Approaching Holy Week at Home

Thoughts for Families with Younger Children about Holy Week

I shared these thoughts in an email to parents at Eliot Church in preparation for Holy Week:

Carolyn Brown has a wonderful suggestion for you to use at home next week: a family observation of “Jesus Week” complete with simple activities and Bible stories to read together.  Find it here.

A word on Good Friday.  In my personal opinion, it’s not “good.” There’s debate about the origin of the name – it seems to come from a variation of “God’s Friday” or a German term with a meaning closer to Holy Friday. A pastor friend of mine goes so far as to call it Bad Friday. It is certainly a day to be deeply sad about Jesus’ death. But with young children we always want to preview the surprising, amazing Good News of Easter. Easter tells us bad news is never the last news.

If your kids are wrapped up in the sadness of the story, perhaps do something with them to re-enact some of the compassionate parts of the Holy Week story. Mary anointed Jesus with ointment; you could rub their hands with lotion.  Jesus taught the disciples to wash each other’s feet; would your kids wash your hands?

If Easter seems mysterious after the cross, celebrate the mystery. Yes, it is a mystery. It’s amazing. We don’t have to understand it to appreciate it.

This is where I would make (thank you Terry H from Eliot Church!)

If you want to think more about how to talk with your kids about Holy Week, I suggest reading some of Carolyn C. Brown’s work. I like her book, available on Kindle for instant reading, Sharing the Easter Faith with Children. It has age specific suggestions. The following are from her blog and from her book.  (She speaks of going deeper into Good Friday with kids – I would not suggest that for our younger kids! But she has great language for answering questions that might come up.)

Sharing the Good Friday Story with Children 
– notes from Carolyn Brown

Good Friday is often the very last day of the church year when we expect and plan for children in the sanctuary. The story we tell this day is so filled with violence, evil and death which we barely understand ourselves, that we hardly know how to share it with children. But, it is the heart story of the faith. Indeed, it is impossible to jump from the Palm Sunday parade skipping Good Friday and going straight to Easter joy without wondering what the big deal is. When our children walk through the crucifixion story with us, they make sense of the whole Holy Week saga and they are prepared to face the violence and evil that they will surely encounter in their own world.

At first children need to hear the Passion stories with the Easter stories. For preschoolers the first story goes something like, “There were people who were angry with Jesus. They were so angry they killed him. Jesus’ friends were so sad. They cried and cried. But God had a wonderful surprise. On Easter Jesus was alive again. His friends were very, very, surprised and happy!” They really follow the emotions rather than the facts of the story. Every year as the church walks through the story, children add more details. They slowly collect the list of people who contributed to Jesus pain and death. In their adolescence they begin to identify ways they betray and deny God’s love.”

“Especially on Good Friday, children gain more from hearing and pondering the story than from hearing theological explanations of its significance. Sacrifice, mercy, grace, salvation, atonement, etc. are abstract words that very quickly lose them. By exploring the details of the story, they will come to some of the same ideas theological vocabulary attempts to express. ”

“Adult worshipers know that the crucifixion is not the final word. Children, especially those who may be hearing the details for the first time or may have not heard the story for a year, may not. These children are often upset by the thought that “they killed Jesus.” So, clearly point out to them that things looked really sad and hopeless on Friday, but God had a wonderful surprise waiting for Easter. Encourage them to come back on Sunday to hear about that surprise. Even whisper an “alleluia” together or write “alleluia” in small letters in the palm of young hands at the end of the service to remind yourselves that something wonderful is coming.”

One more topic: older children may want to know, why did Jesus die? And younger children may overhear “____ killed Jesus” and ask you if that’s true. There’s a common approach that might work in response.

Again, I quote Carolyn Brown, this time from her book:

“Why Did People Want to Kill Jesus? The first question children ask upon hearing that angry people killed Jesus is “I thought everyone loved Jesus. Why did people want to kill him?” How could the people who welcomed Jesus with a palm parade on Sunday want to kill him on Friday? They need the answer to this question before they can pay much attention to the rest of the Holy Week stories. When one four-year-old asked his assembled class that question, a wise classmate replied, “Because Jesus told them they had to share and they did not want to.” He was on the right track. …Jesus made the religious leaders of Jerusalem very angry and uncomfortable. (Note: The most significant thing about these angry leaders is not that they were Jewish, but that they were religious leaders whose authority and vision were being questioned. To avoid suggesting to children that Jews were/are responsible for killing Jesus, use terms like religious leaders or church leaders. *Reebee adds: and remind children that Jesus was Jewish and deeply committed to the Jewish faith.*)….In summary, Jesus did and said things that angered the religious leaders of his day for some reasons that children can understand. He broke their rules. He “acted out” in the Temple. He associated with unacceptable people. He told the leaders off in public. These are infractions children can understand in the present and which they can grow to understand more fully as they mature.”

Okay parents – this might have been a long email, but – I’ve got to use those books somewhere! Want to talk more? Let me know….

Blessings to you,



Sermon: The Feast

The Feast

A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC

Rev. Reebee Girash

March 18, 2018

Audio Recording:


Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable:


“There was a man who had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘

20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’

28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “








The story of a rebellious child, and a loving parent.

The feast awaiting him, when he makes his way back home.

It’s among the most treasured stories in our culture.

Many of us have it memorized from reading it over and over again.

Prompted only by the very first line, we can repeat the tale in its entirety.


That first line:

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…”1


For those of you who have not read this story over and over again at story time to small children, I will let you in on the story of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.


The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
and another
his mother called him “WILD THING!”
and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
so he was sent to bed without eating anything.


That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are. And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said “BE STILL!”

and tamed with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things. “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”

“Now stop!” Max said and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper.

And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.


Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat

so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.

But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go we’ll eat you up-we love you so!”

And Max said, “No!” The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room

where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.




No matter where you go.

No matter how long you’re gone.

No matter what you do.

If you turn around,

If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


That is Max’s mother’s message for him,
And God’s message for us.


I can remember hearing that story when I was a child in the 70s.

I remember thinking what fun it would be to sail in and out of weeks and to dance a Wild Rumpus.

But mostly, I remember the smell of good things to eat.

I knew exactly what Max’s supper smelled like (macaroni and cheese, with baked cinnamon apples, as I recall.)




But as an adult, more and more I wonder about Max’s mother.


Every parent has been Max’s mother. Maybe our child has not gone to bed without his supper, but we have been frustrated, we have yelled, we have said NO to our children, we have stomped down the stairs and given our own selves a time out.


I thought about denying it. Since Zac and John are not in the sanctuary to disagree, I thought I could claim to be an entirely unruffled parent. Able to put up with anything, a beatific smile on my face throughout.


On the other hand, that’s not the ideal either, to tolerate anything.


One of a parent’s jobs is to set limits. Food, clothing, shelter, love, and limits.


(A wise woman writes: parents have five jobs – beyond providing for kids’ food, clothing and shelter. The five jobs are affirmation, information, clarity of values, anticipatory guidance, and limit setting.2)


Limit setting is part of our job. Sometimes, the hardest part.


And pushing the limits, to figure out where they are, is a child’s job. It’s part of growing up.


Max, you see, is a beloved child, creative, playful, energetic. But on this night he has gone wild. It is time for dinner but he is running all around, knocking things over, tripping over the dog, he can’t settle down, it’s getting unsafe. And mom says, that’s it. She sets the limit. And he stomps away and slams the door and bangs around in in his room.

But mom is close by.


She is, perhaps, sitting on the stairs, running her hand through the dog’s fur, taking deep breaths, listening. She knows supper is almost ready and she can hear the rest of the family setting the table. She can hear the timer go off on the stove.


She is waiting. She listens to him, at first he is banging and harumphing around, still angry.


Then she can hear him climb up onto his bed, and start to bounce.


Then she hears the bouncing slow. And the room grows quiet.


She runs downstairs and ladels out a bowl of food and grabs a glass of milk and gently, gently waits.


Where, when Max returns he finds his supper, waiting for him. Still hot. And with it, someone who loves him best of all.


When Max returns, she is so glad. She is so glad. This is the moment in the story when mom knows that Max knows he is loved, no matter what. This is the moment of the mother’s great joy. There will be more joy in heaven…


If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


The metaphor will never be perfect, because no human parent is as perfectly loving as God.


But still, from the father, who, filled with compassion; ran and put his arms around the son and kissed him –

The father who brought the best robe, and threw a great feast when his son returned –

We learn about God’s love, and God’s joy.


God’s love that means the table will always have a place for us.


It is not that God has no expectations of us.


It is not that God sets no limits, teaches no lesson.


It is that God always expects us to come home.


It is that God is so joyful when we take our seat at the table.


There will be more joy in heaven….


I talked to a lot of people this week about Jesus’ parable of the squandering son, the resentful son, the compassionate father and the great feast (aka the Prodigal Son). Most folks resonate with the older brother and find it hard to forgive. A few folks have known the younger son, not yet back from the distant country. And some of us have been the grieving parent, waiting and hoping.


This is what is true. This is the good news:

God stands at the gate watching for all of us.

The lost sheep.

The resentful brother.

The wild child in the wolf suit.

The regretful mom.



We have only to turn, to step toward God, to step away from resentment, fear, and hunger.

And God will run to meet us,

Just as we are.

God will welcome us to the feast,

Which is incomplete until we arrive.


There is no more joy in in heaven than when all the guests have arrived.


And if we do not see God standing at the gate,

She has sent all of us an invitation to the feast,

By way of her son Jesus.


The best party is the one with everyone you love, at the table.

The most delicious feast, is the one held in the place where someone loves you best of all.


Maybe this week, we can all be a little like Max, a little like the prodigal son, and take our place at the table. Look around, see all the tax collectors, and sinners, Pharisees and scribes, folks from the other political party, the other country, the other side of the tracks, convicts and people who smell bad. Look around, see all the beautiful, beloved children of God who sit around the table with us. I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 122:1) because in that house, even I am welcome. And the food is delicious.


Maybe this week, we can all be a little like Max’s mom, a little like the father who had two sons, and prepare a feast that we know God’s beloved children will love. Set aside the rules and focus on mercy, hospitality, love, and grace. Open the door, stand at the gate, and wait with joyful expectation, ready to welcome every beloved child of God home.



If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


Let us pray.


“We give thanks, O God, that you are waiting for us in your house of love, waiting with the feast and the dance and the song and the great joy. Let us put away our shame and put aside our resentment and put on the festive garments of those who are glad when they are told, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.”3











1  The connection between Where the Wild Things Are and the Prodigal Son was suggested in an episode of the Pulpit Fiction podcast.

2  Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ Go- To Person About Sex, by Deborah Roffman. De Capo Press, 2012.

3  Tom Long,