As a kid, I once refused to finish a book because it had too many exclamation marks. Exhausting! In adulthood, I parted with another because it described things as “singular” again and again. Once ought to have done it. I also boycotted a great new taco place until they fixed their billboard advertising “taco’s burrito’s and more”. Who can stomach all those extra apostrophes?
Petty? You bet. Inclined to keep score? Guilty. Beleaguered by perfectionism? Lord, have mercy! (Exclamatory usage justified.)
How do I share Holy Week with my children (ages 4 and almost 7)? The same way we share Lent at our house… gently. This critical eye applied to one’s spirituality is not a road map to the abundant life. Jesus who suffered death on a cross holds our failings, our grief, our not-enough-ness, and it is in those desolate places that we are most able to recognize and be refreshed by the mercy of God.
The stories around Jesus’s Passion can be intense, but also give us permission to explore the idea of God’s love being present where we are most fearful.
Yes, they are central to understanding the depths of God’s love for us, the extent of human nature’s resistance to love, and the hope of resurrection. And no, I can’t engineer their grasp of any of it.
When I teach my children about our faith, I want to give them the stories and practices of our tradition that make God familiar as the source of life and goodness—Love itself. I want them to experience delight in bringing that Love into the choices that shape their lives, and bless the lives of others. I want them to know God loves them without condition or hesitation, all the time, and can surprise us with grace and hope by the same power that brought Jesus out of death into life. We don’t have to already know what the good is that God has in store for us.
So how will we handle Holy Week? Our church has services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and my children will take part in some of those liturgies.
Palm Sunday is engaging in that we normally begin worship outside the church, and everyone has a branch or palm to wave. My kids will be all over that. It’s fun to do something different at church. The congregation reads the Passion Gospel in parts, so the voices come from all over the sanctuary. That makes it easier for the wiggle-prone to pay attention, especially when the whole congregation reads the crowd’s line: “Crucify him!”
In our setting, I’m not worried about the story coming across as overly intense. The kids’ being present for the palm-waving and the “Crucify him” opens the door to talk about how quickly things can change inside ourselves (I thought I liked that, but now I don’t) or outside of us (it was safe but now it’s not).
Our church has observed Maundy Thursday with two partner United Methodist churches, according to an ecumenical agreement in our diocese. This year we’ll be at one of the Methodist churches, with a deacon candidate from our church preaching. I’m leaning towards having them attend this year.
To observe Maundy Thursday at home, you could read John 13:1-17, 34-35 together, and then wash each other’s feet. Jesus gave us a command to love one another. Can you celebrate something loving they did for you—breakfast in bed on Mother’s or Father’s Day, loading the dishwasher? If a project fits your family, you could do a loving act for someone else. Roll your neighbor’s garbage can back from the street, or paint fingernails for a friend in assisted living.
On Good Friday, our parish holds an experiential liturgy for kids, based on a script by the Rev. Brenda Husson. It’s a play of sorts that involves the children telling the passion story from the waving of palms to breaking of bread to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death. We are fortunate that our kids get to inhabit the story by enacting it, and then ask questions afterward.
It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” “I wonder about that, too.”
There’s no perfect way to “do” Holy Week. I’m guessing there will be changes from year to year as my kids grow, and are challenged or touched by different parts of the story. It’s certainly true for me.
Knowing myself as a recovering perfectionist—a key part of how my human nature resists trusting in God and God’s love—I do not want to burden my children with the notion that they must be or feel a certain way in response to these powerful stories. We’ll be present the best we can, and trust that God will be at work in us, in ways we cannot yet ask or imagine.
How do you plan to observe Holy Week this year?