t Lent and Easter are the most important seasons of the church year. They are filled by important disciplines and high holy days that are story-focused. They can be claimed and observed by children. I am so committed to including children in the congregation’s observances of these seasons that I have written a book on the subject – Sharing the Easter Faith with Children. Of course, you need to buy at least one copy! It is filled with both insights into how children understand the stories of this season and practical suggestions for how to include them in the congregation’s observances. The book includes:
· information about what children understand about these stories at each age,
· commentary on the Holy Week and Easter texts from a child’s point of view,
· detailed plans for Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services at which children are expected to be part of the congregation
· study session plans for parents, teachers, and worship planners
· an annotated bibliography of children’s literature related to Lent and Easter
t The Topical Index of this blog includes a growing list of posts related to Lent and Easter. Rather than re-post all this every year, I am giving you a list of the links. Take a look at those that look most appropriate to your children and congregation.
Instead of suggesting one discipline for children and their families to pursue for six weeks (forever for children!), suggest a new discipline to try each week. This is much less overwhelming to families for whom most of the disciplines will be new.
Ideas about making Lent visible to the children (and all worshipers) in the sanctuary
Highlight banning the word Alleluia for Lent by hiding a poster or banner bearing the word in the sanctuary at the beginning of Lent, then bringing it out to parade around singing some Alleluias on Easter.
Why children should be included in one service at which they often are not expected
Suggestions for helping families with young children observe Holy Week/Jesus Week at home or on the road.
How to “encourage” children and their families to participate in Holy Week Worship
Directions for making passports for children to stamp as they make their way through Holy Week worship.
Three Lenten Seasonal Themes for Year C
Worship planners often look for a theme around which to unify Lenten worship. For Year C there are two ready-to-go and a third one that I will be developing as I work through the weeks of Lent this year.
t Ash Wednesday fell on the day before Valentine’s Day in 2013. In 2016 it falls on February 10 and the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day. That suggests a sacrificial love theme that could be just for Ash Wednesday or the first Sunday of Lent or could extend through the whole of Lent. Many of the Lenten Sunday texts in Year C deal with the hard part of God’s loving us and our loving each other. If you are planning early, ask an artist to create a Lenten banner featuring a cross bearing heart. (This is probably a banner for an older worshiper to create, but which younger worshipers will see and think about each week.) Go to The Whole Heart Series for Lent 2016 for a summary of the hearts for each week of Lent. (Don’t overlook the Comments about ways people adapted this idea.) Details about presenting and exploring each heart are found in the posts for each week.
t If you pursue the Heart/Sacrificial Love theme through Lent, suggest Lenten disciplines that challenge disciples of all ages to be more loving. For example,
- challenge families to go through their closets bringing clothes for a mission drive,
- hold a midwinter food drive urging households to bring a week’s or a day’s worth of groceries for the local food bank
- challenge individuals and households to try one new way of volunteering on behalf of others (provide a list of local opportunities)
- challenge people to work on lover’s tasks like forgiving, speaking kindly to everyone all the time, or maybe working on loving one person (like your pesky brother) who can be hard to treat lovingly
Prayer, especially the Lord’s Prayer
It is interesting that the lectionary’s Matthew 6 reading for Ash Wednesday omits the teaching about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. Furthermore, the lectionary omits this text entirely. It just is not there! For that reason, I’d read these verses about praying one year instead of reading the fasting verses to introduce a Lenten discipline of praying every day. The discipline might be pursued in several ways:
t Make it a congregation-wide challenge to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day.
t Challenge households with children to learn the Lord’s Prayer - if the children do not know it already. You might even offer a small token to each child who recites the prayer for you during Lent. Families work on this by reading the prayer together each day, by learning one phrase each week to add to the phrases they already know, by passing the prayer around the table with each person praying the next phrase (with help as needed), even posting a copy on the refrigerator door or some other central place.
t Looking ahead at the Year C texts for Lent, each Sunday connects to one phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. The phrases are not in order, but it would be possible to highlight one each week. I’ll make suggestions as I work through the posts for Lent. At this point, the connections are:
Lent 1 – Lead us not into temptation
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness
Lent 2 – Deliver us from evil
Psalm 27 on trusting God
Lent 3 – Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
God is working things out in the wilderness, with the fig tree, and in our lives
Lent 4 – Forgive us…as we forgive others
Prodigal Son and all other texts deal with forgiveness this week
ALSO, if this is a communion Sunday in your church, there is a connection to “Give us …daily bread”
Lent 5 – Hallowed by thy name
Mary anointing Jesus feet and Paul counting everything else as trash except knowing Christ
Passion/Palm – Thine is the kingdom… power… glory forever
Jesus entering Jerusalem to die and the Phillippian hymn about Christ
Maundy Thursday – Give us this day our daily bread…
God offers us food for our bodies and for our souls
t Instead of focusing on the Lord’s Prayer, challenge the congregation to pray in some way every day during Lent. For some households this might mean praying before or after one meal each day. Others might commit to bedtime prayers together. Musicians might commit to a singing prayer each day or to learning a hymn prayer on their musical instrument. To help individuals and households succeed at this, provide resources. One resource is a classic twist pretzel reminder. Look at these pretzels to see the upper torso with the arms folded across the chest and hands folded together in prayer. Pretzels were actually a Middle Ages invention to serve as a Lenten prayer reminder. Give each person or household a small bag of edible pretzels or a hardened clay pretzel made by one or more children’s classes. Either serves as a reminder to keep the commitment to pray during Lent – and even afterwards.
Singing Our Way Through Lent
t If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I am paying particular attention at the moment to how we help children sing with their congregation. To that end I will be searching for Lenten hymns to highlight each week in worship. One possibility is to begin each Sunday’s worship with a hymn praising Jesus and highlighting that hymn for children with introductions and/or word sheets. I will also provide suggestions for hymns tied to the texts for the day and a few general Lenten hymns that don’t match a scripture but are worthy of singing and calling our children to sing with us. How this unfolds we will see as we progress through the weeks of Lent.
Other Ways of Including Children During Lent in Year C
t One way to draw children into Holy Week stories is to create a series of interactive stations. Go to Wednesday Festival: Easter Outdoors for a description of a four-stop tour done in the church’s cemetery. With Easter so early this year, an outside plan might be a bit risky for those of us further north. But, walking through these stories in a cemetery is loaded with advantages. It places the story in a public death place giving it reality. It gives children a comfortable experience with cemeteries that may serve them well should they make a trip there for a frightening family funeral. It even leaves behind children’s witnesses to the story for all who visit the cemetery in the following weeks.
t Go to Joyful Mama's Place and scroll way down the post
t Also go to Holy Week for directions for making a story telling box and a few small items with which to tell the Holy Week story. Actually I think one needn't make the box if small ones are available.
Two Things to Ponder….
t Why aren’t there more bells in Easter celebrations?! The Episcopalians brought jingle bells, silver dinner bells, even cow bells to ring constantly as we sang the first Easter hymn. I had the sense some worshipers had searched out the bells for this purpose and rang the same one with relish every year. I even wonder if it would be appropriate to ring the steeple bell, if your church has one, during this hymn.
t Finally, after Easter last year, my lectionary study group had a thoughtful discussion about Palm Sunday and Easter. Several had been criticized for the “downer” Palm-Passion services they led at the beginning of Holy Week. Worshipers, often those who would not appear at midweek Holy Week services, wanted something “more up-beat.” Though they did not say it, what the preachers sensed was that they wanted to jump from the Palm Sunday parade to the Empty Tomb without digging into the stories in between. We pondered whether it would be possible to begin Easter services with a plain sanctuary, a reading of part of the crucifixion story, and a prayer before reading the Easter story, parading in flowers and paraments and adding instruments to music, etc. It would be rather like doing an Easter vigil on Easter Sunday morning AND it would insist that children and reluctant adults hear at least briefly how we got to the empty tomb. Children who would not be brought to mid-week Holy Week services would get to hear the sad story of how we got to the empty tomb and adults who came for something upbeat would be walked through the down-side before celebrating the amazingly good ending to the story. It is something to think about as you begin seeing your way through Lent and Holy Week toward Easter.