Thinking ahead: If you will observe Palm Sunday next week and children will not be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, this may be the Sunday to focus on the crucifixion. If you will celebrate mainly-Passion Sunday next week, consider the Old Testament texts about “hearts.”
+ There are several potential crosses for today. (Yes, you’ve seen some of these before because there have been several suggestions for each Sunday. I hope there is at least one you have not used yet.)
Central American cross covered with faces (see ideas for the gospel below)
Crucifix if you focus on the crucifixion (see both John and Hebrews).
The central cross in your sanctuary. That cross could be used as an example of a cross that is lifted up and draws all people do it (It is the center of the sanctuary. Everyone who comes into the room sees it.) Or, it could be used to explore the idea that Jesus (whose symbol is a cross) is our high priest. Just as we can see that cross without asking someone to show it to us, so we can talk directly with God without telling someone else (a priest) to tell God for us. The cross/Jesus/God is right there in front of our faces.
+ If you have been following Jesus through Lent…
Simply stand Jesus in a central place. After reading the Jeremiah text, place a large red poster board heart near him or leaning against him. After reading the gospel, either draw a simple black cross on the heart with a marker or add a black poster board cross or a free-standing cross to the display. The message is that Jesus died on the cross to show us that God loves us enough to forgive us no matter what. Send this message home by giving out hearts with crosses drawn in them for people to use in their Bibles as bookmarks.
Place Jesus near an open Bible. After reading the Jeremiah text, lay a large red heart on the Bible. Point out that it is good to have God’s Word in a book we can read, even ask how many people own a Bible. Then, note that the only reason to own a Bible is to read it so often that you know it by heart or it becomes part of you. To send this message home, give out bookmarks listing scripture readings to use during Holy Week. (See a bookmark with readings from Luke for children at Celebrating Jesus Week.)
If you are focusing on the crucifixion today, go to Year B - Second Sunday in Lent (2015) for some ideas for that day’s gospel call to take up your cross.
+ This is the last regular Sunday in Lent. Next week is the first day of Holy Week. Since it is often difficult to find time on Palm/Passion Sunday to encourage people to attend Holy Week services and follow holy week practices at home, it might be wise to do so today. Especially if school vacation schedules mean that families are likely to be away for all or parts of Holy Week this is the week to offer them ideas about observing Easter on the road. Glean ideas from Celebrating Jesus Week. Prepare those who will be in town to join in the services by giving out Holly Week Passports today. Go to Holy Week Passports for details.
+ “Heart” is a metaphor, or even a code. Literal thinkers hear “I will write my covenant on their heart” as “God will cut me open and write with a pen on my heart.” So enjoy this yucky picture, then talk about the hearts we exchange on valentines and “I HEART New York” (or one of a zillion other places) bumper stickers. In your own words redefine the heart as “the real me,” “who I really am,” even “what I really love and want.” It is that very heart of us that God wants to be near.
+ Children understand rules and think they are important. To get at what Jeremiah meant when he said God would write the Law on their hearts, compare rules you have to follow with those you want to follow. Describe a checkers game during which players spend more time arguing about the rules than they do playing the game. They have to check the rule book and argue about what each rule means on each play. Then describe a soccer game in which players on both teams know the rules so well that they can use them to play the very best game possible. Which game is more fun? Jeremiah is promising that one day everyone will know God’s rules as well as championship soccer players know the rules of their game. Because of that life will be full of peace and joy for everyone.
Another example is Scout Laws. Most scouts want to be a good scout and so really do try to keep the scout laws.
|Davis, Maria. Sampler, from Art in the Christian Tradition,|
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved February 19, 2015]. Original source: http://www.mfa.org/
+ Display a painting of the 10 Commandment tablets. Talk about having to go to the Temple to check them out whenever you needed to remember one of them. Display the 10 Commandments sampler that would be easier to check out because you could hang it in your own house. Then ponder whether by the time the stitchers had stitched all those commandments they would have learned them “by heart.” They would not have to consult their sampler but could think about the commandments wherever they were when they needed them.
+ If you have been following the Old Testament covenants carefully, note today that the covenants have gotten closer and closer. The rainbow with its promise is way up in the sky. The Ten Commandments are rules written on stone tablets kept in the holy of Holies in the Temple. But Jeremiah says that one day God will write a covenant on our hearts.
+ Tattoos fascinate children. They love sporting stick-on tattoos from birthday parties or community fairs. Talk about using tattoos to identify yourself. (In my town most children have worn a UVA tattoo and would not consider wearing a VT one if it were the last tattoo available!) Note the difference in how long stick-on and permanent tattoos last. We can try out stick on tattoos. But when you get a permanent tattoo it is going to be there the rest of your life. It will become part of us. Jeremiah is saying that God’s Law will be tattooed on us, it will become part of us forever.
+ FYI - This psalm showed up in the lectionary on Ash Wednesday and will appear with the David and Bathsheba back story on Proper 13 (18) – August 5th of this year. Today it seems to be read to connect the heart talk in Jeremiah with the need for a sacrificing priest in Hebrews and John. For children, it provides a chance to answer the question, “why did Jesus have to die?” He died because we need to admit that all of us, even a good king like David, do horrible things to each other and that God will forgive us anyway. We can start over. When we killed Jesus, he forgave us from the cross.
+ Use verses 1-4 and 10-12 as the prayer of confession for the day. Before praying them, with the congregation (or children) identify all the sin words (sin, iniquity, transgression, and evil) in verses 1-4. Have each word printed on a piece of poster board and displayed in turn. Briefly explain that King David who first prayed this prayer had just had a man murdered so that he could marry his wife – that IS… list each of the words for sin! Note that most of us have not done anything that bad. Then, list specific examples of sin of which your worshipers might be guilty (lying to get out of trouble, saying mean words to or about someone, making another person’s life really unhappy by the way you treat him or her, being greedy, selfish, etc.) Finally, read verses 10-12, putting several phrases into your own words. Only, then invite the congregation to pray the prayer with you.
Remember literal thinkers hear “create in me a clean heart, O God” as “cut out my heart and wash it.” Acknowledge this. Note that “heart” is Bible code for “the real me” then reread the line - “Clean me up God. Help me clean up my act.”
+ Enjoy the acrostic format of this psalm. Every verse is a separate, rhyming thought about God’s Law. Each verse begins with the Hebrew letter Bet. Invite a children’s class or a collection of worshipers of all ages to read the scripture. They stand in a line each one reading one of the verses in order. In a smaller room, they can read from their place in line. In a larger room they can step in turn to the microphone to read. Either will require one rehearsal in the sanctuary.
+ After explaining the acrostic format, challenge young worshipers to create a stanza of their own praising God. The rule is that every line must begin with a B (like the Hebrew letter bet). Get them started with a worship worksheet like this one. Ask children to show you theirs as they leave or invite them to post their work on the altar rail or a bulletin board after the service.
B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B
Be Praised, O God!
Because you love me I praise you, O God.
Brown soil grows food with which you feed us.
Broken promises do not stop you from loving us, O God.
B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B
+ To connect this psalm with Jeremiah’s use of “heart” focus on verse 10a, “I will seek you with my whole heart.” Define “heart” as “deep down inside, the real me” and put the verse into your own words. Then ask how you would go about doing that – identifying very specific things such as worship, church school, choir practice, prayers at home with your household, etc.
+ Speaking of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice made lots of sense to first century folks. Priests and sacrifices on altars were part of everyday life. That is not true for today’s children. For them to understand this interpretation of Jesus’ death they have to hear a description of the old sacrificial system which seems quite weird to them and then to understand the connection between this system, Jesus dying on a cross and their life in the 21st century. Not easy! There are better interpretations of Jesus’ death for children.
+ One way to unpack the writer’s point at least a little is to point to the largest cross in your sanctuary. Remind worshipers that the cross is Jesus’ most important symbol. Then note that seeing that cross reminds us that Jesus was not just someone who lived long ago. Jesus is here for us now. Jesus, not the ministers or priests or anybody else, is the leader of the church – the great high priest.
Children are caught by a couple of isolated phrases in this passage.
+ “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” If you have not already featured a Central American cross painted with happy faces, do so today. Also bring out a world map or globe pointing out all the places there are Christians in the world and note that all these people know the story of Jesus on the cross and are drawn to it. Jesus was right. His death did draw all people to him. (This discussion may lead to prayer for people from all around the world who are drawn to the cross.)
+ Display a crucifix to ponder what Jesus meant by “I will be lifted up.” Point to the physical ways Jesus was lifted up and how many people saw him die there. Tell very briefly some of the stories of the cross emphasizing those in which Jesus forgives people. Acknowledge that it is hard to look at such a painful cross, but it also makes us realize how much God loves us. We are drawn to that love. (If the crucifix is not part of your tradition, feature it today to explain a cross they may see in churches of their friends or in their friends’ jewelry.)
+ “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This is an object lesson. Children tend to understand the part about what happens with the seed, but not quite grasp what Jesus is saying about himself – and us. For now they can explore the seed image fully and hear hints about its meaning using one or more of the following.
+ The Greatest Power, by Demi, the Chinese emperor seeking a new Prime Minister, challenged all of the children to bring in the greatest power in the world. Some brought weapons. Others said that the beautiful have the power to get whatever they want and spent the year making themselves as beautiful as possible. The brainy children pointed to the power of technology bringing examples of important Chinese inventions. And, of course one group saw money as the path to greatest power. Little Sing, after thinking long and hard, brought a lotus seed. When the emperor asked her why, she explained that when it is planted a seed produces a wonderful plant which produces food for now and more seeds for future plants. It contains life which is the strongest power in the universe. Of course she became the new Prime Minister. The book is too long to read in worship, but the story could be quickly retold to explore the life cycle of a seed and the power of a seed when it is planted. (Probably available in the public library.)
+ The Carrot Seed, by Carol Kraus, is a much simpler picture book about a little boy who plants and cares for a carrot seed. Everyone says it will never grow, but he keeps tending it and it does grow! After the reading, if you ask, “what happened to the seed?” children will say that it is gone. It has turned into a carrot which is much better. This is a start on understanding what Jesus meant.
+ In the Northern Hemisphere, this may be a good time to bring out some bulbs (or other seeds) and some flowering plants. Compare the two. Maybe even shake a plant out of its pot to see what has happened to the seed. Often all that is left is the shell. All the rest of the seed is gone, dead. But, the plant is alive!. “I wonder” questions work best here e.g.
I wonder what Jesus was trying to tell us about himself?
I wonder when Jesus stopped being a seed and became a plant?
(Don’t ask children such questions in front of the congregation unless you can trust the congregation to respond respectfully to whatever they say.) Younger children will be fairly clueless. Some older children may have some ideas. If no one comes up with a close to correct answer, offer an “here’s one thing I think…” answer. That gives the older ones something to think about.
+ An un-seedy idea about losing your life to find it is what happens when a child graduates from one grade to the next. The first grader is over, dead, no more. Instead there is a brand new second grader. Sometimes it is scary to graduate and leave behind teachers and schools you love, but when you do you usually grow into your new school and teachers and friends.
+ Introduce verse 25 as a riddle that Christians have tried to solve ever since Jesus posed it. Jesus said, “If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. (CEV because it replaces hating your life with give up your life which is easier for children to grasp)“ Together name some of the ways we can give up taking care of ourselves and trying to get what we want in order to take care of others and get them what they need. Ponder how weird it is that doing this does make us happy, i.e. make us feel alive.