NOTE: Because there are so many similarities in what needs to be considered each Easter, I am reprinting much of the general material that fits all years with significant editing as well as resources for the Year C texts. That way you will have what you need in one place.
Good News! He Is Alive! Alleluia!
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 death we are 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. This is most clear to children in the stories of Peter which we will read on the third Sunday of Easter this year.
The vocabulary of Easter is filled with big, hard to pronounce, but interesting sounding words. They are fun to define and pronounce together.
“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.
“Alleluia!” and “Hallelujah!” sound a lot alike and both mean “Hurray for God!” or “Look what God has done!”
t If an Alleluia poster /banner 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. (Look below for several child-friendly Easter hymns filled with alleluias.)
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 Invite worshipers of all ages to bring bells to ring bells every time the word Alleluia or Hallelujah is read, sung, said or prayed today. Have a collection of jingle bells on strings to offer those, especially the children, who come without bells. Introduce this way of celebrating Easter, give out bells, and practice using them once just before singing an opening hymn with lots of Alleluias.
t Give each child a pre-cut letter from the word Alleluia to decorate during worship. At the end of worship or maybe during the offering, invite the children to bring them forward. Arrange them in order on a paper banner/poster to display for the remainder of the service. Provide crayons or pens in worship bags or in central baskets.
t There are lots of Easter songs filled with Alleluias. Some are better than others for children. Some can be sung any Sunday of the Easter season. The ones below may be sung on other Sundays but are especially good on Easter Sunday.
Most congregations will sing either “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” They have the same tune. Choose first one because the language of the verses is easier for children.
“Alleluia! Alleluia! Give Thanks to the Risen Lord” is another song with lots of Alleluias and even more child-friendly verses. Challenge younger children to sing every alleluia and older children to sing the verses too.
“Good Christians All Rejoice and Sing!” is less well known but includes a 3 Alleluia chorus and verse words most older children can read.
“O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing!” has two sets of words. Sing the one that tells the story of the empty tomb on Easter and the one that tells the story of Thomas on the next Sunday. Sing each one immediately after reading the gospel challenging worshipers to be ready to retell the story you read with the song.
Or, sing either Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or the Jamaican chorus “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah.” Children easily sing along with the latter and can be encouraged to add their own Hallelujah’s from their seats as the choir sings the big Hallelujah Chorus.
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 Easter in 2016 and scroll down to Easter Vigil for details.
t 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. And it is not just for the children: Last year one of the pastors in my lectionary group was taken to task by a worshiper for the somber nature of the Palm - Passion Sunday service. That pastor and the rest of us rather suspected that the worshiper was not too interested in exploring the “somber side” of Holy Week and would not be at a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service. But he did have a point. So what if instead telling the Passion at the end of the Palm/ Passion service and leaving worshipers with a week before telling the Easter story, we could tell it at the beginning of the Easter service and then immediately erupt into the Easter conclusion. Just something to ponder. There are several ways to do that:
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 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 Take time to tell the of the crucifixion just before reading the Empty Tomb gospel. Use The Easter Story, by Patricia A. Pingry, stopping just after the crucifixion or tell the story in your own words. To grab their attention, invite children to sit up front with you for this story and send them back to their seats to hear the amazing end to the story.
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. Have children’s worship bags and other activity sheets easily available there. Staff the space with a worship host (not necessarily clergy, just someone who will be “up front” directing people how to participate).
If you have been exploring God’s sacrificial love during Lent, there are two possible Easter hearts.
t One is simply a large red heart mounted on the biggest empty cross in the room. On Easter Sunday we are left with God’s huge love that is there for us always, no matter what, no matter where. We are loved and forgiven period.
t The second bears a large black question mark and a gold glitter exclamation point. It goes best with Luke’s version of the story and is a chance to both celebrate what we know for sure about Easter and admit with awe what is too big for us to understand about it. Display it before reading Luke’s account challenging worshipers to listen for people who might have had a big question or been ready to shout a “Hurray!” or “Alleluia!” Save it for next Sunday when Thomas’s questions are the gospel story.
Year C Easter Texts
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. To check out a series of African pictures (65 of them!) from the life of Jesus set in African villages with Jesus always wearing a red robe go to Art in the Christian Tradition and search for "MAFA." Use your 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 Zacchaeus, 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.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
t Use verses 21 -24 with the children as the call to worship. Gather the children at the front, point out all the celebratory decorations and plans for the service. Introduce the psalm as the way you will get worship started. Walk through the verses with the children, interpreting as you go.
Vs 21: We are talking to and about Jesus in these verses
Vs 22: Read the phrase about the stone and ask who might be the stone which was rejected but turned out to be the most important stone. To help children find an answer, challenge them to think back through the week, who was rejected and killed on Friday but is now the most important part of the church?
Vss 23-24: As you read add a summary of Good Friday through Easter events immediately after the “This” and then read the rest of the verse.
t Having done this, ask the children to stand and with you to call the congregation to Easter worship by echoing each phrase as you say it. Maybe ask the congregation to echo the children. Go from this into the first Easter hymn as children return to their seats.
t This is God’s Easter dream/wish for the world. Before reading it, give worshipers one clue and a set of questions with which to listen to God’s dream/wish. The clue is that Jerusalem is a code word for the whole world. That means this is God’s wish for the whole world. The questions are.
How long will people live?
What does God wish for people and their houses?
What does God promise people with gardens and orchards?
How often will people talk to and hear from God?
What does God say about the lion and the lamb?
It would be possible to repeat and answer the questions together after the reading or simply to let the questions help worshipers of all ages pay fuller attention to the reading. In the latter case, you might want to refer to one of the questions and discuss it as part of the sermon.
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Paul’s line of reasoning here does not make sense to literal thinking children. To them it does not seem fair that because Adam messed up they have to die. And since Paul mentions Adam first, the children are so busy objecting to what he says about Adam that they hardly hear what he says about Jesus. Even if they do hear it, most are so stuck on the issue of fairness that they never hear Paul’s intended message. This text will have to wait for them to mature.
Mary Magdalene’s Easter experience as told by John is one of the best to explore with children. It is simple. 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.
|from Some Things Are Scary, by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Jules Feiffer|
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.
t Follow these discussions by introducing the first phrases of the verses in “Women Weeping in the Garden” and invite children/all worshipers to retell the story with the song.
t Have the story read by a woman. Consider starting with 23:55 to further set the scene. To emphasize the response to the women, have a man read 24:11-12.
t To combine the John and Luke stories, turn to one of these children’s Bible story book accounts.
The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, “Mary of Magdala Sees Jesus” is the shortest to read and focuses on Mary in a very understandable way.
The Children’s Illustrated Bible, “The Resurrection” is the least interpreted of these stories and is second shortest.
The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, is a fuller account and also tries to explain how characters felt as the action unfolds.
t In both John’s and Luke’s stories, all those present at the empty tomb are scared. Either someone has stolen Jesus’ body and the horror of Friday is going to continue or Jesus is alive again which changes everything and is scary. Rather than simplify the story to pure good news, be honest about its being both scary and wonderful. Teach the children to expect to be wondering about the meaning of this story for the rest of their lives. It is a mystery, bigger than our minds can understand. We’ll get to explore it further when we read the story of Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter this year.
|Burnand, Eugène, 1850-1921. Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb on Easter morning, |
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55038 [retrieved December 27, 2012].
t To explore both the joy and the fear, display the picture of Peter and John running toward the tomb. Identify the several of the feelings in their faces. Imagine what they were thinking. Use this to introduce the banner or poster heart bearing both a question mark and an exclamation point. Insist that our hearts and faces are often like those of the disciples on Easter. There is lots we do not understand. What we do know is that God did not let Jesus stay dead and that Jesus forgave everyone who had hurt and killed him and that God and Jesus will do the same for us. That is why we can say “Alleluia!” and “God, we love you” even with all our curious questions.
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I am also reprinting this reminder from Years A and B 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.
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.