Saturday, March 26, 2016

Year C - Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

Acts 11:1-18

Children are fascinated by this story.  It is however rather long and hard for them to follow as it is read.  To help them, prepare a class of older children to act the story out as Peter tells it reading from the lectern.  Simple costumes and props are a plus, but not essential.  The children bring the story to life by making visual all the moving around as the story unfolds.  In a more playful pantomime, a set of children might stand behind Peter and lower a small sheet (maybe a crib sheet) filled with stuffed animals or plastic food from the nursery.  In a more formal setting, the sheet may be left to listeners’ imaginations with Peter simply looking up, showing first puzzlement, then shaking his head “no” at the appropriate places.

Another way to tell this story is to read “Cornelius Becomes A Christian” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.

No matter how you read or present this story, it is important to explain the problems between Jews and Gentiles in simple terms before reading.  It can be as simple as, “Today we are hearing a story about Peter and Cornelius.  Peter was a Jew.  Cornelius was a Gentile.  Jews did not like or trust Gentiles.  Because Gentiles would eat foods that Jews would not, Jews would not eat with Gentiles or even drink from a cup that a Gentile had used.  Knowing that, listen to what happened between Peter and Cornelius.”

Children who are often very picky about what they eat, even what the people they eat with eat, are fascinated by this story.  It is an opportunity to help them be more open to people who eat foods they do not.  To start this discussion present a variety of foods.  They could be a collection of food samples from the grocery store, plastic foods from the nursery kitchen toys, a collection of pictures of foods, or wooden shapes like those in the photo.  Identify which of the foods children would or would not eat.  Talk honestly about how hard it can be to eat foods that look or smell very different from what you are used to eating.  Then retell this story insisting that God was asking Peter to eat whatever his Gentile host Cornelius served him.  Without going into details of kosher law, note that Peter had never eaten pork or ham and had been told since he was a little kid that good people just did not eat anything that came from a pig.  Imagine him tasting ham for the first time knowing with his head that God said it was OK, but ….   Wonder if he liked it, noting that sometimes we like new foods and other times we do not.  Then, talk about eating new food with refugee families from other countries.  Point out that being willing to eat someone else’s new food is one way we make friends with them.

Add either pictures or drawing of people of
many different races around Peter
or add strange foods to his tummy – not both.
If you are doing a series on Easter people, Peter is an Easter person who met new people and ate new foods to share God’s love with people.  We are called to do likewise.  So, have fun adding strange foods that Peter would be willing to eat in order to tell new people that God loves them.  Or, talk about who is “different” today.  Add pictures around Peter (maybe from old National Geographics) or draw them or write words describing them.  Be ready to face even confront the discussions about who among refugees is welcome this spring.

 If you celebrate communion today, highlight phrases in the Invitation to the Table that welcome all kinds of people.  Take time to name specific people and groups who are included in this general welcome.  For fun, ask, “Is ___ welcome at this Table?” waiting for worshipers to reply before repeating the question with another name.  Start naming people like the worshipers in the room, but proceed to people with whom those people would be less comfortable.  Conclude by repeating the Invitation as stated in the liturgy.

God’s Dream, by Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, describes God’s dream of a world in which children of all colors and cultures live together in peace.  It is beautifully illustrated and has a rather complex story line.  So, especially with younger children, I’d read just a few selected pages.  Today I’d start with “God dreams that every one of us will see that we are all brothers and sisters…” and may or may not read the last two pages about God’s rainbow smile.  This allows you to explore the pictures and focus on one key idea.  (The whole book can be read aloud in just less than 5 minutes.)

NOTE: This book might also be read on the Seventh Sunday of Easter this year.  Before reading it today, peak ahead for suggestions about meshing the two readings. 

“They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” with its repeated lines is the easiest song for younger children to sing in response to this story.  Older elementary readers can sing along on “Help Us Accept Each Other” if the words “accept” and “acceptance” are pointed out and defined as “be friends with” before you sing it. 

Let’s All Join In, a book of wonderfully illustrated poems by Quentin Blake, is a book to savor and discuss with a small group of children who can see the details in the illustrations.  For today, use only the last poem that notes that whenever the house needs cleaning, a mouse needs catching, granny is fainting, or a big cake needs eating “we all join in” and maybe the first poem about how much “better” things are when everyone adds their particular music or angry noise together.  Identify all the different ways people help in the last poem to celebrate the diversity of ways of doing things that Cornelius and his Gentile friends added to the lives of Peter and his Jewish friends in today’s story.

Psalm 148

Help a class of older elementary school children prepare to read the psalm as the call to worship.  The parts of Readers 5 and 6 could be divided between 2 children each to allow for more readers if needed.  (This not only gives children a leadership role in worship, it also gets their entire families into the sanctuary during the long “after Easter, but still in school” season that can drag when Easter is early as it is this year.)


Psalm 148

All Readers:
         Praise the Lord!

Reader 1:
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!

Reader 2:
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Reader 3:
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

Reader 4:
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Reader 5:
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Reader 6:
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.

All Readers:
        Praise the Lord!



To keep the Easter praises going, display a colorful, even glittery poster of the word “Praise!”  (Perhaps a children’s or youth class could create one.)  Before the Call to Worship talk about and define praise as saying all the wonderful things that are true about a person.  Note how saying those things helps us remember how special that person is.  Then suggest that worshipers watch for times we praise God in worship today.  Give children gold or yellow markers with which to draw a star or smiley face in their printed order of worship each time they hear us praise God.  Older children will put theirs by the correct item in the order of worship.  Younger children will simply decorate their paper with stars or smiley faces.  If you do this also try one or two of the following:

Point out that we start every worship time singing a praise hymn.  Briefly explain why and describe how the one you will sing today praises God.

Sing “All Creatures of Our God and King.”  The Alleluias can be sung by even non-readers when they are encouraged to sing them.  It also recalls the Earth Day emphasis of the past week.

Sing “Earth and All Stars” pointing out the interesting very modern call to test tubes (or maybe the scientists who use them) to praise God.  Older children delight in finding such “today” references in a hymn.

If you sing the Doxology regularly take time to review the words together.  Say the words together inviting worshipers to clap each time they say the word “praise.”  Put each phrase into your own words identifying the beings who are called to praise God and the reasons for praising God.  Then sing the song together.

Revelation 21:1-6

For most children life is new every day, so the promise of a new heaven and new earth is not particularly important to them.  It is probably easier to explore specific sections of this vision than the whole image.

There is no rainbow in this vision, but the vision and the rainbow carry the same message.  And, the rainbow may communicate the message more clearly to children.  Most children love to draw and wear rainbows, but few know that rainbows are codes/symbols for hope.  This is a chance to introduce that – without getting into the details of the Noah story.  Simply ask children when we can see a rainbow.  Can we see one on a sunny day?  No, we only see a rainbow after a storm.  When we see a rainbow we remember that no matter how scary a storm is, God is with us.  (Give out rainbow stickers or tattoos to make this connection more memorable.)

Lorraine Fort shared this idea in the comments on Facebook in 2013: We have been using the idea of "code words" in Revelation as our children's themes.  So this week, I'm going to use "the new Jerusalem" as the image of the church.  A city, a community, takes many different people to make it run well...police, street workers, trashmen, store owners, teachers, electricians, residents, etc....God brings them all together in perfection in the new Jerusalem. In our church, we are brought together to serve God.  This leads to the inclusion of everyone, even those we rarely think about or think should be excluded (Acts text) and helps us to hear the command from Jesus in John in a new way.

There’s No Such Thing as Little, by LeUyen Pham, is a collection of example of things that at first look small (like a candle) but which are really large (like the candle set in the mirrors of a lighthouse).  The little thing is seen through which two children are peering.  The big thing is revealed when the page is turned.  Choose one or two of your favorite examples to savor the idea of something being bigger than it looks at first.  Then introduce John’s new Jerusalem as the big city that includes the whole earth rather than the little band of Christians hiding out together.  Those Christians (and we) are bigger than we think.  (Older elementary children who are often introduced to metaphors and other pictures in words are particularly interested in this way of using the Bible as a peephole to see the world as God intends it.)

This text is most often read at funerals.  To do a little worship education about funerals, describe a funeral as a happy – sad worship time held when a person dies.  Briefly describe the sad feelings we have when some has died.  Note that there are lots of tears at funerals as we try to let all the sadness out.  That is why we often read verses 3 and 4.  Read the verses and explain how they remind us that the tears and sadness are not the end.  Jesus has promised us that a day will come when no one will ever cry again and pain and death won’t happen.  It helps to remember that when we are crying now.  Older children can apply this message to other times when they are reduced to tears.

NOTE:  Today children often hear about funerals long before they ever attend one.  Because they recognize the deep sadness that goes with them, they are often frightened when they attend one for the first time.  We prepare them for this experience when we talk about funerals when one is not eminent.

Sing ”Canto de Esperanza” (Song of Hope) which comes from Argentina in response to this text and in honor of the new pope who also comes from Argentina.

In Next Year I’ll Be Special, by Patricia Giff, first grade Marilyn details all the ways second grade will be better than first grade is.  Mainly she will have a teacher and classmates who will appreciate her.  Near the end of what may have been a long school year for some children, this is a version of hope they can appreciate and that parallels John’s vision of a new Jerusalem when everything is as it should be.  Instead of reading the entire book (it gets a little repetitive), select your favorite pages describing how second grade will be better.  Then, jump to the last three pages beginning with Daddy saying “Oh, Marilyn, you were always special to me” and concluding with the last two pages that point out that Miss Minch will still be in first grade next year while Marilyn will not.  It is not unlike Jesus insisting you are always special to him and promising that one day the problems of this day will end.

John 13:31-35

The first verses of this reading only make sense when read in the context of the foot-washing and betrayal that proceed it and the predicted denials that follow it.  Children hear and explore their meaning most easily on Maundy Thursday.  So, today, I’d omit them and read only the new commandment (verses 34-35) linking it to the Peter and Cornelius story.  Peter learned to welcome and love Cornelius and other Gentiles who he previously thought were unworthy of his love or God’s love.

If you create prayers about loving one another in demanding situations to which the congregation responds with the new commandment, be sure to include situations that will be familiar to children using words they will recognize.  For example, when everyone is mad at each other in the family…, when friends are fighting…, when someone at work or school is making your life really miserable…, or when a friend has done something that really hurt your feelings “on purpose”…

If you did not do it during Lent, give out felt hearts for worshipers to wear in their shoes or carry in their pockets as a reminder to love one another as Jesus loves us.

I am feeling odd about not adding all sorts of resources for exploring this command in general, but really do think that on this day it is an echo of the themes in the other texts.  So, I am going to leave it here – unless I hear from bunches of you saying that you are making it the focus of the day and want “love one another” resources.


  1. Carolyn - Thanks as always for your helpful commentary here. I esp appreciate your last note on the gospel. I was having the same thought - that the pre-easter gospel text seemed more like a supporting text than a central one. With your permission (!) I am going to focus on Revelation and Acts. Do you have thoughts on Earth Day as re those two?

  2. What about working with the rainbow as a symbol for hope for the earth and all who live on it. Jump off of the rainbow suggestions above. Could you give children rainbow tattoos and/or have them help create a banner with a rainbow wrapped around the earth - which really does need hopeful care these days.

  3. Jennifer, The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown, might be a good book with which to connect God's vision of a new Jerusalem with Earth Day. I just picked it up at the library.

  4. Hi Carolyn, thanks for all your wisdom always! Here in Australia we are marking a significant first world war anniversary with a public holiday (ANZAC Day) on Monday. I think felt hearts will be perfect. Rachel

    1. Isn't it amazing that someone who knows little about ANZAC Day can offer an idea that in the hands of one who knows it well fits the day. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.


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