“Cool, I wanna go!” 9-year-old Reagan said when I described the foot-washing at our Maundy Thursday service. We had just read the account of Jesus’ humble act of service and sacrifice in John 13:1-17 in the Level 3 atrium.
If only we all had her enthusiasm to experience the Paschal mystery in worship!
But it seems a grim truth that no matter how much we would like to protect our children, Christ’s resurrection cannot be separated from his death. If we are to explore what is central to our faith, how do we approach the Passion with young children? In the atrium we always proclaim, “Christ has died. Christ is risen.” The meaning of one changes how we understand the other.
In the Level 3 atrium, we have been studying John 12:24: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We introduce this parable in Level 1, to help preschool children grapple with the mystery of life and death. In the Easter season, Level 3 will study Exodus and the connections between the Passover and the Paschal narrative.
With younger children in the Level 1 and 2 atria, we approach the cross through different presentations like the Good Shepherd parable, the paschal narratives (using a small 3-D model of Jerusalem), a model of the Last Supper, and the gifts of bread and wine in the Eucharist.
In the Good Shepherd parable from John 10:17-18 we hear, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Jesus is preparing us through story for what will happen at the cross and tomb. But he is victor, not victim. In him we have a true hope that strengthens us, especially in our own suffering.
With the City of Jerusalem, the children will begin to hear the stories of the Last Supper, death and resurrection of Jesus, and put their hands on a movable model of Jerusalem to help ground the events in a real time and place. At the Last Supper, Jesus prepares his disciples and us for his greatest gift, the gift of his whole self. The Eucharist is a gift that unites us with Jesus and others in the past, present and future. It also is a sign of the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, when we and all of creation will be united (“God will be all in all”) and there will be no more darkness or death.
Although Reagan is ready for the solemnity and commitment of Holy Week, not every child is. For those who might find Holy Week services difficult, we will offer a Children’s Holy Week Service on Wednesday at 6 p.m. starting in the courtyard. The children will help re-enact the Last Supper and receive matzoh and grape juice. We will hear Jesus say, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Without this proclamation, we only understand Palm Sunday and Good Friday as horrible tragedies. We also end with a reassuring proclamation that we will hear the rest of the story on Easter morning.
“Christ has died. Christ is risen.”
The way of Holy Week is the way of the cross, but death is not the end of the story. Even Jesus’ resurrection isn’t the end of the story. Resurrection is new life, and Jesus shares this new life with us and all of creation with the ultimate act of offering.
Children are hungry to reflect on this at church and home. In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we will continue to explore this new life with the Liturgy of the Light and works related to baptism and the Exodus. If your child is older, you may want to consider bringing him or her to a Holy Week service (child care is available for those under age 5). At home, you may want to read one of the accounts of the resurrection, or look again at John 10:17-18 and consider what Jesus is telling us as we prepare for Easter.
Visit St. Philip’s website for the Holy Week Calendar.