Worship for Kids: March 29, 2020

March 1st, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Commentaries from an adult point of view stress the comparisons of life and death in these passages. Undergirding those comparisons is the reality of God's amazing power. God could bring dry bones back to life, a defeated nation back into existence, even the dead Lazarus back to life. Focusing on God's power prepares the way for experiencing God's power in the events of Easter.

Old Testament: Ezekiel 37:1-14. The details of Ezekiel's vision make a great mental picture. Children enjoy visualizing the bones coming together into skeletons, being covered with muscles and skin, then being brought to life by God's breath. On their own, most children interpret the vision rightly—that God is powerful enough to bring dead bones back to life as living people. Few children can, or need to, get beyond the literal vision or its basic message. They enjoy and find security in God's great power.

Children have great difficulty with the opening graves and promises of verses 11-14. Some older children can follow an explanation of what God was telling a group of defeated, hopeless people who had been deported to a foreign land. For these children, Ezekiel's message is that there is no situation so hopeless that God cannot turn it around.

Gospel: John 11:1-45. This is a long and complicated but interesting story which parallels Ezekiel's vision. Both Martha and Mary believed that Jesus had the power to heal the sick, and they all but accused him of allowing Lazarus to die because he had not come more quickly. Martha even suggested the possibility that Jesus could still act on Lazarus' behalf—but she did not fully believe it. Then, surprise! By raising Lazarus, Jesus demonstrated that he (and God) were even more powerful than death. Jesus' power was greater than even his best friends and supporters dared to dream.

In verses 5-16, another power confrontation is introduced. The disciples did not want Jesus to go back to Jude for fear of the powerful Jewish authorities who wanted to kill him. That, of course, points to the ultimate power confrontation that will come during Holy Week. Children, however, will have trouble following the conversation in these verses, so it may be wise to omit the verses in order for them to hear the rest of the story.

Two trivial details in this story interest children—Mary's concern about the smell of Lazarus' dead body, and the fact that verse 35, "And Jesus wept," is the shortest verse in the Bible.

Epistle: Romans 8:6-11. This passage is a theologian's summary of, and response to, the truths found in Ezekiel's vivid vision and the story of Jesus' raising of Lazarus. Children understand more of the vision and the story than of this discourse. Their thinking abilities are not developed enough to deal with the symbolism of life in the flesh, in the Spirit, or in Christ. Consequently, they will make little sense of the passage as it is read. Its message to children will need to be presented in the sermon in terms of the importance of "being on the side of" or "belonging to" God whose power is described and celebrated in the other texts of the day.

Psalm: 130. The feelings of this penitential psalm speak more clearly to children than do its abstract words. They hear mainly the pain of "out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord," and the trust of the repeated references to "waiting for the Lord."

Watch Words

The sinews in Ezekiel's vision are muscles and tendons.

Let the Children Sing

To sing about God's great power, try "I Sing the Almighty Power of God," which points out the familiar evidence of God's power in simple language, or "When Morning Gilds the Skies," with its repeated phrase. Avoid hymns filled with long abstract words, Such as "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise." If spring is beginning, sing "Fairest Lord Jesus."

Imagine yourselves among Ezekiel's reconstituted dry bones before singing "Breathe on Me, Breath of God." Older worshipers will sing from the hopeless "bone dry" situations in their lies. Young children will imagine thesmevesl among the bones being given new life by God. Both can be true worship.

The Liturgical Child

1. Before reading the Ezekiel text, urge children to pay attention to what happens to all the bones. Then present the passage with all the dramatic flair of the poet/prophet Ezekiel, speaking to a room full of exiles.

2. For the sake of children who cannot follow the discussion between the disciples and Jesus, begin reading the story about the raising of Lazarus with verse 17. Before reading, identify the characters and the situation. Remind listeners about Jesus' special friendship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—two sisters and a brother who lived together.

If you include the first 16 verses, consider moving to different points in the chancel, tracing Jesus' movements in the story. Carrying your Bible, read verses 1-16 at one side of the chancel, move to the other side to read verses 17-34, then step or turn toward the center of the chancel to read the final scene at the tomb.

Prepare this reading carefully. It is long and complicated. If it is read without dramatic flair, children will soon be lost. But it is so intensely emotional that it can be melodramatic. Practice reading the conversations so that they reflect the emotional situation, but point beyond the feelings to what is happening.

3. Use Psalm 130 as the base for prayers of confession. The worship leader describes a series of sinful "depths" into which we sink. The congregation's response to each one: "Out of the depths, we cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear our voice!" For example:

Lord, you have given us families as good gifts, but we turn them into big problems. We fuss over who must do what work; we treat one another with less kindness than we treat strangers on the street; we remember the wrongs we endure at home, but we forget the loving care we find there. (RESPONSE)
Lord, you have placed us on a planet blessed with food and water and air. . . . (RESPONSE)

Base the Assurance of Pardon on verses 3 and 4. (The New Jerusalem Bible offers a good translation for children.)

Sermon Resources

1. The vision of dry bones brings Halloween to the minds of children. Capitalize on that connection by telling about the origins of Halloween (All Hallow's Eve). Bonfires were burned that night to chase away evil spirits and powers, and on the following day, All Saints Day, the people celebrated the good spirits and powers. Together, these days were a celebration of God's power over all other powers of the world. Today's texts celebrate God's power over invaders (Ezekiel) and death (Matthew). There is no power that can defeat God.

2. Devote the whole sermon to telling stories of God's surprising power. Select stories from the Bible, literature, and everyday experience in which people find themselves in hopeless situations and are surprised by God's power. Include the stories in today's readings, some stories about times when it seemed impossible that brothers and sisters could ever get along, dry-bones-to-new-life stories from the history of your congregation or community, and others. Conclude each account with a refrain such as, "It would have been hopeless, but God is powerful."

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