Points to note
Our faith is a faith of stories. Before books were written, the faith was handed down in the form of stories by word of mouth from one generation to the next. This was what was known as the oral tradition. Biblical archaeologists tell us that the stories of Moses were written some six centuries after his death. This was the written tradition, from which our Bible today came to be. But until the stories were written down, they told and retold from parent to child, from teacher to pupil. Story telling is also very much a part of our heritage. This is one thing we have in common with the Jews.
The oral tradition continues on today despite the growing dominance of the written word. It is alive at each Jewish Passover meal, where it is required tradition for the youngest child in the family to ask why the meal is celebrated, the cue for the story of the first Passover to be told, complete with the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.
It also continues on today in the Easter Vigil, where the seven readings that encapsulate the salvation history of our people, are told over the Easter fire. In many ways, it reminds me of the story telling that takes place over a camp-site fire. The Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil is therefore the story telling session of the liturgical year.
But mostly, it finds greatest expression when a parent tells a child a Gospel story. The faith is handed down another generation, and the tradition that has been handed down like an unbroken chain for 150 generations before us, has then found another link in the chain.
Twice a year, at Palm Sunday and at Good Friday, the Passion story is told. As it is a long account, this is one gospel reading where the option of sitting for the Gospel is available.
The children’s liturgy for this Sunday is rather bare, as bare as the altar would be after the Holy Thursday Eucharist. It has been stripped of all liturgical ornaments to make room for the Passion story. It is hoped that if the story stands alone and is told well, for one Sunday in the year, it will take centre stage in the liturgy.
The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St John
All: Glory to you O Lord
I have not attempted to set the wording of the story to be told, but have left it up to you to tell it in your own way. I have outlined the various aspects of the story and indicated the parts that must be told in regular print. Optional parts are in italics. You are encouraged to read the passion story yourself in Mt 26:14-27:66.
It can be a long story. I have on occasions taken forty-five minutes to tell it. To settle the children down, there may need to be some dialogue or interaction in the beginning. Once they settle down, however, the drama of the story seems to propel itself forward. There is something in the story that will keep the children riveted.
As a story telling tool, the voice is crucial. Try and use as wide a range as possible as you may need to play many characters. Eye contact with the children at all times is also essential. This means you must be able to tell the story from memory. Perhaps a little rehearsal may be necessary. For dramatic impact, use pauses at the dramatic points of the story.
Entry into Jerusalem
Jesus though King did not enter Jerusalem in glory but on a donkey. Emphasise the difference in the concept of Christian leadership. The people welcomed him with palms, which were normally used to welcome royalty in those days.
To keep the story moving, it is best not to touch on the doctrinal aspects of the Eucharist, which is best left to a session specifically devoted to it. When Jesus predicted that one of them at the table will betray him, Peter declared he will stay with Jesus even if the others were to leave him. Mention Judas leaving early to betray Jesus.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the Arrest
Emphasise the loneliness of Jesus when his disciples fell asleep praying. Judas arrived and kissed Jesus on the cheek. Contrast the arms of the soldiers with the non-violence of the disciples. Jesus healed the ear of the servant that was cut off by one of the disciples. Stress the disciples including Peter ran away, leaving Jesus alone.
Explain what a trial is and note that while most trials take place in the daytime, this one took place at night. The Jews used lying witnesses to try and pass the death sentence on him but failed. They finally convicted him on his claim to be God’s Son, which ironically was the truth. Peter betrayed Jesus three times in the courtyard before the cock crowed.
Jesus before Pilate
The Jews do not have the authority to put anyone to death, so they sent Jesus to one who could: the governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate questioned Jesus and found that he was not guilty. He tried to release Jesus by offering to release a prisoner at the Passover. The crowd chose Barabbas instead at the instigation of the priests and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Note that this was the same crowd who welcomed Jesus with palms the week before. Pilate’s wife had a bad dream all day about Jesus and urged him to have nothing to do with Jesus. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod (not the same Herod who was around at the time of Jesus’ birth), the king in Galilee because Jesus was a Galilean. Herod had hoped to see a miracle of Jesus but Jesus kept silent. So Herod sent Jesus back. Pilate tried to get the crowd to agree to release Jesus but failed. So he took some water and washed his hands of the whole affair.
The Way to the Cross
Pilate ordered Jesus to be whipped forty times. The soldiers made fun of him. Then they made him carry his cross. This is actually the cross beam and not the whole cross. When Jesus arrived at the place of crucifixion, which is the upright pole in the ground, they will hoist him up and the cross beam as well. He fell three times and they made a man, Simon of Cyrene, help him carry the cross.
They arrived at the place of crucifixion called Golgotha that means the place of the skull. When they finished crucifying him, they cast lots for his clothing. Above him was a sign that said ‘This is the King of the Jews’. The people standing by jeered at Jesus and asked him to save himself. They crucified him between two thieves. When one of them made fun of him, the other rebuked the first and asked for Jesus’ pardon.
Before he died, Jesus prayed to the Father that he may forgive those who crucified him. Finally Jesus dies & when he did, there was darkness in the sky and the earth quaked. A friend of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea took the body down & placed it in the tomb. They did not bury him yet because everyone wanted to hurry home for the Passover. The tomb was a cave with a boulder rolled over its front as a door. They set soldiers to guard it.