Holy Week is one of the busiest weeks of the church year, especially for those who are in full-time, or any, ministry. As a result, programming is often set aside for this week and picked up when there are less services, less extra responsibilities, and less chances that one of the staff members is going to drop from exhaustion, especially in youth ministry.
While nobody is suggesting a lock-in or a special "youth only" worship experience (more on that in a moment), placing all program ministries aside during Holy Week is a missed opportunity. When we invite students to live the highs and lows of this week, we're not only doing our jobs – we're inviting them to experience the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a way that connects them with disciples, reaching back thousands of years.
Sounds pretty good right?
Start with "hosanna"
Many kids in youth group will have a vague idea about Palm Sunday. This could be simple ("that's the one with palms, right?") or it could be a little more developed ("that's the start of Holy Week, right?"). Either way, helping them understand the stakes, the emotions, and the reasons why this Sunday is an important part of our liturgical year is important.
This, like so much else in our lives, starts with hosanna. The first time this word is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 21:9 – on Palm Sunday. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the people yell out, "Hosanna!" The word can be translated as "Praise God!" or "Save us, please!", depending on the context and the translators. However, the ideas behind the word – and how it's used – is undeniable.
When we invite students to start with hosanna, we invite them into a world that is bathed in praising God and acknowledging God's saving nature. You might be thinking: “Yeah, that's what I do every week in youth group.” Great! But Holy Week kicks off with the highest of highs and takes us on a roller coaster of emotions and feelings that culminates with the resurrection on Easter morning. Inviting students into this feeling helps kick the week off.
Help them feel the emotions of Holy Week
Holy Week can be... intense. It starts with the waving of palms, involves confusion, betrayal and denial, and that doesn't even include the whole Jesus dying and resurrection part!
Put simply, it's a lot. And you should encourage your students to feel every single moment of it.
This could be as simple as making a push to get teenagers to each of the Holy Week services at your church. Or, if your church doesn't have, say, a Maundy Thursday service, seek out other local congregations and plan a worship "field trip." Not only will they get the full experience of Holy Week, they'll have an opportunity to see how other congregations’ worship.
If you have a range of services in your own congregation, consider creating a "Holy Week Passport" of sorts. This isn't a new idea, but instead of making the passport simply about attending different services, use it as a devotional. At each service, encourage kids to report on what they're seeing, hearing, and feeling. At the end of the week (or the next Sunday you have youth group) invite them to talk about their experiences, observations, and feelings.
Don't create special "youth only" worship services
I know, I know. Youth services are a hallmark of youth ministry. And while the value of Youth Sunday could be debated, that's a different blog.
Youth ministry is asked to walk a difficult line. We're trying to create community for teenagers. We want to create a place where their specific developmental, social, and spiritual needs are primary. However, the result can often be a silo that ends up sequestering students in a different part of the church, never to see an adult again!
Again, there are times when students should be separated--when they should have their own space. But Holy Week isn't that time.
Palm Sunday kicks off a week in the church when we are called to come together and remember the story of God's ultimate work in the world.
It's a hard story. A hopeful story.
And at times, a scary story.
However, as a community, we're called to raise up our palms and yell out, "Hosanna!" We're called to receive communion, to have our feet washed. We're called to face the horror and sadness of Good Friday, as well as the fear of Holy Saturday. And yes, as a community we're called to proclaim - together - that Jesus Christ has risen.
We do this as a community. And that includes our teenagers. Because no matter how many lessons we teach, how many activities we plan, we're not inviting them into a life of youth ministry. We're inviting them to a life as a part of the community of God.
Join us each day of Holy Week as we share inspiration and perspectives from today’s ministry leaders. New blog post each day!