Ash Wednesday arrives this year on February 22 and the season of Lent begins. In the early church Christians continuously celebrated Easter. Eventually a period of preparation and fasting grew out of the festival, and over time Lent was observed as part of the rhythm of the church. These days it seems like Advent and Christmas overshadow the more somber and reflective time of Lent, especially for families with children.
Engaging children and families in Lent and Holy Week is sometimes a challenge. Presenting children with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection can be delicate. Children are sensitive to the violence in the story, the reality of Christ’s death, and the grief of the disciples and Jesus’ family. Teaching children about Jesus’ story is a gentle process of finding good children’s Bibles, like the Spark Story Bible or one of the Whirl Bibles, that depict the narrative honestly, but in a child’s scope.
In my congregation we have built a tradition of prayer centers for our Sunday School class during Lent. Children move quietly from center to center where they pray and participate in an activity. We have coloring stations where they can color pages from the story of the Last Supper and say a prayer of Thanksgiving that Jesus shared communion with his disciples. We have blocks at a building center where children can construct houses and pray for those who need a safe place to live. We have a small fountain that is filled with river stones where children can choose a wet rock to hold and pray for clean water on the earth.
Sometimes our families with children are reluctant to participate in worship during Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Over the years we have done several things to encourage families to be part of Lent by focusing on the Last Supper and the origins of communion in a family communion workshop. We have also performed a children’s musical called The Tale of the Three Trees by Allen Pote on Good Friday. The short musical is an allegory that refers to different key moments in Jesus’ life and ultimately his death and resurrection. In singing about the different parts of Jesus’ life, including his death, the children experience the solemn holiness of the Easter story in a deeper way.
Sharing the season of Lent with children and families is a wonderful gift to their faith journey and deepening their understanding of Jesus.