Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Year B - Easter Day (April 5, 2015)


The “good news” of Easter is somewhat different for children and for adults. 

t  For most children victory over death is not very interesting.  The lucky ones have little experience with death, beyond maybe the death of a pet.  Those who have experienced the death of someone very near to them know that even on Easter the missed person is still gone.  Though most have absorbed some of the culture’s fear of death, few worry about it very often.

t  Similarly, since for children all of life is new every day, Easter claims of new life are not exactly good news.  Butterflies, lilies, and eggs that are often presented as new life symbols really make more sense to children as Easter surprise symbols.  You don’t expect a butterfly to emerge from a dead-looking cocoon, a flower to grow from a clumpy old bulb, candy to come from an egg, or a dead body to come out a tomb alive again.  But on Easter they do.  For children, all are good news because they are surprises about what God can do rather than because they are signs of new life.

What IS “good news” to children on Easter is …
t  God is proven the most powerful being in the universe.  On Friday the bad guys thought they had won.  They had killed Jesus and sealed his dead body in a guarded tomb.  On Easter, Jesus totally surprised them and blasted out of that tomb proving that God and God’s ways are the most powerful power in the universe.  It is the ultimate good guys beat the guys story.  Children, who know themselves to be not very powerful and long to be more powerful, relish being allied with the most powerful Easter God. 

t  Children find good news in Jesus’ Easter promise to be with us always now and even after we die.  Instead of seeing Jesus conquering death, they see Jesus proving that even after we die we will still be safe with God/Jesus.  It is simply the way things are. 

t  The third Easter message that is good news for children is Jesus’ forgiveness.  Conversations about Jesus forgiving everyone included in killing him on the cross and promising to forgive us too make more sense to children than talk about Jesus saving us. 

The vocabulary of Easter is filled with big, hard to pronounce, but interesting sounding words.  They are fun to define and pronounce together.

t  “Resurrection” means “Jesus is alive again!” or “Jesus is not dead anymore!”  “He is risen!” can be confusing.  It sounds like he got out of bed rather than came back from being dead.  So it helps to talk about it before asking children to sing or shout it.  Even children who attend worship regularly my not be aware of the word resurrection except at Easter.  Don’t be surprised if even older elementary children treat it as a totally new word.  For some reason learning how to spell it, helps many older children claim the word.

t  “Alleluia!” and “Hallelujah!” sound a lot alike and both mean “Hurray for God!” or “Look what God has done!” 

If an Alleluia poster was buried for Lent, bring it out with fanfare (even trumpet fanfare) before the Call to Worship.  Yell the word a time or two with the whole congregation, use it in a responsive call to worship, then sing an opening hymn filled with Alleluias urging worshipers who can’t keep up with all the words to at least sing every Alleluia.  (The words in the verses of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” are more easily understood by children than those of the very similar “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”  Or, go for the Caribbean “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” chorus in which hallelujah is the only word.)

t  Challenge the children to count the alleluias in the worship service and to tell you how many there were as they leave the sanctuary.  To convince them that their presence is important to you, have a pocketful of hard candies so you can give a candy to each child who has counted – no matter what the count. 

t Episcopalians (and I imagine others) ring bells during Saturday night Easter Vigils when the resurrection is announced.  What about inviting worshipers of all ages but especially children to bring bells to ring every time they hear an Alleluia during Easter worship?  Yes, there will be a few jingles at other times during worship, but they are just echoes of Easter joy.  Particularly the first time you do this, have a collection of bells to share with children who arrive bell-less.

t  For many children the most impressive Easter worship service is a short sunrise service, outside if possible, featuring a telling of the story and singing of one or two familiar Easter hymns.  Simply getting up before dawn to celebrate the story “when it really took place” gives it a reality the mid-morning sanctuary can never quite match.

t  A second possibility is an Easter Vigil designed with the presence of children in mind.  The fire, candles, bell ringing, and story-telling of this early evening service can walk children who have missed many of the Holy Week services through the whole gospel story.  Go to Observing Lent and Celebrating Easter in Year C and scroll down to Easter Vigil for details.

No matter what time they come to Easter worship, remember that many children will have missed the Passion story.  The worship leaders will have to tell a little of that story to at least set the context for the Easter gospel reading.  Two ways to do that are:

t  Recall the Passion by beginning the service in a bare sanctuary.  Briefly, retell the Passion ending with a moment of silence.  Trumpets then interrupt the silence followed by a reading of the gospel and the singing of an Easter hymn.  During the hymn Easter paraments are put in place and Easter flowers are carried in and set in place.

t  Or, if your church has an adjacent cemetery, walk through the events of Holy Week and Easter there.  This could precede worship in the sanctuary.  Go to Rev Gal Blog Pals  to see directions for one such walk that was done on a weekday with school children.  It could easily be adapted for the entire congregation on Sunday morning. 

t  If you use a decorated paschal candle, invite the children close to it before the call to worship and processional.  Point out the cross, the alpha, and the incense “wounds,” briefly telling the story of Jesus as you do.  (To keep things moving, one person may need to talk while another inserts the incense.)  Briefly recall that Jesus did not remain dead.  He is alive.  Light the candle and point out the date and the omega noting that Jesus is with us today and everyday lighting up our world.  Then, either have the children follow the candle into the church and back to their seats or send the children back to their seats before the processional begins.

t  Don’t assume children (or anyone else) will notice and understand all the Easter flourishes in today’s sanctuary and liturgy.  Before the call to worship, take a moment to look around in happy wonder.  Point out the flowers and paraments, briefly telling why they are there.  Point out additional instruments and note that the choir has prepared special music.  Say the word “alleluia!”  Invite people to say it with you, challenge children to count all the alleluias in worship today promising a treat (hard candy from your pocket) to all who can tell you how many there were as they leave the sanctuary.  Point to anything “out of the ordinary” in the order of worship.  If you are beginning with a “this is the day…” call to worship, practice it together once urging people to join in with Easter joy.   Then, invite children and all worshipers to sing and pray and listen together. 

If you have been featuring crosses throughout Lent, today’s cross is a beautiful, golden one.  The key message is that on Friday the cross was an ugly, bloody woody cross on which Jesus was killed.  On Sunday the cross was empty.  Jesus was alive and from that day on crosses were beautiful, often empty reminders that God is more powerful than any other power in the universe – even death and that God loves us and forgives us always – even when we don’t deserve it.  There are several ways to highlight this message.

t  Identify all the crosses in the sanctuary.  Ponder their similarities and differences, e.g. the shiny brass cross on the central table, the cross in a stained glass window, the shape of the floorplan, even little crosses painted or carved in the walls or tables.  A girl sporting a new cross necklace might point to it.  Celebrate their beauty and the amazing story to which they point.

t  Bring out all of the crosses of Lent.  Review their meanings.  Then, point to or bring out the shiny Easter cross.  Insist that it is the best of the crosses and even makes all the other crosses possible.

t  If you have a free standing brass cross, begin the service with it still covered with a black drape.  Recall the cross story from Friday, then announce that the story did not stop there.  Jesus is alive!  With that pull off the drape and move into an Easter hymn.

t  One thing I would not do is offer children wrapped chocolate Easter crosses or cross shaped lollipops.  These are increasingly available.  To my mind they cheapen this story.  The day that changed history cannot be reduced to candy.  It is displayed in our best art and architecture and lead us to ponder the story behind it. 

If you have been following a Jesus figure through Lent, today place it near a shiny golden cross draped in translucent golden cloth. 

t  Talk with the children about the cross of Good Friday and the cross after Easter using some of the cross
ideas just above.

t  Explore how Jesus was “different” after he came back from the dead.  He knew Mary and she finally recognized him.  But he also could appear and disappear.  Promise more stories about the resurrected Jesus in the coming weeks in which he will do some surprising and some very familiar things.  Note that the same is true today.  We no longer see and hear Jesus the way people did who were alive when he was on earth.  But, Jesus is with us always.  We can feel his presence – sometimes more than others.  (Possibility: If worshipers are enjoying following Jesus around the sanctuary and you will be focusing on the gospel stories during the Easter season, you might want to keep the draped Jesus in action through Easter until Ascension Sunday.  Or, you may be ready to move on without the figure.)

t  And, if there will be overflow seating for Easter services, plan for the children who will be seated there with their families.  Especially if there will be only audio and not video connection to the sanctuary, think about what the children will see.  Flowers on a table are not enough of a worship center to hold their attention.  Add Easter banners, candles, and loaf and cup (if communion will be celebrated).  Bring some of the action to this space.  Plan for the processional and recessional to pass through here.  Have acolytes light candles.  Staff the space with a worship host (not necessarily clergy, just someone who will be “up front” directing people how to participate).  

The Year B Texts

Acts 10:34-43

t  The challenge in Peter’s sermon for the children is that it is all generalities, e.g. “Jesus healed and did good.”  Help them by illustrating the generalities with pictures of specific stories children will recall, e.g. Jesus healing a blind man or Jesus reaching up to get Zacchaeus down from the tree.  The pictures might be posters from the church school teaching picture file or projected images from the internet.  (Go to Vanderbilt Divinity Library Collection -JESUS MAFA for 65 African paintings from the life death and resurrection of Jesus.)  Use the pictures to illustrate the scripture as you read it or as you walk through it in the sermon to review Jesus’ whole story for those who haven’t been in church since Christmas.

Or, to explore the Easter surprise theme, use the pictures above to illustrate a series of stories in which Jesus surprised everyone, e.g. being born in a barn, proving there was enough food to feed everyone at a huge picnic, washing his disciples’ feet, making friends with Zaccheus, being killed on a cross, and rising from the tomb.

t  If you celebrate Communion on Easter morning, combine this text with the Great Prayer response “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”  After walking through the summary of Jesus life using pictures as above, say or sing the response.  Point to each of the pictures and finally to the Communion Table, singing or saying it as you do.  Practice it with the children and point out where it will come in the communion liturgy.  Encourage them and their parents to sing/say it at the right time today (and every Sunday) remembering the whole story of Jesus.

Isaiah 25:6-9

These verses are filled with poetic images describing a great feast and day full of wonders.  Children hear them literally and say “that hasn’t happened yet.  At least I was not there if it did.”  On a day with so much else going on, focus on other readings with the children.  This one will probably slip right past them.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

t  Turn the last verse into a responsive call to worship that reviews Jesus’ whole story in language worshipers of all ages can understand. 

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Call to Worship

One:  It began when God came to live among us as Jesus of Nazareth who was born in a barn.

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One:  Jesus was a teacher.  He said there are two great rules:  Love God and love each other.

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One:  Jesus was a healer.  He healed people with leprosy, people who were blind and people who had mental illnesses,.

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One:  Jesus made friends with everyone.  He called people, even hated people like Matthew and Zacchaeus, to “follow me.”

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One:  When people turned on him, whipped him and nailed him to a cross, he forgave them from that cross.

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One:  And, on the third day after he died on their cross, Jesus rose from the dead to live forever and called us to follow him.

All:  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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t  If your sanctuary has a cornerstone with a cross on it, be sure to include that cross in your discussion of the Easter crosses.  Ponder the fact that the Easter cross is what makes your church possible.  (This will be easier if you have discussed the cornerstone previously.  There is too much going on during and Easter service to take time to introduce cornerstones and explain their significance.)

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

t  One commentator said that worship planners have 3 choices today: two speeches about the event and one story about the event.  He suggested that the story was the best choice.  I rather agree.  If you do use one of the speeches, this one has more specific details that will speak to children than does Peter’s sermon in Acts.

t  Several other preacher helps suggested that the liturgy on Easter carries more of the message than any sermon ever could.  So rather than unpacking Paul’s list of resurrection appearances which are unfamiliar to children (and lots of other worshipers), focus on the phrases about Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed.  Print the entire creed for worshipers.  Before calling the congregation to read it together, point out the phrases about Jesus.  Take time to recall details of each story possibly illustrating each phrase with a picture, e.g. a nativity for “born of the virgin Mary.”  Then, invite worshipers to say the creed together.

Celebrate the whole life of Jesus singing “I Danced in the Morning.”

t  Check the Acts suggestions just above for ideas to connect this text to “Christ has died…” in Communion.

Gospel:  John 20:1-18

t  Because Mark’s account is so very short and because John’s account of Mary Magdalene offers children a simple, emotional story, I’d go with John’s story.  Mary was totally sad and scared.  Jesus had been her best friend and her teacher. Not only that, he had healed her.  After she met Jesus, her life was different – and lots better!  But now Jesus had been killed and buried.  Not only that, it appeared that someone had stolen his body.  She was sad and angry and hopeless.  She was crying so hard she didn’t recognize the angels or even Jesus, at first.  Then Jesus called her by name.  Everything changed.   Jesus was alive, he was still with her (even though she may not touch him), he called her by name.  So Mary knew that everything would be OK. 

t  Open discussion of this story by talking about how it feels when your best friend moves far away. Name the feelings you have as you think about the things you always did with that friend and might not be able to do anymore.  Describe the difference in having a person with whom you can share secrets and suddenly not having that friend around.  Then, point out that it was just like that on Easter morning for Mary Magdalene. 

t  If there will be a children’s time, set it immediately after the reading of John’s gospel.  Before the reading encourage all worshipers to listen carefully and encourage children to listen especially to what happens to Mary.  After the reading, sitting with the children, name some of Mary’s feelings as she sat crying by the tomb.  Together imagine and demonstrate how her face looked, how she held her shoulders, what she was doing with her hands (over her eyes?, clutched in fists?, wrapped tightly around her shoulders?....)  Then, reread Jesus conversation with her in vss. 15-18.  Ask, “NOW how was she feeling?”  (surprised!, happy!, amazed!, relieved!…)  Imagine and demonstrate how her face, shoulders, and hands looked now.

Mark 16:1-8

If you do read Mark’s account….

t  Help the children pay attention to the story.  Bring a Bible, maybe the big Bible, forward.  Announce that today we read the most important story in the whole Bible.  Set the story context in words children will hear. 

On Friday Jesus was whipped and then killed.  It was a horrible, sad, bloody day.  Jesus’ friends could hardly believe what happened.  They could hardly breathe.  Friday evening Joseph bravely claimed Jesus’ dead body.  He and a few of the women wrapped the body in a sheet and put it in a cave tomb.  There was a law that you couldn’t tend or even touch a dead body on the Sabbath.  So, everyone went home to hide and cry and try to figure out what happened.  The women gathered supplies to wash Jesus’ body and some good smelling spices to wrap into the sheet when they rewrapped it.  That is where our story begins.  Listen.

Then read the story from the Bible.  After reading verse 8, pause.  In amazement ask, “Did you hear that” and read the verse again emphasizing the fear words and “they said nothing to anybody.”  If you will be exploring that in the sermon, simply say, “we are going to talk about this in a minute.  I just wanted to be sure you heard it first.”  Or, introduce the two alternate endings to Mark.  Older children are fascinated by the possibility that the end of the book/scroll got lost or that endings got added to complete the story that was so incomplete.  I’d read the second reading first with a sigh and “that’s better.”  Then read the longer first ending, emphasizing the failure to believe in each part of the story.  You might have two different readers read each ending so that you can comment on them in a separate voice.

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A word about Easter nurseries:  Many parents who have not brought their infants and toddlers to the church nursery during the winter out of fear of catching the bugs other children bring, will decide to try it on Easter.  If their experience is a good one, they will come back.  If not, they may disappear, some for a very long time.  So, it is important to be sure the Easter nursery is spotlessly clean, well-staffed, and ready to receive the children.  If it is also decorated with an Easter lily and a picture of Jesus, there is quiet Easter music playing in the background, and families are greeted with “Happy Easter,” parents assume that more is going on than warehousing children so their parents can worship.  Find more directions and resources to use with preschool children who are not in the sanctuary for worship in Sharing the Easter Faith With Children.

I reprint this reminder every year because it is so important and so easily lost in all the other preparations for Easter.  Stop everything right now.  Make whatever contacts are needed to be sure the Easter nurseries are being as thoughtfully prepared as the sanctuary.

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