Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Year A - The Fifth Sunday in Lent (April 10, 2011)

The key words today are resurrection and hope.  They are challenging for children in different ways. 

HOPE in daily conversation refers to what you wish will happen, e.g. I hope it does not rain on our game tomorrow or I hope Grandma does come to visit this weekend.  In today’s worship theme HOPE is living through difficult situations knowing that God is in control, loves us, and takes care of us always.  It is like living every day knowing a wonderful secret.  This version of hope is very hard to explain to children.  So, tell and enjoy the Exile prophecy of the dry bones that exhibits hope and use the word hope in songs and prayers.  But, do not try to explain this kind of hope to children.  Let them just live with it for a while.  Putting it into words will come when they are older.

RESURRECTION is a very long, strange, interesting-sounding word that children hear mainly at Easter.   Many children do not recognize it in the “off season” and learn it anew each year. Talking about it today gives everyone a head start on using it on Easter.  So, practice saying it together.  With older children work on spelling it.  For today, for the children, define it as “dead people being alive again.”  Point to today’s story about Jesus making Lazarus alive again.  Note that people thought that was pretty awesome.  But, really it was just a hint about what was to come when Jesus rose from death on Easter.  Encourage young worshipers to get ready to celebrate that resurrection in two weeks on Easter. 

Unless they have experienced the death of a close family member or a friend, most children do not grasp the finality of death.  Cartoon characters constantly bounce back from being run over by bulldozers or falling from high places with a splat.  Fairy tale princes and princesses sleep as if dead for years under magical spells that are finally broken.  Video game characters kill and are killed repeatedly only to reappear in the next round.  Given all this, children are not all that excited about resurrection.  Our job is to introduce the possibility so it will be familiar when they do experience death close at hand and are ready to value resurrection in a new way.

The word RESURRECTION can bring us worship today (ala the sponsoring letters on Sesame Street).  Before the call to worship, present the word on a poster, practice saying it, define it, alert worshipers for a story about the resurrection of a man named Lazarus, and urge them to listen for the word in the songs and prayers of our worship.  Older readers can underline the word every time it appears in their worship bulletin.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel’s vision is an extended metaphor.  Just as the dry bones come together and come back to life, God’s people can rise from bad situations to live again.  Children have trouble making the jump from the literal vision to its spiritual meaning.  The youngest simply enjoy the details of the vision.  Older children can hear both the details of the vision and the message about God bringing new life in hopeless situations.  But, don’t expect them to get the connection.  For them simply hearing both sides of the metaphor is a good start.  During adolescence the connection between the sides will click into place.

Before reading the vision, set the scene. Either,

Ask the congregation to imagine that your town has been invaded and destroyed.  All the churches were burned to the ground.  All the leaders were killed.  People who weren’t killed in the battle, were rounded up and taken to live in the invading army’s country.  Then tell them, that is exactly what had happened to Ezekiel and the people to whom he was speaking.

Or, simply take time to tell the historical back story of the destruction of Jerusalem and Exile.

Illustrate the story with sounds.  Provide castanets, rain sticks, rattles of all sorts, cans filled with dried beans, or anything that rattles for the verses about the bones.  Then several people blow on live microphones  or rub sandpaper blocks together to produce the wind sound for verses about God’s breath.  A children’s class could be enlisted to serve as a sound choir practicing in advance.  Or, children could be invited forward to provide sounds as the scripture is read.  In either case, they will need a director leading them during the reading.  It will also help to read the passage twice, first without the sounds, then with them. 

Accompany one or more spirit songs with the rattles and wind sounds.  “I’m Goin’a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing” is a rollicking choice.  But, it would also be meaningful to sing “Spirit of the Living God” or “Breathe on Me Breath of God” quietly with gentle spirit background sounds on one or all verses.

Sing “The Lone Wild Bird” (probably without the background sounds) after introducing it as a song the Exiles might have sung with feeling in Babylon. 

Psalm 130

Verse 1 pose
Invite children or all worshipers to make 4 simple movements to the psalm.  The “a” set is more likely done by children invited to come forward to help present the psalm for the day.  The “b” set is to be done by the entire congregation in their seats.  In introducing the movements walk people through the feelings of the psalm.

Verses 1-3      a. kneeling with head bowed
                          b. sitting with head bowed,
                               face in hands
Verses 4-6       a. raise head to look up
                          b. raise head to look up
Verse 7            a. sitting up on knees
                          b. hands turned up and out to the sides
Verse 8            a. stand
                          b. stand

Read the first verse of the psalm.  Stop.  Take time to introduce the phrase “out of the depths.”  Explain that it is often used in prayers and songs.  Point out the difference between a bad day or little things that are hard and the really big things that are “the depths.”  Identify as depths such things as someone in your family being seriously sick for a long time, living in a place where you are afraid to go outside, your parents fighting all the time, etc.  Note that we will read a story about some people whose home had been invaded and destroyed by an army that took them prisoner and identify that experience as a “depths” from which people might have prayed this psalm.  Then read the entire psalm.

Romans 8:6-11

Paul’s argument here is dense and abstract.  Children simply do not get it.  Fortunately for the worship planner, the other texts include two fascinating stories and a psalm that explore some of the same themes in more concrete ways.  Meet the children in them.

John 11:1-45

This is a long reading!  The Roman Catholic Lectionary shortens it to

John 11: 3-7, 17, 20-27 and 33-45

I would add verse 1.  This omits some of John’s dense arguments, but presents the entire story.  It keeps the attention of young listeners who tend to get lost in the verbage of the longer reading.  It can be read from the lectern or be pantomimed using the directions below.

Because this is a long story with complex action, consider having it pantomimed by older youth or adults as it is read.  There are three locations:  (1) Jesus on the road with his disciples, (2) on the road near Bethany where Jesus meets Martha and then Mary, and (3) Lazarus’ tomb.  They could be in a line across the front of the sanctuary or the first could be near the back of the sanctuary, the second in the central aisle and the tomb scene at the front of the sanctuary.  Mimes could wear biblical costumes or a simple group costume such as jeans and a dark colored tee or polo shirt. 

This could be simply the presentation of the gospel for the day.  Or, it could become the sermon with the preacher interrupting the reading to freeze a scene here and there, walking among the mimes to comment on some of what is going on, then allowing the reading to progress. 

Note: The majority of the mimes need to be older youth and adults who can communicate with their faces and bodies.  But, since this was a community event which included people of many ages, it would be appropriate to include mimes of many ages, including one or two children.  Mimes could be enlisted as individuals or as families.

JESUS MAFA. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 9, 2011].

Explain burial customs today to set the stage for this story and for the Easter empty tomb story.  Using a painting to describe the wrapping of the body and burial in caves with a large stone pushed across the door of the cave. 


  1. Maybe it's possible to dramatise the scene setting with Ezekiel. Could a group storm into the church as the reader stands, and round up the ministers, choir, musicians, sanctuary party, church wardens/elders and others (all suitably primed) and hustle them out of the space.
    While this is happening, the reader has rushed to hide (behind a pillar, crouching in a pew, behind the organ...). When those rounded up have gone, the reader comes out and says something like, 'What do we do now? Our leaders have gone. Our musicians have gone. Our X, Y & Z have gone.
    When Jerusalem was invaded it was even worse - all the holy buildings were torn down, and the people taken to another land. Everything seemed hopeless. But hear what the prophet had to say...'
    Those 'exiled' return after the reading (and possibly the Psalm) whilst music or a song is played.

  2. Cool idea - especially in congregations that expect that level of inventiveness in worship. Especially given all the violence in the world right now, I'd be careful about doing it in congregations in which worshipers might be frigthened as well as surprised.

  3. Always learning! Some reading I'm doing while working on the Easter season lections made me fine tune what I said about Lazarus and resurrection. The difference between Lazarus and Jesus is that Lazarus is alive again in the way he was alive before. He will die again. Also, it was Jesus who brought Lazarus back to life.

    Jesus however is alive again in a new way. His body is different. It can do new things like appear and disappear. But, it is still the same. He can eat fish. And, most importantly, Jesus is alive forever and is with God in a new way! Not only that but Jesus was not raised by another person. God raised Jesus - and promises to raise us.

    One author said Lazarus was "resucitated" but Jesus was "resurrected." Those words are too big and unfamiliar to use with the children, but they may help us clarify our thinking about what we say to the children.

    You may want to explore some of this today. Or, you may want to save it for Easter.

  4. These ideas are awesome -as always! We have young people who eat up the opportunity to actively participate and contribute to the worship service and these ideas are meaningful ways to engage them. THANK YOU!!!

  5. Glad they look useful, Camille. If you use any of them, how about letting the rest of us know how you adapted them and how they worked. Lent will came around again and we all need all the tested ideas we can find!


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