Good Friday with children

Mar 11, 2016 by

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It’s difficult to know what to do with Good Friday when you have little children. I’m always a little itchy about skipping from Palm Sunday to Easter with no worship that centers us on Jesus dying. At the same time, most Good Friday services are not made with children in mind. They start late, late enough to utilize the symbolism of day turning to night. The services are often structured for contemplation and silence. I love those spaces, and want to honor that worship for others. So bringing my toddler isn’t a good fit for me.

I know I’m not alone. So this year Duke Memorial United Methodist Church (Durham, N.C.) will have Good Friday Family Worship. It’s earlier, at 5:30 p.m. And we’re structuring it in a way that meets children where they’re at developmentally. We’re not going to shy away from the sad reality of Jesus’ death, but we’re also going to go to the surprise at the end of the story — that the story ends in a miraculous surprise.

Here are some of the features of the service:

Many of our ministers will be children. Reading, praying, coloring, lighting candles, singing.

We’re beginning and ending with centering in God’s love. We’ll have a plain-word liturgy reminding us that God is always with us. We’ll have a child read a psalm reminding us of the constancy of God’s love in all places, at all times.

We’re preserving some of the traditional signs and symbols of Good Friday. Each child will be given an electric votive candle, and when we get to the part about Jesus dying we’ll switch off our lights and the Christ candle will process out (the sanctuary lights will stay up). We’ll also learn a responsive Kyrie, led by our children’s choir.

We’re reading from the Gospel of John. This Gospel preserves the story of Jesus’ death, but without detail. It also includes the section of Jesus giving Mary into the care of the beloved disciple. Love to the very end.

We’re going to talk about the cross as taking away our fear. Children are incredibly concrete at this age, and their fears are concrete. We’re going to listen to the Butterflyfish song “All Sad Songs” to think about the fears that Jesus takes on, that on the cross Jesus loves us enough to help free us from fear. Children and adults will be invited to draw or write something they fear, and then to bring those pictures to the cross. On Easter Sunday the children will process down to the same cross and cover it with flowers. And our pictures and words of fear will be gone.

We go all the way to Easter. Because children think in literal and concrete ways we don’t want to suspend the Easter story. It’s important that they not carry the fear and sadness of death out of that space. Most children aren’t able to make a connection between death and resurrection after three days of waiting. After we gather to talk about our pictures we’re going to have a dramatic monologue. One of the Mary’s will visit us, on her way to tell the disciples that she’s just been to the empty tomb. Jesus is alive!

At the end of the service I will write the word “Alleluia” on each child’s hand. That’s the surprise of Easter, and on Sunday we will shout that special word to everyone. For now we keep the excitement and the surprise bubbling inside us until Sunday. Then, like Mary we’ll shout the news to everyone. We can always look down at our hand to be reminded of the Good News — Jesus was dead and now is alive!

We’ll end with singing “God’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” a reminder, again, that this whole world and everything in it is covered in God’s love. He is risen indeed!

Melissa Florer-Bixler is a licensed minister in Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Mennonite Conference and a member of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. She is the minister of children at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C. She blogs at breakingnewbread.wordpress.com.


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