Monday, March 21, 2011

Year A - The Second Sunday of Easter May 1, 2011

For many congregations this, being the first Sunday of the month, will be a Communion Sunday.  Given that, it might be worth swapping this week’s texts for next week’s texts in order to read and explore the story of the road to Emmaus and celebrate Communion on the Sunday after Easter.  Children especially are drawn into this combining of an important Communion story with the sacrament.

If you make this swap, remember that today’s texts will be used on Mother’s Day.  I’ll be making some connections for both sets of lections with both Communion and Mother’s Day.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 (New Revised Common Lectionary)

This long sermon deals with generalities which are hard for children to follow and is long.  When so much in the other texts attracts children, I’d be inclined to work with those texts and leave this one for the adults. 

Acts 2:42-47 (Roman Catholic Lectionary)
(Read on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary.)

If  you read this description of the life of the early church on Mother’s Day/Festival of the Christian Family, it offers the opportunity to compare life in the early church with life in your congregation and life in families which have been referred to as “domestic churches.”  Specific examples of your congregation and current families doing the things that the early church did help children and parents see their family life as part of God’s larger family. 

If you read this on a Sunday when Communion is celebrated, point out that “breaking the bread” is a reference to communion and note that soon after Jesus death and resurrection, his disciples began to celebrate Communion.

If you use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, highlight the phrase “… joining our voices with the heavenly choirs and with all the faithful of every time and place...”.  Either walk the congregation through the entire Great Prayer explaining the flow of the ideas with emphasis on this phrase and the way it leads to the congregation’s response or point to and explain only this phrase.  (For many children and adults this traditional prayer is only known as “that long prayer before communion.”)   Then, suggest that today worshipers imagine themselves joining Peter, the women who found tomb empty, and all the early Christians at the Table.  Pause just before praying the phrase this morning to call attention to it.  If you do not use The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, simply explore the idea of the great feast at which God’s people of all ages gather around the Table.

Psalm 16 (New Revised Common Lectionary)

As I write, the international coalition has begun firing on Libya and the Japanese are reeling from triple disasters.  It is impossible to guess how any of this will have played out by the time we worship using this psalm.  But, I suspect the first line, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge” may be the key phrase.  It could be well used as the congregational response to prayers for specific people in need of refuge.  Before doing this, do explain the phrase “in you I take refuge” for the children.  The TEV translates it “I trust in you for safety”.  The CEV emphasizes the fear with “I run to you for safety.”

Psalm 118 (Roman Catholic)

Children will quickly get lost in this long psalm that even the Biblical commentaries describe as rather disjointed.  They more easily focus on one of the sections of the psalm.

Turn verses 1-4 and 29 into a responsive call to worship with the congregation repeating “His steadfast love endures forever.”  Consider adding calls to groups and nations today to say…


One:    O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
All:      God’s steadfast love endures forever!
One:    Let Israel say,
All:      “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
One:    Let the house of Aaron say,
All:      “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
One:    Let those who fear the Lord say,
All:      “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
One:    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
All:      God’s steadfast love endures forever.


Read only verses 21-25.  Describe the function of a cornerstone in laying the foundation of a building.  If your sanctuary has a cornerstone, describe it and tell any stories about it.  Then introduce Jesus as the cornerstone of the church.  Retell the Holy Week story as the rejection of Jesus and Easter as God’s insistence that Jesus is indeed the proper cornerstone.  Don’t expect children to make the connection between Jesus and the cornerstone on their own.  It will be a stretch for them to grasp even if you tell them.

Verse 25 is the Hebrew word “Hosanna!” that was shouted to greet Jesus on Palm Sunday.  On the Second Sunday of Easter recall how the phrase was used on Palm Sunday and celebrate how right the people were when they shouted it.  Then shout it in a responsive reading or sing  the Palm Sunday hymn “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” celebrating it with an after Easter perspective.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Children will not understand all the abstract language of this passage as it is read and most of its message is beyond their understanding.  I can think of two possible ways for them to connect with it.

Point out that this is a letter Peter wrote to Christians living in what is now Turkey two thousand years ago.  Then read or tell in your own words verses 3 and 6.  Briefly describe the persecution Peter’s readers were facing and how Peter was trying to encourage them.  Then, imagine or ask for a list of people today who might like to receive Peter’s encouraging letter.  People of Japan and Northern Africa come to my mind this morning.  If worshipers join in the conversation expect to hear  as well about individuals in tough situations.  Close the conversation by restating or rereading the two verses.

Read verses 8-9 as a follow up on the story of Thomas to recognize the fact that though we cannot actually touch Jesus as Thomas did, we still believe as Thomas did.

John 20:19-31

Invite children forward for reading the gospel.  Set the scene with the fearful disciples locked in a room on Easter evening.  Then read verses 19 -23.  Another worship leader steps up from the side with a Bible to read verses 24-25.  The original reader then takes up the reading with “A week later the disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them” and reads the remainder (perhaps omitting verses 30 – 31).

This gospel text is the strongest reading of the day for children (and probably adults, too).  It includes two stories that can be explored independently or in relationship to each other.  The first is Jesus meeting the disciples on Easter evening.  Laura Dykstra summarizes that story as follows.

“When Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were hiding upstairs in a locked room—the friends who knew him best, who had betrayed him, who had pretended they didn’t know him, who had run away when he was dying, who hid when he was arrested, who were frightened and ashamed. He appeared among them and greeted them. He didn’t say, ‘What happened?’ ‘Where were you?’ ‘You screwed up.’ He greeted them saying, ‘Peace.’  (Laurel A. Dykstra, Sojourners, March 2008)

For the children, name the people in the room and recall how they had behaved during Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Imagine their fears of what Jesus might say or do to them if he really was alive again as the women who came back from the tomb said he was.  My guess is that they had nervous lumps in their tummies.  Then, translate Jesus’ “Peace” as “It’s OK” or “I understand,” even “You are forgiven.”  That then opens the door to Jesus’ command that as he has forgiven them, they are to forgive others.

This is a good opportunity to highlight and explore the Lord’s Prayer petition “forgive our debts/trespasses/sins, as we forgive…”  Write

“forgive us our debts  (or your word)”

on one poster strip and

“as we forgive our debtors (or your words)”

on a second poster strip.  Present them first in the order they appear in the Lord’s Prayer.  Connect the first strip to Jesus forgiving the disciples on Easter evening and the second strip to his command that they forgive others.  Then flip the order of the phrases and point out that we often have to pray this prayer backwards when we have someone to forgive.  Note how hard it is to forgive people who have treated us badly.  The only way we can do it is by remembering how Jesus forgave the disciples and forgives us.

Create a responsive prayer in which a worship leader describes situations in the world and in personal lives that need forgiveness and the congregation responds with “forgive us our YOUR WORD, as we forgive YOUR WORDS.”  Pray this prayer after having explored it’s meaning in light of today’s story.

The story of Thomas is important to children who already ask lots of questions about everything and to those who will ask deep questions as they get older.  The story insists that asking questions is OK.  Any honest question is OK with God and Jesus.  God can handle any question we can ask.  Thomas wanted to know exactly what had happened to Jesus and what he was like now that he was resurrected.  Some questions children want to know include:

Why didn’t you make me taller or prettier or smarter or…..?
How can God pay attention to everyone in the world at every minute?
Why did you let that (awful thing – like someone dying) happen?
Why don’t you make this (wonderful thing – like a sick person getting
         better) happen?
Why can’t I see you or at least hear your actual voice like people in the
         Bible did?

Suggest some questions and let worshipers add questions.  Be clear that all the questions are OK to ask.  Some of them we don’t get answered immediately.  Lots of them people have lived with and asked about for centuries.  Asking them is part of being human and loving God.

Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 21, 2011].

There are two especially interesting paintings of Jesus and Thomas.  Show one or both of them. 
Look first at Thomas’s face and imagine what he is thinking and feeling as he touches Christ’s body.  Then, look at the faces of the other disciples and imagine what they are thinking and feeling.  (I suspect they are glad Thomas asked his question because they really wanted to know the same thing but were afraid to ask.  It does take courage to ask some questions and Thomas had it.)  Then, look at Jesus’ face and posture and imagine how Jesus felt about Thomas and his question.  (This could be a conversation with worshipers or could be the ponderings of the  preacher in a sermon.)

Both of these paintings can be downloaded in many sizes at no cost when not used to make money.  Click on the link under each picture.

JESUS MAFA. Jesus appears to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 21, 2011].


  1. when you put in there forgive us "your words" - do you mean insert there trespasses/debts/or sins?

  2. Yes. And thanks for asking and clearing it up for all of us.

  3. thanks for the inclusion of the picture, Jesus Mafa, and also for including the attribution information. Wonderful artwork, and I'm glad to be able to pass it on now to others. Thanks for not merely posting the picture. ~ Randy


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