All too often too many children go straight from the Palm Sunday parade to the Easter alleluias and totally miss what happened in between. They are conspicuously absent from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. So, they miss exploring the key stories of the faith on the nights when those stories have the most power. It does not have to be that way. Especially elementary school age children are ready to hear the stories and to participate in worship around them.
Why should children be among the worshipers at Holy Week services?
- When they worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as well as Palm Sunday and Easter, they hear the whole story. Too often we hesitate to tell them the desertion and crucifixion stories. We want to protect them from the harsh realities. But, until they hear those stories they cannot really get the joy of Easter.
- They hear the stories of the Last Supper and Crucifixion on the anniversary of the very nights they happened. It is like hearing the story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve or the story of their own birth on their birthday. As they imagine themselves seated at the table or standing near the cross on those nights, the stories have greater power.
- Not only do they hear the whole story, but they hear it in the sanctuary with the whole congregation. They sense the strong feelings around the stories and learn that these stories are very, very important to all the people gathered there. So, they listen more intently and claim the stories as their own.
- When their whole family goes to the trouble to worship together during Holy Week, they are acting out their commitment to the story in a very real way. Children notice that.
How can we include children in Holy Week services?
- We can set the services at times that work for families with children. Especially if it is a school night, services need to be as early in the evening as possible. Sometimes offering a meal at church makes it possible for families with two employed parents to participate in the worship service that follows.
- Give children and their parents a serious invitation to these services. It is not enough to say “children are welcome” – especially if children have not generally come. Instead you need to outline reasons for children to come and tell in some detail how children will participate in the services. (Focus on verbs. What will children DO during this service?) One way to do this is to speak directly to the children about the Holy Week services during worship on Palm-Passion Sunday.
- If there are changes in paraments or sanctuary décor for a service, begin by inviting children to help you make as many of those changes as possible and explain the changes as you make them. Then send the children to their seats for the Call to Worship.
- Have an older children’s choir sing during one of the services. Instead of asking them to sing only on Palm Sunday, invite them occasionally to sing a song or liturgical response on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Not only will they will learn a song related to that day, they will also be in the sanctuary to experience the rest of the service.
- Include an older child among the readers for the Tenebrae or Easter Vigil. Choose a shorter reading that will make sense to them. Even a young child can read the verses about Jesus’ burial. Older children read Peter’s denials of his best friend Jesus with almost deeper understanding than adults do.
- If children regularly serve as acolytes, enlist some of them for these services. Deciding to use only adult acolytes communicates to any children attending that they are not good enough for these services. It is also a way to help children become regulars and appreciate Holy Week services.
Easter Vigil Scroll down to near the end of this article for Easter Vigil ideas.
Children DO benefit from sharing in Holy Week worship. It is up to the parents and worship planners to encourage their presence.