The “Reign of Christ” has been suggested as a substitute for “Christ the King” as the name for this Sunday in order to de-emphasize hierarchy. That is a worthwhile goal. But especially non-reading children hear “Rain of Christ” instead of “Reign of Christ” and are confused. So if you use Reign, define it and point out with a laugh what it is not.
Or, explore Christ the King in children’s terms. In children’s stories kings may be good or bad or simply may be people in a set role. The king has the right and power to make all the rules and demand that people do what he wants. When the people do not obey the king has the right to punish them. Good kings use this power and right well. Bad kings do not. Jesus is the very best king ever. Jesus has all the power and chooses to use it to take care of people. When they disobey him (think crucifixion), he forgives them. In the context of today’s texts, King Jesus chooses to be a Good Shepherd and a forgiver.
Unless you want to save this for Palm Sunday, display a crown of thorns and a king’s crown from a costume shop. Talk about the choice Jesus made about the kind of crown he would wear and the kind of king he would be.
If you are using white and gold paraments today, point them out, explain the significance of their color and any symbols on them. Recall the other holy days on which they are used.
To put the Lord’s Prayer in the context of Christ’s kingship, use the phrase “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory” of the Lord’s Prayer as a congregational response to each of the other lines of the prayer.
Especially in the United States this month, most people of all political persuasions, resonate with Jeremiah’s wish for political leaders who are good shepherds, i.e. leaders who have the well being of the people as their focus. In the context of today’s theme, Jesus is that leader. He is a king who has the good of the people as clearly in mind as a shepherd has the well being of the sheep in mind.
For children shepherds are people who take care of sheep. They will need to be clearly told that in the Bible Jesus is often referred to as a shepherd not of sheep but of people. One way to do this is to show a picture of Jesus with sheep in his arms (Google “good shepherd pictures”) and a picture of Jesus with people (you may have a picture of Jesus and the children in the church school). Note that when we say Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we do not mean that Jesus takes care of sheep. Instead we mean that Jesus takes as good care of people as a good shepherd does of sheep.
The earliest painting of Jesus is this painting of Jesus as a good shepherd. Help the children find the sheep on Jesus' shoulders and the water he is carrying for the sheep. Note how young and strong Jesus looks. The painting is found in the catacombs (tunnels under the city of Rome) where the first Christians hid out from Romans who wanted to feed them to the lions. This painting on the wall reminded them that Jesus would take care of them.
Psalm 46 GOD IS WITH US, WE FEAR NOTHING
This psalm celebrates what the other texts for the day describe. We are safe in the presence of God. We don’t have to be afraid. Verses 10-11 sum it up most simply for children.
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is based on this psalm. Martin Luther’s words are difficult for children to understand. What they can get is the feel of fearlessness and the passion with the congregation sings this familiar, loved hymn. Before singing it, note that Martin Luther wrote this song while his friends were hiding him in a castle from people who wanted to kill him. Invite singers to imagine how they felt as they sang his song together.
Before reading Zechariah’s song, briefly tell the story behind it. Elderly, childless Zechariah had not believed the angel who told him he would have a son. Because he had not believed, he was unable to speak until the baby (John the Baptist) was born. These were his first words after nine silent months. Either invite worshipers to imagine old John holding his newborn son in his arms saying these words to God and everyone around him. Or, if your congregation includes an older man who could speak the words dramatically from memory , ask him to present the reading (perhaps holding a wrapped baby doll in his arms).
The hymn to Christ in verses 15-20 is the heart of this text. Unfortunately for children, it is filled with so many pronouns and interchangeable names for Jesus that it is hard to follow. Choosing to read either Today’s English Version or The Contemporary English Version rather than the King James or NRSV may help. But, even they need to be interpreted. The hymn boils down to six statements about Jesus. Children will recognize some of them and be interested in exploring them as a set of ideas about Jesus.
Jesus is God made visible.
Jesus is better than anyone else or anything else in all creation.
God made the world through Jesus and for Jesus.
Jesus (and God) existed before anything else.
Jesus is the head of the church and what keeps it alive.
God forgave us through Jesus’ death on the cross.
If you must offer a children’s time, invite the children to join you with the big Bible from the front of the church. Introduce the text as a song about Jesus that the very first Christians sang. Pause in your reading to put each big idea about Jesus in your own words. You might want to reread this without interruptions later or this might be the epistle reading for the day.
No matter which translation of this song you use, three names appear – Jesus, Christ, and Son. Before reading the text, point out these names and briefly explain each one. To add a visual, present each name on a poster that can be left in full view during the reading.
Jesus is the name his family and friends called Jesus – like Susan or Lu.
Christ is actually a title rather than a name. It is not Jesus’ last name (a common misperception among children). The title means God’s Chosen One and applies only to Jesus.
Jesus is called God’s Son or simply the Son. Just as people say of a son that he is just like his father, people say of Jesus that he not only is like God but is God in human form.
The text refers to Jesus at both the beginning and end of time. If there are Alpha and Omega symbols on today’s paraments or elsewhere in the sanctuary, point them out and explain them. Enjoy the children’s question “but what came before that…” and the mysterious answer that before anything there was God and Christ. And, after everything there will be God and Christ.
Luke’s account of the crucifixion centers on Jesus’ forgiving those who crucified him and the thief who asked for forgiveness. On this Sunday it emphasizes Christ’s work forgiving us. In children’s stories kings don’t have to forgive. But, King Jesus, the king of the universe, chooses to forgive us at great cost to himself.
It is a good day for worship education about confession and assurance of pardon as they are practiced in your worship. Point to that section of worship in a bulletin. Walk worshipers through the prayers and responses, putting things in your own words as you go.
In my congregation it would go something like this: We say together that we all know we do things that are sinful, then in the silence we each tell God some of the bad stuff we have done in the last week. We ask God to forgive us and then hear the minister remind us that God will forgive us. We respond with a happy song thinking God for forgiving us and shake hands to “pass the peace” that we get from God to those sitting around us.
Rehearse any standard responses or refrains together. For example, explain that “Kyrie Eleison” means “Christ have mercy” or “Christ forgive us,” then sing it through once.
To emphasize the purpose of the prayer of confession, create a responsive prayer. The congregation’s response to each plea is “Christ, forgive us.”