Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Observing Lent and Celebrating Easter in Year A (2014)

Since most of us are already thinking about Lent and Easter, I am posting this introduction to the season now.  It gives you an overview of this year and links to previous posts you might find helpful.  It also reminds you of a few general truths about children during these seasons and of my book that offers more than fits in this blog.

Most congregations work hard to include children in Advent and Christmas celebrations.  Lent and Easter are another story.  Often the children are not expected at and not even wanted at these worship services.  The hope is that they will hear the stories in church school or at home and join the congregation celebrating the stories when they are older and understand them more fully.  I think that is a mistake.  The Lent-Easter stories are the key stories of our faith and the worship services of Lent, Holy Week and Easter are our high Holy Days.  Children need to be part of them with the entire congregation.

I feel so strongly about this that I have written a book, Sharing the Easter Faith With Children.  It 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

The book offers LOTS more than I can put in a blog.  So, I encourage you to invest in it.  Buy it now and you will have lots of ideas for all the Lenten and Easter services immediately.  It is available at many of the usual on-line book sellers and in many religious bookstores.

But, until you get the book J here are a few ideas about including children in the congregation’s observation of Lent and celebration of Easter.

> Children can hear the passion and resurrection stories.  From an early age they can be told that people who were angry with Jesus killed him on a cross, but that God would not let Jesus stay dead and made him alive again on Easter.  Over the years they add the details.  The younger the children the more they follow the emotions of the story rather than the facts.  For that reason it is important to always tell the whole story.  Even on Good Friday, mention the surprise that we know is waiting. 

> Children also find different kinds of good news in the passion and resurrection stories than adults find in them.  Older preschoolers celebrate God as most powerful super power in the universe and are glad to be allied with God.  Younger elementary schoolers, who are moving out into the world on their own more and more, find comfort in the God who knows us and promises to be with us always even after we die.  Older elementary schoolers identify most strongly with Peter as he lived through Holy Week.  Jesus’ forgiveness of the best friend who betrayed him proves to them that God will forgive anything.  Adults find comfort in the promise of new life.  All these different versions of “the best news” enrich each other when they are woven into the congregation’s worship.

> Exploring the stories in the sanctuary in worship gives them more power for children.  For example, a palm parade with other children in a classroom may be a kid thing, but a triumphant parade in the sanctuary with people of all ages communicates that this is indeed an important parade.  Hearing the story of the Last Supper is one thing, but celebrating the Last Supper on the “anniversary” of very night that Jesus invented it with the whole church brings the story to life.  Same with hearing the crucifixion story on Good Friday or getting up before sunrise to hear the story outside on Easter Sunday morning.

So, as you begin planning for the season as a whole, go to the following links for ideas that work every year:

Especially For Year A

It is all about God’s Stories this year.  The lectionary for Year A matches an Old Testament and a Gospel story for each week.  The stories are a series of hints or clues about the BIG STORY that is come during Holy Week and Easter.  They could be a series – “Stories that Shape Us,” maybe.

Lent 1 – The Fall and/or Jesus’ Temptation

Lent 2 – Abraham and Nicodemus – God’s Adventurers

Lent 3 – Moses and the Woman at the Well both find water

Lent 4 – Samuel sees David as God’s King and
                Jesus sees the Blind Man and heals him

Lent 5 – Dry bones come to life in Ezekiel’s vision and
                Lazarus comes to life

Lent 6 – Palm/Passion

Easter – Mary’s Easter Story – I am with you ALWAYS

That makes this is a good year to focus on stories and storytelling.  There are several possibilities:

> Devote time and energy to telling the stories with flair during worship.  Enlist the help of members of all ages in reading the stories as readers’ theater, acting them out, using puppets, and more.  Look for suggestions in the weekly Lenten posts.  Invite different people or groups to work with you on each week.  Or, issue a call for worshipers of all ages to join you every week during Lent to study and prepare to present the story for that week. 

> Select one prop or symbol for each story.  Use them to create a growing display as Lent progresses.  This is not a definitive list, but a possible starter.
Lent 1 – a big plastic apple
Lent 2 – a sandal
               (for Abraham and Nicodemus to step out in)
Lent 3 – staff, pail, or water bottle
Lent 4 – oversize pair of glasses
Lent 5 – a plaster or rubber bone

> Encourage families with children to make story telling their Lenten discipline.  Suggest that they dig out an old Bible Story Book to read from each day.  Or, offer each family a new book.  Children of God Storybook Bible, by Desmond Tutu, is a good choice for this because it has approximately the right number of stories for Lent, the stories are very brief, and the art which was provided by artists around the world is both attractive and thought-provoking.  (It is not available in paperback and so costs about $16.  You will either have to commit to making a copy available to each family with children as a gift from the church knowing that they will use it for a long time or encourage families to pay the price as part of their Lenten commitment.  There are advantages to each approach.)

> And, this takes us beyond worship, but…   One could enrich the season and this theme by creating a series of events in which participants watch secular films or film clips and explore what those stories tell us about who we are.  This could be for adults, for teens, or for all ages.  It would all depend on the stories to be told.


  1. Of the lectionary stories for Year A ("Stories that Shape Us," above), I am frustrated that so few are found in so-called children's bibles! No Moses finds water, no dry bones, no Nicodemus, no woman at the well, no John's version of healing the man born blind, no Lazarus. What's a church lady to do?

  2. Two possibilities:
    1. check out The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, which has most of the stories. Find Moses finds water in the story "Special Food." The dry bones are missing.
    2. Tell them in your own words, church lady. You know your children so tell them the story as they need to hear it.
    And, of course watch this blog. Now that you've pointed out a potential problem I'll be especially looking for ways to tell the story.

  3. You will find those stories (except dry bones from Ezekiel) in the Spark Story Bible (http://sparkbibles.org/)

  4. For the dry bones story, if you are musical I recommend the song Dry Bones by Common Cup Company.


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