For children and adults who do not attend Ash Wednesday services, this is the beginning of Lent. So take time to define the word Lent (sounds a lot like lint, but is not), identify its purpose, point to Lenten paraments and highlight ways your congregation will keep Lent as a congregation and individuals of all ages. If you haven’t checked out Year A - Observing Lent and Celebrating Easter click on it now for ideas.
Children enjoy all today’s 40 days – 40 days of rain on the ark, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and the 40 days of Lent. A well read child might even make the connection to the 40 years in the wilderness. Savor the 40s and invite worshipers to remember the 40s each day of Lent and to think of everyone still on the ark and Jesus still in the wilderness on each of the days between now and Easter.
As we settle into the 40 days of Lent the texts of Year A and C are sober and rather demanding. The texts for Year B are basically good news. God saves us from the flood, claims us in baptism, and is with us in the wilderness. That is a good place to start Lent. We are not earning God’s love with our disciplines with fear of failure. We are responding to God’s love by being the very best we can.
A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School I said, “when Jesus was killed…” and a first grader who is a regular went wide-eyed and said in alarm “Jesus is dead?” I quickly told her that “yes Jesus had been killed, but that God had not let him stay dead. He is very alive – we’ll be hearing more about that as Easter comes.” This conversation reminded me that many children have not heard or at least not caught the Passion stories. Featuring a different cross tied to the gospel reading each week during Lent is one way to help them understand the central symbol of our faith and its story. There are several crosses and ways to explore them this week:
U With the children’s help identify all the crosses in your sanctuary. If there is a cross closely tied to your denomination or congregation, display it and explain its meaning in simple terms.
U Give each worshiper a cross trinket to carry in a pocket, a cross bookmark to use in their Bible, or a paper cross to display on a mirror or the refrigerator door during Lent. Tell the whole crucifixion resurrection story in the briefest of terms – maybe something like this…
God has kept the rainbow promise. People, however, have done all sorts of evil things and ruined the world in many ways. Still, God has not destroyed the earth again. Instead God became Jesus and came to live among us to show us how we are meant to be. Some people got so very angry with Jesus that they killed him on a cross. Even as he was dying on their cross, Jesus forgave them for what they were doing to him. The day Jesus was killed was a horrible day. Jesus’ friends thought nothing in the world ever be right again. Then, on the third day Jesus was alive. They saw him and talked to them. He told them that he would always be with them and would love them and forgive them. Every time you see or touch this cross during Lent, remember that story and God’s great, forgiving love.
U And yes, in the article about keeping Lent and Easter during Year B, I did suggest an anchor cross “for the fishing disciples” for today. I wrote that weeks ago and have no idea what I meant then. All I can figure is that I read too far and met the fishing disciples there. Duh.
On the first Sunday of Lent, undertake Lenten disciplines singing “Here I Am Lord.” If it is not familiar in your congregation, learn or practice the chorus together before singing the whole hymn. Even non-readers can learn and sing this simple important promise to God.
To present the whole Noah story rather than just the rainbow ending, turn to children’s literature.
Read “God Sends A Rainbow” from The Family Story Bible, Ralph Milton. It starts after the flood and assumes knowledge of the ark story, but explains covenant and focuses on the rainbow. (3 minutes to read aloud)
Noah’s Ark, by Peter Spier, tells the story in a poem at the front. The rest is all pictures. I’d skip the poem and use some or all of the pictures to tell the story in my own words at my own speed. Avoid the pictures of the animals left behind. (The elephants up to their tails in water is too sad and raises questions you probably don’t want to deal with in front of the whole congregation.) Because the pictures are so detailed, this book is best used with a small group so everyone can see. This Caldecott Medal winner is available in many public libraries.
Noah’s Ark, by Jerry Pinkney, is a Caldecott Honor Book. Start with the words about creation on the inside cover, then read through the next to the last page to “Noah and his family turned their faces p to the sun and sang praise to God.” (4 minutes to read aloud) Instead of reading the last page about the rainbow (the weakest page in this fine book), announce that the story did not end there. Go to the pulpit Bible or pull out a Bible where you are to read Genesis 9:8-17.
Covenant appears six or seven times in this passage depending on your translation. Covenants will also appear in the next two Old Testament readings (covenant with Abraham and Sarah and the 10 Commandments). But the word is unfamiliar to most children. So print it on a large poster to help people say and own the word.
For children a covenant is a set of promises. The Bible is full of covenants between God and people. God always promises first. Then people respond with promises. God promises to keep that promise, even if we don’t keep ours. We can count on God.
The rainbow promise God makes is not to destroy the world again, no matter how bad people are.
Invite the children to listen for the word covenant as you read from the Bible keeping count on their fingers.
Children love rainbows! Add a rainbow to the sanctuary for the day.
Cover the doors into the sanctuary with rainbows of crepe paper streamers. Simply tape the streamers in rainbow color order on a tension curtain or shower rod. They might fall all the way to the floor requiring worshipers to enter through them or be cut into a high rainbow-y arch under which worshipers enter.
Ask a children’s class to make a large rainbow banner. They can sponge paint or brush paint or chalk between lightly drawn penciled stripes of the rainbow on paper or blue cloth. They might bring it in as part of the open processional or after the reading of the story. Or, it might be in place at the beginning of the service.
The following prayer came from “God’s Big Story Box” (Faith Alive Christian Resources, Dwell Curriculum).
Dear God, thank you for promising to never again destroy the world with a flood. Thank you for sending Jesus to take away our sins instead. We ‘re sorry for times we are mean and selfish. Please forgive us through Jesus. Amen.
Remember the camp song “Rise and Shine” that retells the whole Noah story with lots of humor. Even if you don’t want to sing the whole song during worship, you might mention one or more of the verses.
On the first Sunday of Lent verses 4-5 or 10 make most sense to children. If you make a rainbow banner, add some brown foot prints under the rainbow either before or during worship. Then read the selected segment of the psalm to celebrate living as God’s loving, good people under the rainbow.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Needless to say, children will not make any sense of this complex reasoning as it is read – no matter which translation is read. Even the comparison of baptism in which people get wet and Noah who was saved from getting wet is not obvious to children. If worship is built around this text there are a few baptismal connections that children might get.
If Noah is mentioned in the prayers over the water at baptisms, read those phrases, put them into your own words, and explain what they mean when said over water to be used in baptism.
After the prayers of confession but before the assurance of pardon, pour a pitcher of water into a big bowl near a microphone. Before praying, tell worshipers what will happen and urge them to listen and remember the water of their own baptism and even the water raining on the ark in which God kept Noah, his family and the animals safe.
OR, since this is the first Sunday of Lent, consider skipping this text in favor of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 which is filled with athletic training images that help children understand Lent and Lenten disciplines. Go to Year B - Sixth Sunday After Epiphany and scroll down to this text for detailed ideas.
Mark’s terseness is obvious here. Two big stories (Jesus’ baptism and his 40 days in the wilderness) are reduce to a few phrases and the beginning of his ministry is a generality. That makes it not very attractive to children. So what to do?
Save the wilderness story for Year A or C in which Matthew and Luke tell detailed interesting stories.
Read the gospel for the Baptism of the Lord (especially if you had to skip that day because of the calendar crunch this year). Go to Year B - Baptism of the Lord for ideas.
If you read this text, subtitle it “how Jesus got his start.” He was baptized and spent time thinking about who he was and what he needed to do. Connect this to your congregation’s confirmation practice noting the similarities to what Jesus did as he started.