Encouragement to work together as God’s people
The church over the ages has devoted time and money to repairing and rebuilding after natural disasters, wars, and personal traumas. It is one thing we do frequently and do well. Celebrate that today. Cite examples of ways your congregation has been involved. Be sure as you do to include projects in which the children are active. In my congregation that would include collecting food for the food pantry, packing a variety of disaster response kits, walking with families or classes on money raising walks and hosting homeless men at the church during winter evenings.
Our local paper annually recognizes a Distinguished Dozen, local people who are significantly involved in serving others. One year they were all teenagers. The article about each teen cited serving experiences during their elementary years as the inspiration for the teenage service. Many got their start by working with their families on community care projects. Scientific studies validate their stories. So encourage children and parents to work together repairing, rebuilding, and generally caring for their community.
During the singing of Argentine folk hymn “Song of Hope,” stage a processional of placards, each naming one way your congregation is involved in repairing and rebuilding. The placards could be handed to children and briefly explained just before the hymn. The children then circle the sanctuary while the congregation sings the song several times. (It is only one verse.) Or, create a litany in which a leader names and briefly describes one project and the congregation responds by singing the song once. Feature as many projects or groups of similar projects as time permits. Four or five is probably enough.
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
The greatness and goodness of God
During the reading of this psalm project a series of pictures of people rebuilding and repairing together.
Sing to the Lord A New Song!
Offer a two sided praise sheet. On one side print Psalm 98. Invite the children to fill the margins with drawings of things that are mentioned in the psalm or that the psalm makes them think about. (The first few verses don’t offer much, but the middle verses calling for all sorts of musical praises suggest lots of instruments, and the last verses call for pictures from nature.) On the opposite side of the paper print the words of “Earth and All Stars” and invite children to illustrate that one too. The pictures will be very different. If possible give out the paper early in the service and include time later in the service when children can share and discuss their work. When the congregation sings the hymn, even young children should be able to join in on the repeated chorus.
If “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah will be sung, point out the title phrase in Job 19:25. Briefly explain that Job was both very sick and very sad. Even in all his suffering he knew that God was his Redeemer and was on his side. That is as far as it is wise to delve with children in the sanctuary. Discussions of suffering with children are always specific and need to be held in private.
Even if you are building worship around Job, I’d use Psalm 98 instead of this psalm for the sake of the children. The vocabulary and poetic images are too complicated to explain. Though some children have enough experience with suffering to share the psalmist’s prayer, there are other prayers that state the concern in ways a child can more easily grasp.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Lead disciplined lives in the present
The message to children here is don’t worry about what will happen when you (or people you love) die and don’t worry about what will happen when you grow up or get to be a teenager or…. Instead, think about today. Live as God’s person today. Do the best you can and know that God is with you. Fortunately, this is the default setting of many children anyway. They live very much in the present moment.
God is Lord of the Living
The nasty trap the Sadducees set for Jesus and the way is turned it back on them will go right past the children. Let it. Instead explore what it says about what happens to us after we die.
Jesus insists that life after death is different from life now. Debating to whom a woman who has had seven husbands will be married is just plain silly. (This is a special relief to children whose parents have remarried and who therefore may upon hearing the story wonder about the fate of their family.) The butterfly is a helpful symbol of this reality. The caterpillar and butterfly are entirely different, but they are different life stages of the same animal. Caterpillars crawl and eat leaves. Butterflies fly and drink nectar/ pollen. We will be as different after death as a caterpillar is from a butterfly, but we will still be ourselves.
We don’t know very much at all about what life will be like after we die. God has kept it as a special secret. We do know from Jesus that we will be with God and will be safe.
Make a list of things that aren’t necessarily true about life after death, i.e. we may not walk on streets paved with gold, we may not all play harps (a relief to many), we may not have wings and fly (who knows how we’ll get around), etc. Balance this with the list of things we do know about life after we die, i.e. we will be with God, God’s love and care will continue.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, display autumn nuts and bulbs. Note how dead they look and how hard it is to believe that they will ever be anything but rather dead looking “stuff.” Talk about what each item becomes in the spring. If possible give each worshiper a nut or bulb to plant at home. Talk about how long it will be until we see the results and encourage patience. Briefly ponder how it feels different to celebrate new life after death in the autumn rather than in the spring at Easter.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, pull a blooming bulb or seedling out of the dirt. Gently brush away the soil until you find pieces of the nut or bulb from which it grew. It may also help to have an unplanted nut or bulb to help find the decaying one in the soil. (A smallish blooming potted bulb can be tidily unspotted over a bucket or small tub.) Briefly ponder how it feels different to celebrate life after death in the spring when new life is all around you rather than in the autumn when all the plants are dying back for the season.
If your congregation regularly recites the Apostle’s Creed in worship, before reading it today, point out the phrase “(I believe in) the communion of saints.” Define “saints” as God’s people. Name a few famous ones, like St. Patrick and Martin Luther King, Jr., and some less famous ones like your grandmother (or other important person in your life) and someone in your congregation. Finally, point to worshipers and identify each of them as a saint. Then, repeat the phrase “communion of the saints” and explain that all saints belong to each other in the family of God. That means we are connected to all God’s people who ever lived and all God’s people who are alive now and even all God’s people who will be born in the future. We are family with them. Repeat the paragraph in which it appears in the creed. Then, invite everyone to say the creed together.
Either within the sermon or just before the celebration of communion, do a little worship education about the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. For most children (and more than a few adults) this is generally thought of as “that long prayer before communion.” They are more likely to join in on the sung responses if they are explained and rehearsed. So, point to the prayer in your prayer book or worship bulletin. Walk through the part that recognizes the communion of the saints putting it into your own words. Together name some of the individuals or groups you want to be especially aware of at the Table today. Take time to rehearse the parts the congregation says or sings. Suggest singing it at every communion service imaging yourself singing and eating with people of all times and from all parts of the world.
Leader: Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with the heavenly choirs
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
we forever sing to the glory of your name:
People: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.