Educating and helping families to find ways to honor the week before Easter, known as Holy Week, is one of the many blessings church leaders can give. It is the basis of our Christianity. It is the greatest example of love in action.
The week is full of drama, yet so much beauty. It is a chance for families to dive deep into their faith. It gives a way to talk about a God, who loves with a completeness. Christmas means very little without the walk to Easter.
There are five ways that I have found very successful for families. Some start at church, but move into the home. They include: A Walk Through Holy Week, Holy Week Countdown Calendar, Holy Week Passports, Maundy Thursday Re-enactment, and Devotionals for Holy Week.
The most important thing is to keep Holy Week. Giving just one activity to do a day keeps it fresh on a family’s mind. Even sending out a prayer a day this week with a small thing to do helps families.
A Walk Through Holy Week
I host an event either on Palm Sunday or sometime the week before called “A Walk through Holy Week.” Starting with Palm Sunday, we spend about 20-30 minutes on each day. We read the Scripture, discuss what happens in the liturgy at the service, and make a symbol for that service (or build a Lego). Ideas for “symbol” include making something for a countdown calendar (either paper or felt), creating a picture book with a description on the day for the congregation, or making a Lego to put on display.
Palm Sunday-Jesus Enters Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-40; John 12: 12-19
Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk through the Palm Sunday liturgy, read the Collect for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, and then make a palm leaf cross (or Lego of Jesus’ triumphant entry.
Monday in Holy Week- Jesus Cleans House: Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-17. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk through basic of Eucharist (part 1), read the collect for the day, and then add a “gold” coin to the calendar (or Lego of Jesus throwing out the money changers.)
Tuesday in Holy Week-Jesus Predicts His Death: Mark 8:31-38; Luke 18: 31-33; John 12: 20-30. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk through basic of Eucharist (part 2), read the collect for the day, and then add a heart with the Alpha-Omega Sign (or Jesus with his followers and them not understanding.)
Wednesday in Holy Week-Anointing of Jesus’ Feet: Matthew 26: 6-13; Mark 14: 3-9; Luke 7: 36-50; John 12: 1-11. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk through basic Eucharist (part 3), read the collect of the day, and then add a foot print or cut out of a foot (or Lego of Jesus getting feet washed.)
Maundy Thursday-Dinner in Upper Room and a New Commandment: Matthew 26: 14-39; Mark 14: 22-25; Luke 22: 1-27; John 13: 1-38. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk about the Maundy Thursday Service (foot washing, stripping of altar) and remind them of our communion. Read the Collect for Maundy Thursday. Add a chalice and wafer or symbol of the bread and wine (or Lego of the Last Supper.)
Good Friday-The Crucifixion: Matthew 27: 32-66; Mark 15: 21-47; Luke 23: 26-56; John 19: 16-42. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, (using the Stations of the Cross works very well), talk about the Good Friday Service, read the Collect for Good Friday, and add a cross (or build a Lego of the crucifixion.)
Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil-The Burial of Jesus…We Wait: Matthew 27: 57-66; John 19: 38-42. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and what everyone was feeling, talk about the Easter Vigil Service, read the Collect for Holy Saturday, and add a “tomb” or rock (or Lego of the tomb and waiting.)
Easter-The Resurrection: He is Risen! Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16: 1-12; Luke 24: 1-12; John 20: 1-10. Read or tell the story, wonder what happened and why, talk about the Easter Service, read the collect for Easter, and add an Easter lily with “He is Risen!” (or make a Lego of the Empty tomb.)
This can be very time consuming and so may be divided by days and done over the whole of Lent or only pick certain days to talk about. It is worth the time commitment as it gives a deep understanding and expectation to Holy Week. Families take their countdown calendar of Holy Week home and when Holy Week comes, they put up a symbol each day and are reminded of the scripture. More importantly, it opens a conversation about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Holy Week Countdown Calendar
Holy Week Countdown Calendar is very similar to the Walk Through Holy Week, but is home based. It is a “home kit” for Holy Week. It can be done in several forms. The first form is a paper calendar with information about each day including scripture verse, prayer, and devotion.
Another form is a booklet, with each day being a page. The page would include Scripture, devotion, collect of the day, discussion questions, and an activity the family could choose to do.
A Child’s Countdown Calendar would be made of links of paper leading to a picture of an Easter Morning. Each link would include a brief story and a prayer.
A Symbol Calendar is made of felt or wide ribbon. The symbols mentioned in “Walk Through Holy Week” are put on and off using Velcro. A booklet with the scripture, devotion, collect of the day, and discussion questions is included with it.
Holy Week Passports
Holy Week Passports quickly became a favorite of children and adults! We had families who attended a Holy Week Service just to get their sticker.
I created the passports in house. I wrote what each day meant, anything special happening in the Service and gave a place for a sticker. For the cover, I used light purple thick paper. We printed in house. I designed the stickers using Avery Circular Stickers and the template from their website.
Let’s travel with Jesus and his friends for Holy Week. Travelers need to carry a passport when they travel to exciting places—and this booklet is your passport for Holy Week.
On or before Palm Sunday, find a special place to keep your passport. It could be on the table beside your bed, or even in your car. Every day in Holy Week, read the Bible passage, either with a printed Bible or on www.biblegateway.com. Then explore the question on each page and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, award yourself with the passport sticker for that day! If you would like to share a picture of your passport as it fills up, please post it to our Facebook page.
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Each day is a separate page. Children love it if you add a picture page like a real passport.
Children love to be involved in the movement of this service. The focus is bringing the story of the Passover and for Jesus, the last meal with his friends to life. Using a low table, the evening includes candles, different types of bread, different types of grapes, sample of the meal, washing feet supplies, and pillows to sit on.
We gather outside the room and I send two children ahead to check to see if the room is ready. The low table is covered with a beige table cover and surrounded with pillows. Candles (I use battery operated) fill the room and are the only light.
We all enter the room and sit around the table. I tell them the story of how the Passover came to be. Then I move on to the story of Jesus and the importance of this feast day to him. I describe what it could have been like. I tell them Jesus’ words about the bread and wine. We talk about our communion. We then pass different types of bread around, tasting a little from each, choosing the favorites and taste differences. We then talk about how wine is made and pass around the different grapes. Then we hear about the New Commandment. We talk about What Jesus was saying and how different it would be for his followers to hear it. We discuss what it means for us. We then move from the table and each is asked if they would like to have their feet washed and/or wash someone’s feet. Once all, who wish to participate, are done. We sit in a circle and discuss what it felt to wash another ‘s feet and to get our feet washed.
We then talk about the betrayal and the friends present. The children generally have lots of questions. / We sit in silence to feel a little of what the evening held for Jesus.
We move into the garden. We sit in a circle and I tell them about Jesus going to the garden to pray. We talk of how his friends fell asleep. We wonder what everyone felt. We pray. We talk about Jesus and his time in the garden. We talk about things we are afraid of.
Next, we talk about what is going to happen during the service. I mention communion and to listen to the words remembering this night. I invite them to sit in the front pews with me after they have had communion with their family to watch the stripping of the altar. I answer their questions about that.
We talk about sadness. We talk about hopelessness. We talk about darkness. I remind them that Easter is coming and this is not the end, but we have to sit in this moment before we can move into Easter.
The children are very engaged when we return to the sanctuary for the remainder of the service. When the children join me to watch the stripping of the altar, they are in awe and point out many things. I allow them to tell me what they are seeing and ask questions. I have a “splash zone” around the first few pews so that those who sit there know it may be a little noisy.
Children of all ages learn from this service. I, also, learn from the children as they respond, question, and discuss the events of the evening.
We leave the church in silence, knowing we still have Good Friday, but Easter is coming; God will not leave us alone in the dark.
Holy Week Devotionals
I have worked with children, with youth, and with adults to create a week-long devotional for Holy Week. The devotionals are available starting on Palm Sunday. The whole congregation loves getting them and following along. I have even illustrated them with pictures based on what the person or class has written.
The children loved doing this as a Wednesday evening project. We used all of Lent to create the booklet. Each class, we would talk about scripture, what we think we should get out of it. How we can do better or differently. How can we love Jesus? Is there anything we want to say to our church family? Then we write a prayer to go with it.
Devotionals written by those in our church family mean something more to us than one we purchase. They take a little planning, but what often comes from it is beautiful.