Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Year C - Third Sunday of Easter (April 10, 2016)

Happy Easter!
There are two important Easter people in today’s texts – Peter and Paul.  Both of their stories for today are rich and not terribly familiar to children.  So, it would be wise to focus on one or the other.  The one theme that ties both stories and that speaks strongly to children is forgiveness.  Children are impressed that Jesus forgave both Peter, the best friend who had deserted him when he needed him most, and Paul who had been killing and imprisoning Christians.  If Jesus forgave them, children feel they can probably trust Jesus to forgive anything they might do.

Texts for Today

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

In children’s words, Paul was the biggest bully on the block.  He was turned into a leader of the church by Jesus and by the loving care of the Christians who welcomed him.  Talk about an Easter surprise!  If you are displaying Easter People, add a Paul with a cross on his sweatshirt to demonstrate his decision to be a follower of Jesus.  (On the Seventh Sunday in Easter you will add the chain to recall Paul's refusal to escape from prison in order to save the jailer.)

Be careful about vocabulary when exploring this story with children.  They more readily understand that Paul “changed” or “turned around” than “converted”.  (Conversion is a football term to children unless they hear it frequently at church.) 

Children are amazed that Jesus would choose someone as awful as Paul to be one of the most important church leaders of all times.  So, take time to clarify the details of what Paul was doing before Jesus spoke to him.  Reread what Ananias said to God about Paul and what he had been doing to Christians.  It is almost like God is playing a joke on the Christians – a great joke in which God is telling them that God can do things that they don’t believe possible.  “You know Paul?  I am going to make him a great Christian teacher and leader.  Just watch!”

Actually this story might be explored as part of Holy Humor Sunday on The Second Sunday of Easter.

If you explore the amazing changes that are possible in people like Paul, recall The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson.  Gilly is a “difficult” foster child with a difficult-to-her foster family and a school she does not like.  In the course of the book she changes in striking ways and understands the people around her in strikingly new ways.  This is a chapter book many middle and older elementary children have read.  If you haven’t read it you’ve missed a treat for your adult self.

Compare the unnamed character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham who insisted that he did not like green eggs and ham, until he tried them and found that he did to Paul who hated Jesus and everything he stood for and his followers until he met Jesus in a vision and decided to give his whole life to following him.
To avoid getting lost in the rather long repetitive book, start by reading the list of all the ways and places the character would not eat green eggs and ham on page 46.  Then jump to pages 53, 54, and 59 to complete the story.  Tell a parallel story for Paul, e.g.
I did not like Jesus when he was alive.  I do not like him since he died.  I don’t believe he rose again.  I don’t believe he is God’s son.  And, I don’t like his followers either.  I’d gladly kill them, every one. 
But, after he met Jesus in a vision on the road, Paul found he did like Jesus.  He loved him.  He spent his whole life telling people about Jesus.  He joined the Christians he had hated.  He became one of their leaders.  When he died, he was killed because he refused to say that Jesus was not Lord of the whole world.
The only point to doing this is to celebrate the possibility that amazing changes are possible.  Saul can become Paul.  (Thanks to Storypath for pointing out the connection to this book.)

Children, like many adults, are jealous of Paul’s dramatic confrontation with Jesus.  They would like to see Jesus in bright light, hear Jesus’ voice, even be blinded - but only for 3 days.  It helps them to hear that many adults share this feeling and to hear other ways God speaks to us today named, e.g. God speaks to us in the Bible, through other people, through experiences, etc.  It also helps children move past these feelings to point to the roles people as well as God played in changing Paul.  Paul could have stubbornly refused to hear what Jesus and Ananias said.  Ananias could have refused to heal Paul and talk to him about Jesus.  The other Christians could have decided that Paul was tricking them and that if they welcomed him even more of them would end up dead or in prison.  But, they all decided to risk trusting each other.  Finally, note that responding to Jesus today may not come with all the dramatics, but it is also - most of the time – a little safer.  Our challenge is to meet Jesus in the stories about him and figure out how to be his followers where we live today.

Focus on Ananias’ role in Paul’s transformation.  Briefly outline what Ananias did for Paul focusing more on what he did than on his original response to the idea of doing it.  Then, invite worshipers of all ages to ponder who has been like Ananias for them.  Children might identify special teachers, coaches, or older friends.  To take it a step further ask whom they teach and serve as Ananias.  Children might identify younger siblings or friends.  If children make promises to the babies baptized in the congregation, this is a chance to think of ways children can show these younger children how to follow Jesus.

Before singing “Open My Eyes” read through the first verse connecting it to Paul’s story.  Suggest that worshipers sing it imagining themselves as Paul waiting for Ananias after being blinded by Jesus on the road.

Psalm 30

This psalm is filled with unfamiliar vocabulary (e.g. Sheol, the Pit) and ideas that make it hard for children.  The TEV does a good job of translating these words, but loses the poetic beauty of earlier translations.  Probably it is best to choose one or two verses to pray today and to imagine Peter praying after the resurrected Jesus forgave him and called him back to being a leader.  See verses 11-12 below:

You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance;
you have taken away my sorrow
and surrounded me with joy.
So I will not be silent;
I will sing praise to you.
I will give you thanks for ever.
                                                   Today’s English Version

Point out to the children that there is a difference in happiness and joy.  Happy and Joy are what we feel when everything is going great.  Happiness disappears when things start going badly (someone is sick, scary things are happening, things we want to happen don’t happen).  But, because we know God is with us even in the bad times, we still can have joy.  A monk named David Steindl-Rast says that joy is “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”  Another person rephrased verse 5b “weeping and sadness come to spend the night, but joy moves in to stay.”  That is a challenging, but useful idea to children who are only beginning to learn that their feelings at any given moment don’t have to run their lives.

Celebrate the changes God can make singing “O Sing to the Lord!” a light hearted Brazilian call to praise.  Or, follow the psalmist’s sturdy joy by singing the old favorite “I’ve Got A Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart.”  I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus” and “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding” are good verses for this psalm and the other texts for today.

Revelation 5:11-14

Today’s code figure is the Lamb.  Though there are deep atonement theology connections in this image, for children it is simply a code name for Jesus.  The bottom line of these verses is Jesus is worthy of worship.  Indeed, he is right there by, almost on the throne of God. 

Point out any Lambs that are carved, painted, glassed or stitched into your sanctuary.  Point out that every time we see those lambs we remember Jesus.  If you do not have lamb imagery in the room, show some from other places.  The one in these photos is from the ceiling of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.  Christ the Lamb is pictured among the four angels of the text at the
This is an old postcard picture of the lamb
in the ceiling at San Vitale
center of the ceiling of the church.  Imagine worshiping under this picture of Jesus.  Point out that when this fancy mosaic Lamb of God was made, it was safe to be a Christian.  Even the emperor was a Christian.  But, people still used the code symbol to remember Jesus.

Throne of God with Elders and Four Evangelist symbols, from Art in the Christian Traditiona project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 8, 2016]. Original source:
Rather than explore the Lamb code, introduce the animal codes for the four evangelists using The Bamberger Apocalypse which connects to verse 14.  Matthew is the person with the book, Mark is the lion, Luke is the ox, and John is the eagle.  Surrounding the Throne of God they say that the stories they tell are God’s stories, i.e. they are important and true.  (I cannot find out who the face at the bottom of the page is.  If anyone else can, what about telling the rest of us.  A curious child is sure to ask.)

Join all the creatures around the throne and the Lamb singing Easter Alleluias using “Halle, Halleluia,” a different musical form of Alleluia than was probably sung on Easter Sunday.  Sound Sample

Sing “Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power” after identifying the Lamb and throne words in it and connecting them to Revelation.  Invite worshipers to imagine themselves singing it with the persecuted Christians who first read Revelation.

John 21:1-19

Third Sunday of Easter Outside Worship and Brekky in Australia.  from

This story begs to be read and explored at an outside breakfast picnic.  If the weather allows, what about beginning worship with a congregational picnic and holding worship outside?  Or, simply sit around a fire outside for worship today.  If you must worship inside, consider passing out goldfish crackers to eat as the story is read.

Peter’s experience from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday and Easter then the fish fry at the beach is the resurrection story that makes most sense to older children.  They understand the dynamics of Peter’s denials, the fears that followed and the relief that Jesus’ forgiving welcome brought.  But, it takes more than these verses to tell the entire story.  Consider presenting a series of readings or skits telling the story of the call to the fishermen, Peter’s confession and new name, the denials, and Peter’s role at the empty tomb, and then the fish fry.  It could almost become a lessons and carols on Peter’s life as a disciple.

If you will only read today’s text, call especially to the children to hear this story as you read it.  Gather them on the steps or simply speak to them in their pews.  Set the stage for them.  Peter, Jesus’ best friend had pretended he did not even know Jesus not once but three times as he was on trial.  Now Jesus was somehow, amazingly alive again.  Peter was scared.  What did Jesus think of him, say to him, even do to him?  Then read the story from the Bible or from Peter’s First Easter.

Peter’s First Easter, by Walter Wangerin, is hard to find, but is my favorite account of Easter told from Peter’s point of view.  Strong art and story make it an especially good book for older elementary boys.  Today after briefly recalling the call of the fishermen, Peter’s denials, the crucifixion and empty tomb stories, read “10. Fishing and Forgiveness.”  It takes about 6 minutes to read aloud.  (Order the book from one of the suppliers to

The number of fish – 153 – is an interesting detail.  I think a case can be made that they are sort of a promise about the future to the frightened disciples.  Jesus had called them to catch people.  Just as he helped them bring in the amazing catch of 153 fish, he will help them bring in lots and lots of people.  To explore this, display 153 fish (maybe cut out of paper, possibly in fishnet).  Or count out 153 goldfish crackers into a glass bowl and imagine what a pile of that many real fish would look like.  Marvel how many that it and explain Jesus’ possible promise.

FYI This is 153 goldfish crackers in a one cup measure.
This story echoes the disciples’ original call from their boats to fish for people.  To explore this connection with the children reread Jesus’ question to Peter asking them who the “these” is.  Note that no one is sure, but suggest that it might be those 153 fish they just caught and that what Jesus was asking was, “Peter, do you love me more than you love fishing?  Are you ready to really leave the fishing behind and become disciple forever?”  Celebrate the fact that Peter answered that he was and that he did indeed spend the rest of his life leading the new church.

Sing “Will You Come and Follow Me.”  Introduce it as a question Jesus was asking Peter on the beach and also one Jesus is asking us today.  The words are simple enough that older elementary children can read them with understanding.


  1. I think that the face at the bottom is one of the seraphim. I have seen similar figures in traditional iconography.

    1. Seraphim?! I hadn't even considered that possibility. Always thought of them as ethereal un human creatures with multiple wings and eyes. This one looks more like someone's rather scragly college roommate. But some Google searching is straightening me out. Always something to learn! Thank you.

  2. Thought I would share how we approached this last week. (Thanks, Carolyn, for the inspiration.) In place of the sermon, we presented Peter's journey, told in a variety of ways. Title of each segment and scripture reference were listed in the bulletin. The whole presentation was entitled "Upon Thus Rock."
    We started with “A Fish Tale," a skit which was taken from Luke 5: 1-11. Followed by vs. 1 of the hymn “Will You Come and Follow Me."
    Next was "Peter's Confession:" Matthew 16:13-20 read from "The Message."
    Then we showed the very moving video, Peter's Denial ( followed by some silence.
    We had three readers present The Ressirection Story (John 20) from Peter, Thomas, and Mary's perspective (, followed by a couple of verses of "Thine is the Glory."
    The last reading was the chapter suggested above from Peter's First Easter with illustrations projected.
    Our children's and chancel choirs combined to sing "Feed My Lambs" by Natalie Sleeth.
    It was very effective!

    1. I bet that was effective and helped worshipers of all ages knit all the separate stories of Peter into a one person whole. Thank you for sharing all the details. I'll bet lots of us will be filing them away for 2019.


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