I love teaching children about the early church and how every week was an Easter celebration in the beginning. As they digest the idea that the earliest Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection every week, I ask them, “Why do we observe Lent and Holy Week before Easter? Why do we have all the different church seasons?” Children, like all of us, like to mark time with patterns of familiarity. It helps them, and us, to understand the passing of time when we meet up each year with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
It is hard to delve into the difficult story of the Passion with children. We love watching children wave palms and process through the sanctuary on Palm Sunday. A week later the Easter services are filled with joy, flowers, and alleluias. But in between those two Sundays, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death is one we have a hard time sharing with our children. In my congregation we have tried for many years to include children in a variety of ways into Holy Week planning to create a space for them to participate in the walk from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to arrive at the festivities of Easter.
Several ideas have resonated with families and children through the years. The most important thing is for children to participate in the services. We invite children to be lay readers, ushers, musicians, and helpers with foot washing and communion. By asking them to be part of the worship leadership, they experience the services in a whole new and deeply personal way. Every few years our children’s choirs have learned and performed a musical called “The Tale of the Three Trees” by Allen Pote and Tom Long.* The musical is based on a story book about three trees that become different parts of Jesus’ life: the manger, the bench on the boat where he calms the storm, and the cross. The children lead our Good Friday worship through acting and singing, which brings them a deeper understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
In whatever ways you include children and families in Holy Week, the outcome will be a more connected faith and understanding of God’s love. Families appreciate the invitation to share Jesus’ amazing story. Creative and loving ways of experiencing the story of Jesus Christ will be part of their memories their whole life long.
*If you are interested in music-filled holiday programs children at your church can perform, I have written a Christmas program available on Sparkhouse Digital.