14-24. To children, this is a collection of short phrases to the powerful God who saves us. Many of the praises require little explanation. Others, such as the verses about the rejected stone, include images that require detailed explanation. Today is not a particularly good time to explain these images, so it is better to let the psalm speak as it can to the worshipers celebrating God's Easter power.

Watch Words

Enjoy the Alleluias! Alleluia wraps into one word these messages: "Hurray for God!"; "God, you did a great job!"; "Thank you, God!"; "Knowing you makes us happy, God!"

Use resurrection. It is a good word for children to hear and to recognize as belonging to the church. But do not expect children to find much meaning in the word until their understanding of death matures.

Let the Children Sing

"Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" is probably the best Easter hymn for children. Even the youngest can join in on the Alleluias. (Challenge them to count the Alleluias for Easter fun.) Older children will pick up more of the short phrases of praise which precede the Alleluias every time they sing the song.

Children enjoy the contrasting feel of the verses and the chorus of the old gospel hymn "Up from the Grave He Arose." This hymn emphasizes the surprising nature of Easter.

Avoid hymns with lots of "resurrection" and "salvation" jargon.

The Liturgical Child

1. Children can sense Easter joy before they can explain it. So fill the sanctuary with flowers. Hang white and gold paraments. Play joyful music. Add instruments such as brass to draw special attention to the music.

2. Encourage the presence of children at sunrise services held outdoors in a garden or cemetery. Focus on telling the story, singing an Easter hymn, and praying brief prayers of praise and thanksgiving. Save sermonizing for indoor worship later in the day. The location and timing of a sunrise service adds new reality to the empty-tomb story and makes the day stand out as a very special day for our church.

If crowds at mid-morning worship services are a problem, a story-oriented sunrise service to which children are particularly invited can open seats in the later service and thus allow worship at that time to be more adult-oriented.

3. Invite worshippers to read Acts 10:37-43 as a creed in which they respond with Peter to what God has done in Jesus.

Sermon Resources

1. Like the rest of Holy Week, Easter for children is a time for storytelling and praising, rather than for critical thinking and sermonizing.

2. To focus the sermon on God's surprises, tell stories of God's surprises in the life of Jesus. Begin with God's decision to be born among us in a barn and to announce the birth to shepherds. Tell how Jesus befriended Zaccheus, a greedy tax collector. Tell about the time Jesus surprised people by proving that they had enough food for everyone in the crowd. Describe Peter's surprise and embarrassment when Jesus, his hero and God's leader, washed Peter's feet. Finally, tell of Jesus' death and the surprising way God announced his resurrection to women, rather than to important men. Create a rhetorical refrain, such as "God said, `Surprise, I love you" with which to conclude each story.

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