Monday, October 17, 2016

Year C - Christ the King/Reign of Christ, Proper 29, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 27th Sunday after Pentecost (November 20, 2016)

In 2016 this is the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the US.  Go HERE to find ideas for worshiping around the Year C Thanksgiving texts.  This post also offers more general ideas for planning both for Thanksgiving worship in your own congregation on either Sunday or Wednesday/Thursday and for community services.

A way-out idea for congregations in the US:  On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, worship around the Thanksgiving texts.  Then, on the Sunday that concludes the long Thanksgiving weekend, instead of pulling out all the stops to begin Advent, review the Christian year using some of the ideas below.  Do the basics to recognize the beginning of Advent, but save the big push until everyone is back in place first Sunday in December.

Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday

t  “Reign of Christ” is the preferred name because it de-emphasizes triumphalism and monarchical power.  But, “Christ the King” makes more immediate sense to children.  For one thing non-readers hear “RAIN of Christ” when you say “REIGN of Christ.”  So at the very least point that out so children know it is really “Rule of Christ” Sunday rather than a weather forecast. 

t  The overall theme of the day is that Christ is King of the Universe.  In children’s stories kings may be good or bad or simply may be people in a set role.  The king has the right and power to make all the rules and demand that people do what he wants.  When the people do not obey, the king has the right to punish them.  Good kings use this power and right well.  Bad kings do not.  Jesus is the very best king ever.  Jesus has all the power and chooses to use it to take care of people.  Even when his people disobey him (think crucifixion), he forgives them.   

t  Reign of Christ Sunday is a good day to highlight the section of the Apostles’ Creed about Jesus.  Direct worshipers to turn to it in their hymnals or printed order of worship.  Point to the section that tells the whole life of Jesus.  Read each phrase taking time to briefly elaborate on it.  Then, invite the whole congregation to say or read it together.  This could be done with the whole congregation or as a children’s time.  Below are some notes to help explain the phrases for children.

“conceived by the Holy Spirit”
Jesus was God’s son.  Another creed says, “Jesus was born was born of woman as is every child, yet born of God’s power as was no other child.”  (A Declaration of Faith, PCUSA)
“born of the Virgin Mary”
Recall the birth in the barn.  For most children “Virgin Mary” is simply Mary’s name so there is no need to deal with questions of the Virgin birth here.
“suffered under Pontius Pilate”
Point out that the creed skips a big chunk of Jesus’ life.  Together list some of the things Jesus did – teach, heal, make friends, feed the crowd, tell stories.  Then, note that people who did not like what Jesus did arrested him and turned him over to Pontius Pilate who condemned him to death.
“was crucified, dead and buried”
Briefly recall Jesus being killed on the cross and buried in a cave tomb.
“he descended into hell”
If you include this phrase, for children it simply means that Jesus died, really died and was quite dead for three days.
“The third day he arose from the dead”
Retell the empty tomb story.
“and ascended to heaven.  From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead”
This answers the question “where is Jesus now?”  He is in heaven.  From heaven he rules and judges the world.  One day heaven and earth will be one and Jesus will rule both the quick (the living – like us) and the dead.

t  Highlight the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”  Before praying the prayer or just after praying it, point to this phrase.  Connect it to Christ the King who rules the whole world.  Note that the power of Christ the King is the power of love rather than the power of armies or force.  Delight in the glory of a world ruled by such a God/Christ.  If there is time, remind worshipers that AMEN means “I say so” or “I agree with this” or “count me in.”  When we say the phrase at the end of the prayer every Sunday, but especially today we are saying, “I belong to Christ, the King of the world.”  Then invite worshipers to pray the whole pray together or pray it again.

t  In the DVD “Chariots of Fire,” British Olympic athlete Eric Liddell must decide whether to run an Olympic race for which he has trained hard on Sunday.  He believes racing on that day would be breaking the third commandment about keeping the Sabbath.  (Note that many Christians today do not share his belief and that is OK.  The important thing is that Eric believed that it was wrong to race on Sunday.)  There is a scene in which he must meet with the British Prince and the Olympic Committee and is challenged to obey the Prince rather than God.  Showing that scene gives everyone a very understandable example about choosing whom you will serve and obey. 

t  Sing for Christ the King:

Children appreciate the easy vocabulary and repeated phrases of 
He is King of Kings,  
Rejoice the Lord is King and 
Come Christians Join To Sing.  The vocabulary of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” challenges even older elementary school readers.

Before singing Be Thou My Vision introduce the High King of Heaven verse with the story of St Patrick standing up to the Irish High King of Logaire.   (Go HERE for a summary of this story.)

The King of Glory Comes, The Nation Rejoices can be an upbeat processional that involves those in the pews is singing, even doing a simple dance step, with those processing.

Celebrate Christ the King by singing The Hallelujah Chorus.  Note that it is usually sung at Christmas to say that the baby in the manger is the King or at Easter to say the one who was killed and rose again is indeed the King.  Insist that it is a song we can sing every day because Christ is King every day.  Print the text in the bulletin and encourage children to listen for all the Christ is the King phrases we sing over and over again.

Sing O Sing A Song of Bethlehem or Lord of the Dance to tell the whole story of Jesus’ life.

If you are using white and gold paraments today, point them out, explain the significance of their color and any symbols on them.  Recall the other holy days on which they are used.

Turn of the Christian Year

This Sunday is New Year’s Eve of the church year.  We conclude the year remembering that Christ is the beginning and end of all life and remembering his story as we have followed it through the concluding year. Next Sunday we begin again.  That makes this a good opportunity to take the long view of the church year.  

t  Bring out all the seasonal paraments and drape them over the central table in order.  Connect each one to its season.  If you have banner for each season, parade them in during the opening processional and display them all during the service. 

t  Give the children a coloring sheet of the church year and crayons with which to color in the seasons adding important words and pictures that go with each season.

I would give this sketch to an artist in the congregation for “slicking up.”

t  Devote the whole service or just the sermon to reviewing the year.  Using the lessons and carols format, read a key text, talk about the main theme, pray a prayer, and sing a song from each season.  One worship leader who did this changed her stole to match each season.  Recall the ways your congregation has celebrated each season during the past year.  Praise God for the journey through the seasons each year.  In another year when this service also fell on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the USA, one preacher concluded with a traditional Thanksgiving song making thanks for God’s big story the main reason for Thanksgiving that year.  

t  Put the focus on the life of the Lord of the seasons.  Tell a story of Jesus and sing a song about Jesus for each season.  Children who often do not connect all the stories about Jesus into a whole especially benefit from the chance to connect them all.  Adults benefit from rehearsing the long arc of the story and placing it in both all of history and the cycle of the church year.  Choose such child friendly songs as:

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or “Let All Mortal Flesh”
      Children follow the feelings rather than the words 
      in these songs
“Once in Royal David’s City” or “Away in the Manger”
      Simple words retell the story and our relationship to it
“We Three Kings of Orient Are”
“Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley”
       The verses tell what Jesus did and 
       what he calls us to do
“Were You There When the Crucified My Lord?”
       Simple words tell the story
“Jesus Christ is Risen Today”
       Even non-readers can join on the Alleluias
“Breathe on Me Breath of God” or “Spirit”
       The words of the first tell the story better, but 
       the chorus of the second invites early readers 
       to sing along
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” or “He is King of Kings”
       For Christ the King Sunday

The Texts for the Day

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Especially in the United States this fall, most people of all political persuasions, resonate with Jeremiah’s wish for political leaders who are good shepherds, i.e. leaders who have the well-being of the people as their focus.  In the context of today’s theme, Jesus is that leader.  He is a king who has the good of the people as clearly in mind as a shepherd has the well-being of the sheep in mind. 

For children shepherds are people who take care of sheep.  They will need to be clearly told that in the Bible Jesus is often referred to as a shepherd not of sheep but of people.  One way to do this is to show a picture of Jesus with sheep in his arms (Google “good shepherd pictures”) and a picture of Jesus with people (you may have a picture of Jesus and the children in the church school).  Note that when we say Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we do not mean that Jesus takes care of sheep.  Instead we mean that Jesus takes as good care of people as a good shepherd does of sheep.

Catacomb of Callixtus - The Good Shepherd,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved August 29, 2016]. Original source: 

The earliest painting of Jesus is this painting of Jesus as a good shepherd.  It is found in the catacombs  (tunnels under the city of Rome) where the first Christians hid out from Romans who wanted to feed them to the lions.  This painting on the wall reminded them that Jesus would take care of them.

If you are celebrating Christ the King/ Reign of Christ gather symbols for Christ, perhaps processing them in as you read the various texts.  Or, simply present and explore one of the symbols.
Jeremiah: a shepherd’s staff
Colossians: crown
Luke 23: a cross

After exploring Jeremiah’s message, lean a shepherd’s staff in a prominent place in the worship center with plans to add other symbols as worship progresses.  Jeremiah says God is the kind of king who cares for or shepherds his people.  Note how odd it is to see one person wear a crown and carry a staff.  Enjoy God/Jesus who does just that.  (If bishops carry staffs in your tradition this would be a good day to point to and explain them.)

The Herd Boy, by Niki Daly, connects the everyday shepherding tasks of an African herd boy with those are being the president of the country.  Before reading it challenge listeners to identify what the tasks of the herd boy and president were.  Discuss the similarities.

Luke 1:68-79 – (It’s a song paired with Jeremiah here)

Before reading Zechariah’s song, briefly tell the story behind it.  Elderly, childless Zechariah had not believed the angel who told him he would have a son.  Because he had not believed, he was unable to speak until the baby (John the Baptist) was born.  These were his first words after nine silent months.  Either invite worshipers to imagine old John holding his newborn son in his arms saying these words to God and everyone around him.  Or, if your congregation includes an older man who could speak the words dramatically from memory , ask him to present the reading (perhaps holding a wrapped baby doll in his arms).

MERCY is a key word todays texts.  Jesus is the King of Mercy.  To help children understand this word that is not used everyday today, write it on a large poster.  Present the poster and define the word before the call to worship.  Encourage worshipers to listen for the word in today’s worship and draw a star on their bulletin every time they hear it, sing it, or say it.  Jump to the Luke 23 resources for ideas about highlighting mercy in the prayers of confession. 
Synonyms for children: kindness, forgiveness, pity, compassion
Antonyms for children: harshness, demanding, unforgiving


This psalm celebrates what the other texts for the day describe.  We are safe in the presence of God.  We don’t have to be afraid.  Verses 10-11 sum it up most simply for children. 

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is based on this psalm.  Martin Luther’s words are difficult for children to understand.  What they can get is the feel of fearlessness and the passion with which the congregation sings this familiar, loved hymn.  Before singing it, note that Martin Luther wrote this song while his friends were hiding him in a castle from people who wanted to kill him.  Invite singers to imagine how he felt as they sang his song together.

Offer this word sheet to children with the trusting words bolded gold and the scary words bolded black. 
This sheet may be reproduced for non—commercial use.

Colossians 1:11-20

The hymn to Christ in verses 15-20 is the heart of this text.   Unfortunately for children, it is filled with so many pronouns and interchangeable names for Jesus that it is hard to follow.  Choosing to read either Today’s English Version or The Contemporary English Version rather than the King James or NRSV may help.  But, even they need to be interpreted.  The hymn boils down to six statements about Jesus.  Children will recognize some of them and be interested in exploring them as a set of ideas about Jesus.

Jesus is God made visible. 
Jesus is better than anyone else or anything else in all creation.
God made the world through Jesus and for Jesus.
Jesus (and God) existed before anything else.
Jesus is the head of the church and what keeps it alive.
God forgave us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

If you must offer a children’s time, invite the children to join you with the big Bible from the front of the church.  Introduce the text as a song about Jesus that the very first Christians sang.  Pause in your reading to put each big idea about Jesus in your own words.  You might want to reread this without interruptions later or this might be the epistle reading for the day.

No matter which translation of this song you use, three names appear – Jesus, Christ, and Son.  Before reading the text, point out these names and briefly explain each one.  To add a visual, present each name on a poster that can be left in full view during the reading.

Jesus is the name his family and friends called Jesus – like Susan or Lu.

Christ is actually a title rather than a name.  It is not Jesus’ last name (a common misperception among children).  The title means God’s Chosen One and applies only to Jesus.

Jesus is called God’s Son or simply the Son.  Just as people say of a son that he is just like his father, people say of Jesus that he not only is like God but is God in human form.

The text refers to Jesus at both the beginning and end of time.  If there are Alpha and Omega symbols on today’s paraments or elsewhere in the sanctuary, point them out and explain them.  Enjoy the children’s question “but what came before that…” and the mysterious answer that before anything there was God and Christ.  And, after everything there will be God and Christ.  

After exploring this text, add a crown to the worship center with words about Christ’s lordship over all times and places.

Luke 23:33-43

Luke’s account of the crucifixion centers on Jesus forgiving those who crucified him and the thief who asked for forgiveness.  On this Sunday it emphasizes Christ’s work forgiving us.  In children’s stories kings don’t have to forgive.  But, King Jesus, the king of the universe, chooses to forgive us at great cost to himself. 

Desmond and the Very Mean Word, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, is the story of an event in Desmond Tutu’s childhood when the Archbishop learned about the power of forgiving.  A priest helps him understand and respond to a name calling incident.  The story is long – 11 minutes to read aloud – but powerful.  Instead of preaching a sermon about forgiveness, read this book as the sermon.  Take time to share the information in Tutu’s introduction and author’s note about Father Trevor, the priest in the story.  The simplicity of what the story says about forgiving preaches to people of all ages.  (I found this book in my local library after reading about it on Storypath.)

It is a good day for worship education about confession and assurance of pardon as they are practiced in your worship.  Point to that section of worship in a bulletin.  Walk worshipers through the prayers and responses, putting things in your own words as you go. 

In my congregation it would go something like this:  We say together that we all know we do things that are sinful, then in the silence we each tell God some of the bad stuff we have done in the last week.  We ask God to forgive us and then hear the minister remind us that God will forgive us.  We respond with a happy song thinking God for forgiving us and shake hands to “pass the peace” that we get from God to those sitting around us. 

Rehearse any standard responses or refrains together.  For example, explain that “Kyrie Eleison” means “Christ have mercy” or “Christ forgive us,” then sing it through once.   

To emphasize the purpose of the prayer of confession, create a responsive prayer.  The congregation’s response to each plea is “Christ, forgive us.”

After exploring this story, add a cross to the display in the worship center.

1 comment:

  1. Last year we did the "Review of the Liturgical Year" on Advent 1. We began with the John 1 Advent reading, went through the cycle, and ended by returning to Advent, lighting the candles, and beginning that year's Advent season. It seemed to work really well.


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