Early May this year brings us another traffic jam of worship texts. May 1 is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Thursday May 5 is Ascension Day. Next Sunday May 8 is the Seventh Sunday of Easter and in many countries Mothers’ Day. Finally, May 15 is Pentecost and things settle down a bit. The main thing to consider is when to tell the Ascension story. It is an important story for children as it answers the post Easter question, “Where is Jesus now?” and sets the stage for the waiting for Pentecost, then for Pentecost itself. At least some years, I would omit either the sixth or seventh Sunday of Easter in order to worship around the Ascension stories.
Texts for The Day
t There is a lot of action and are several unfamiliar place names in this story. To help children hear the story through them, have it pantomimed by an older children’s or youth class while the usual worship leader reads the story from the Bible in the lectern. As the reading begins, Paul stands to one side of the chancel in front of a person holding a sign that says TROAS. Spread out across the chancel in story order are people holding signs that say, MACEDONIA, SAMOTHRACE NEAPOLIS, and PHILIPPI. At the far side of the chancel just past the PHILIPPI sign, sit 2 or 3 women in a circle. Lydia wears a purple scarf or dress. As actors take their places, comment on the geography noting the significance of the sea to be crossed between Troas and Macedonia or laying out a blue fabric seas and pointing out that Macedonia was the area (like a state?) in which Samothrace, Neapolis and Philippi were cities. (No one will remember all this geography, but explaining makes the story feel more real.)
Hmmm…In 2016, it is interesting that the water Paul crossed is the same water middle Eastern refugees are crossing this year. Simply noting that gives the story reality. It may also open some worship themes about reaching out to each other in the current situation.
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During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul looks up curiously. The person holding the MACEDONIA sign may yell out the “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Or, it may be read by the reader.
When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.
Following the text Paul goes from one place to the next.
We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
Paul joins the women in the circle. He makes gestures as if speaking and they turn their heads and bodies to listen to him.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Pause long enough for Lydia to kneel and Paul to baptize her. Paul then offers her his hand and she rises. She may say the phrase “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” Or the reader may read it.
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t With this story we turn from the empty tomb toward Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes with fire. Today the Holy Spirit works more quietly sending Paul a vision and Lydia a visiting preacher with a new message about God. Being Easter People, they both listen and act on what they encounter. Both had to be brave. Paul was moving into a new place with lots of different people to whom he was to speak. Lydia responded by being baptized and inviting Paul and his friends to stay at her house – which could have made some local people angry. Add the Lydia Easter figure near Paul on your Easter People display.
|Public Domain per Wikimedia Commons|
t Both Paul and Lydia had to listen carefully to new ideas and decide what to do about them. Native American dreamcatchers capture this process in a web and some feathers or beads. Hung wherever people will be dreaming – maybe their beds, maybe their reading place – the net in the center of the circle is meant to catch all the dreams and visions and sort them out letting only the good ones through. Display a dreamcatcher or picture of one describing its use. Then talk about how we must listen carefully to both the dreams that come when we are sleeping and the visions that come when we are awake. We have to figure out which are important ideas and suggestions from the Holy Spirit/God and which are just crazy old dreams and wishes in our own heads.
t If children are gathered close to you conclude this discussion with a blessing of each child’s ears or head putting your hand in place saying, “May God help you listen for dreams and vision and figure out what to do with them.” If there are too many children for one person to bless, show them how to bless each other and allow time for them to bless those around them.
t If your congregation regularly uses the Apostles’ Creed in worship, this Sunday and Pentecost give you an opportunity to highlight two phrases near the end of the creed that often get lost for children in the string of phrases that seem unrelated to each other. Today focus on “I believe on the Holy Ghost.” On Pentecost pick up with “the holy catholic church” to explore how the Holy Spirit starts the church. Begin by either interrupting the creed as it is being recited by the congregation or challenging the congregation to recite the creed interrupting it with a clap at this phrase. Talk about the phrase, then recite the whole creed together again.
The term “Holy Ghost” calls to mind a friendly Halloween spook maybe wearing a halo. Children need to hear that to the people who originally translated the creed into English “ghost” meant the invisible you that was what made you the unique person you are. Everyone had a ghost. Today we might say Holy Spirit instead of Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is the invisible unique goodness that makes God God. So when we say “I believe in the Holy Ghost” we are saying that we believe that God comes to each and all of us. We can know God and God can communicate with us in lots of surprising ways. Connect it to today’s stories in which the Holy Ghost speaks to Paul in a dream and to Lydia in the words of a visiting preacher.
This worship activity also connects to the gospel reading promising the Holy Spirit.
t Paul and Lydia each respond to their messages from God by doing what they are best able to do. Paul preaches because he is a teacher. Lydia offers her home as a place to stay because that is what she has to offer. Use Lydia’s offer to introduce the word “hospitality” – being sure to point out both the connect and the disconnect between it and today’s word “hospital.” Describe the details of what she did – provide a place to stay and food to eat. She also seems to have let her home become a meeting place for the church Paul started in Philippi. Describe ways your congregation extends hospitality including some in which children participate. Also describe ways individuals can extend hospitality to people every day wherever they are. For children this includes inviting new children or lonely children to join their groups.
t If this story and the gospel lead you to explore love that reaches out to include all, Draw the Circle Wide is a good song with repetitive words on which children can join in. Google the title to find several YouTube videos of it.
t For a congregational reading of this psalm the One could be a worship leader, a children’s class or choir, or any choir. All is the entire congregation. (I chose The New Jerusalem Bible because its vocabulary is most familiar to older children, e.g. “fairness” instead of the “equity” in NRSV.)
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One: May God show kindness and bless us,
and make his face shine on us.
All: Then the earth will acknowledge your ways,
and all nations your power to save.
One: Let the nations praise you, God,
let all the nations praise you.
All: Let the nations rejoice and sing for joy,
for you judge the world with justice,
you judge the peoples with fairness,
you guide the nations on earth.
One: Let the nations praise you, God,
let all the nations praise you.
All: The earth has yielded its produce;
God, our God has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us,
and be revered by the whole wide world.
Based on The New Jerusalem Bible
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t Go to Year A - Proper 15 for a script in which the congregation responds with the “let all the people…” phrase. That script is based on the New Revised Standard Version.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
t The codes in this section of John’s vision are very hard for children to crack. They are very detailed, e.g. a tree that bears fruit every season and is fed by a crystal river that flows out of the throne. It is not easy to unpack the meaning of each of those details and then combine them. And, if you do that you end up with an abstract message about the fullness of eternal life that does speak meaningfully to children. Given that I would simply introduce this as a complicated picture of life in the world when it is completely as God intends it to become. And ask a few simple questions:
Is this a good or bad place to live?
What makes it sound good?
Who is in charge?
How would this picture of the end of the world help Christians who are having hard times now?
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t When this text showed up in 2013, Dr. Laura Sugg went on line to collect this page of jewel pictures. The jewels are in the order on the page that they appear in the text. Children, and other interested worshipers, were offered pages and invited to follow the pictures as they listened to the text read aloud and to try to imagine what the city they were hearing about. You are free to use this page for non-commercial purposes.
t Sing “We Are Marching in the Light of God” after rereading verses 23-25. The repeated words in both the original Zulu language and English are easy for children. Just for fun take a look and listen to what a group of middle schoolers in Singapore did with this African music HERE or below. If you search the name of the song you will find wonderful videos of everyone from children in an African school, to wonderful African adult musicians, to a bunch of white kids doing a less outstanding but no less credible job of singing this song.
t Children are amused to hear that in this picture of God’s City there is no Temple or Church. Take time to point this out and explain that the reason for this is that Church is everywhere, every day as people love God and each other all the time. For the relief of some children point out that this does mean that life in God’s City will be endless choir rehearsals and Sunday School lessons. Instead we will know all the songs so well we will whistle and sing them no matter what we are doing and will treat others and be treated by them with love all the time without needing lessons to remind us to that.
t Best friends are very important to children. They often show their devotion to their friends by wearing matching clothes and signing up for the same teams or clubs. To show their devotion to more distant friends like sports hero/ines they collect cards, put posters on their walls, etc. So the question “how can I show that I love Jesus?” is a good question to pose for them. Talk about possible ways (maybe wearing a cross necklace or coming to church on Sunday). Then reread Jesus’ answers to the question - “Whoever loves me will obey my teaching” (verse 23) and “Whoever does not love me does not obey my teaching” (verse 24). (This TEV wording makes more immediate sense to children than the NRSV “keep my word.)
t Jesus continues in the friendship mode by promising to be with us, to be loyal always – in good times, in bad times, even after we die. We can count on God/Jesus to be with us. That kind of loyalty is a meaningful Easter promise for children.
t Kisses in the Wind, by Lisa Moser, offers an interesting way to explore the link between Easter and Pentecost. It is the tender story of Lydia saying good-bye to her grandmother as her family leaves in a covered wagon for Oregon. It is a bit long (5 minutes to read aloud) and requires follow up conversation to get to its message in worship today. But, it clearly lays out the feelings of these two characters and names some of the ways they deal with those feelings. Both have parallels to the new relationship Jesus has with his disciples as he gets ready for the Ascension. Lydia and Grandma do “picturing” (remembering). Jesus’ disciples will remember all the things they did with Jesus. Lydia will make bark boats with new friends. The disciples will love new people as Jesus loved them. Grandma wrote her stories into a book for Lydia. Jesus’ disciples (eventually) have the stories of Jesus in the Bible. Lydia says having her hair braided will always make her feel close to Grandma and all the times she braided her hair. Disciples feel close to Jesus when the eat bread and drink the cup together. Finally, as the wagon rolled out Grandma blew “kisses on the wind.” Jesus promises the Holy Spirit that will be like kisses on the wind for his disciples (and us). If you will read the stories of Ascension next Sunday and Pentecost on the following Sunday, this story and conversation would be a good way to set the stage for those stories and to explore children’s curiosity about “how things worked” as Easter moved toward Pentecost.
t Highlight any reference to the Holy Spirit in your communion liturgy. In my tradition, I would look for a form of the great prayer of thanksgiving that mentions the Holy Spirit. Before the sacrament, I would read it putting it into my own words and explaining the connection to the bread and cup.
t Go to the Acts material above for a way to explore “I believe in the Holy Ghost” from the Apostles’ Creed.
t To pick up on some of the images in this word picture:
Sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” with its simple repeated Latin words. Sing it in unison or as a round between several choirs or sides of the aisle in the congregation.
Sing “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” being sure to add “I’ve got joy like a fountain….”
t After reading about Jesus passing the peace to us, explain your practice of passing the peace during worship. Then, do it. You might pass the peace a second time as the benediction at the end of worship today.
John 5:1-9 (Alternate Reading)
t This is one of the harder healing stories for children to understand and appreciate because they first have to deal with all the sick people who were waiting to be first in the pool when the waters were troubled. For that reason (and the wealth of other material for this day) I would not use this story. If however you do use it, simply tell the children that people in Jesus’ day believed that if they were first into the water at this particular pool they would be healed and that seems weird to us today. Then, direct their attention to the fact that the paralyzed man had almost no chance of being first in. Children understand wanting something that you have little chance of getting because everything is against you. Imagine wanting to be on the travel soccer team but knowing others will be chosen before you. Even imagine being a hungry refugee child wanting to get to food being handed out before it is all gone but being pushed aside by bigger stronger people. Then, talk about Jesus “seeing” the paralyzed man and giving him what he needed. The trick with this is to admit that Jesus doesn’t get us everything we want – e.g. get us on travel soccer no matter how good we are – but to challenge worshipers to join Jesus in looking out for the people who are stuck “at the back of the line” and reaching out to them. The difficulty of doing that sends me back to my original inclination to skip this story for the children, but for what it is worth I’ll leave it in this post.