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Easter Extravaganza

Easter Week gets off to a spirited start when it includes family devotions, service projects, easy crafts, yummy snacks, fun games, a complete Seder Meal plan, and more!

PALM SUNDAY

Palm Sunday marks the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt. The people waved palms to honor Jesus. In Jesus' day, people waved palms to welcome royalty. From the earliest days, Christians carried palm branches to church to remember how Jesus was welcomed to Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. This tradition continues to this day.

COAT GIVEAWAY

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt, the people threw their coats on the ground before him as a sign of respect. The children of your church can relive that same event as they give to others who are less fortunate than themselves.

Several weeks before Palm Sunday, invite your church members to bring their old or outgrown winter coats to church on Palm Sunday. Have church members keep theirs and their children's coats with them as they go to the worship service. Before children enter for the Palm Sunday Parade, have church members throw the coats on the aisle floors.

As children enter for their parade, they'll walk over the coats. Have the last children in your procession gather the coats as they walk past them and place them in a pile at the front of your sanctuary as a visible symbol of outreach to others. Donate the coats to a charity in your community.

PALM SUNDAY PARADE

In many churches, children parade through the church sanctuary carrying palm branches as adults lovingly observe the children's praise. This year if your church has a Palm Sunday Parade, transform it completely. As children prepare for the parade in their classrooms, have your pastor explain to your congregation what the first Palm Sunday might've been like. People shouted praise and flung their palms and coats on the ground before Jesus. There was probably more excitement than at a Super Bowl game!

Have your pastor encourage the congregation to re-enact that excitement and praise when the children enter -- but don't tell the children what to expect. Lead the congregation in a practice praise session with shouts of praise and clapping. Encourage your pastor to explain to the church members that their excitement and praise will make this year's Palm Sunday Parade one that children will never forget and will help them understand how worthy Jesus is of all our praise.

PALM SUNDAY DECORATIONS

•Palm Leaves-Have the children cut palm-shaped leaves from green construction paper. Cut slits down both sides of the palm leaf to create a fringe in the leaf. The children can wave these in a Palm Sunday Parade or use them to decorate the classroom or sanctuary.

•Palm Bundles-Create palm bundles from live palm leaves, available from a local florist or church supply company. Gather several leaves in a bundle and tie them in the center with raffia or ribbon. Attach the bundles to the ends of the pews in your sanctuary. After the service, each person can take home a palm leaf.

PALM SUNDAY SNACKS

•Palm-Leaf Cookies-Bake palm-leaf-shaped sugar cookies before class. Have children ice the cookies and sprinkle green sugar on them.

•Celery Palms-Wash and prepare celery stalks, leaving the leaves of the stalks intact. Provide different kinds of fillings for the stalks such as flavored cream cheeses.

FAMILY DEVOTIONS

by Lori Niles

Photocopy and give this Easter Week devotion plan to the families in your church.

•Palm Sunday-Read aloud Mark 11:1-11. Make palm-leaf cookies. Cut frozen cookie dough into 2 X 1/2-inch strips. Place aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Roll the cookie strips and shape them into an outline of a palm leaf on the foil. Close all edges in the outline. Crush green candies in a bag with a hammer, and sprinkle to fill in the cookie center. Bake at 375 degrees for about eight minutes. Contrast the sweetness of the cookies with the harshness of breaking the candies with a hammer. Tell your children that this was a sweet day for Jesus, but he knew that soon he would be broken-or would die-for our sins.

•Monday-Read aloud Mark 11:15-18. Tell your children that this area of the temple was the place non-Jews could come to pray, but it had become a dirty, noisy, unworshipful place. Together, decorate a worshipful space in your home for Easter Week. Include a Bible, candles, and an area to display the items you'll use this week. You can review these items at the beginning of each devotion. A small, bare tree branch laced with white Christmas lights makes a nice backdrop. Light the candles or turn on the lights only during devotions to keep it special and meaningful.

•Tuesday-Read aloud Mark 14:3-9. This woman gave Jesus a gift that was very precious. We can give gifts that come from our heart, too. As each child shares something he or she can do to honor Jesus, spray perfume into the air or on the child. Decorate a beautiful piece of paper and form a cylinder around the perfume bottle for display at your family worship space.

•Wednesday-Read aloud Matthew 26:14-16. You'll need 30 dimes. Tell kids that Judas betrayed Jesus for about 120 days wages. Let the kids count the dimes and place them at your family worship space. Ask, "Was Jesus' life on earth worth more than 30 pieces of silver? Why or why not? What was the true value of Jesus' life to our family?"

•Thursday-Read aloud John 13:1-5. Jesus washed feet to show his love. Have a bowl, a bar of soap, and paper towels ready. Take turns washing each other's hands and drying them as you express love to each other. Display the soap at your family worship space.

•Friday-Read aloud Mark 15:21-39. You'll need two horseshoe or carpenter's nails, light gauge wire, and a shoelace for each child. Help children lay their nails across each other like a cross, then start wrapping the wire around the point where the nails intersect to bind the nails into a cross. Crisscross the wire in the center. Have the kids recall an event of the Crucifixion with each wrap. Wrap more wire around the top and make a loop to hold the shoelace.

•Saturday-Read aloud Mark 15:42-47. Take turns wrapping each other in toilet paper just as Jesus may've looked when prepared for burial. Talk about how the disciples might've felt when all their hopes seemed destroyed when Jesus died. Ask, "How would you have felt if you had been there when Jesus died? What would you have done?"

Talk about how the burial isn't the end of the story, but that it was a very sad day for Jesus' friends.

•Sunday-Read aloud Luke 24:1-9. You'll need cupcakes and a trick re-lighting candle. Light it and talk about how Jesus came to be the light of the world. On Saturday, it looked like the light had been blown out. Blow out the candle and wait in silence while the flame is gone. When the flame comes back, celebrate! Point out that nothing can ever snuff out Jesus, the light of the world.

PALM PRAYERS

Before Palm Sunday, have your children cut out hand shapes from different-colored poster board. Tape a thin 8-inch dowel rod to the back of each hand shape. The Sunday before Palm Sunday, give church members of all ages several hands. Encourage people to write the name of a person they know who isn't a Christian on each hand. Then collect the hands.

The morning of Palm Sunday, arrive early with some of the older children in your ministry. Line the sidewalks with these Palm Prayers by poking the dowel rod into the lawn. (Obviously, this is a get-prior-permission thing.)

Your church members will be reminded of the need for them to share the light of Easter with others as they walk through this sea of hands.

MAUNDY THURSDAY

The Thursday before Easter is called Maundy Thursday. The name Maundy is Latin for "command," and it refers to the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples to love one another. Many churches celebrate this day with an Agape Feast, footwashing service, or observance of communion. As an option, use this Seder Meal to celebrate Passover as Jesus did with his disciples on this night.

A SEDER MEAL

by Mary Brauch Petersen

Lead children in a traditional Seder Meal to help them understand the role of Passover and its connection to the Lamb of God at Easter.

Throughout the world each year, Passover is celebrated by Jewish families as a remembrance of how God freed their ancestors from slavery. This gathering is the most significant home event of the year. The Seder meal is an important part of this celebration.

•Special Foods-You'll need lamb -- either roasted or in a stew; a roasted bone; unleavened bread or matzo crackers; a pitcher of grape juice; maror or bitter herbs, such as horseradish, onions, and radish; charoseth -- a mixture of ground apples, raisins, nuts, figs, and honey; baked eggs; parsley; lettuce; celery; and salt water.

You'll also need a large Seder plate in the center of the table and cups. The plate contains the foods used during the service to represent the life of the Hebrews in Egypt.

•The Seder Ceremony-The Seder meal itself contains several parts. This service is based on a Messianic Jewish order of service called a Haggada. Adjust the service and include the prayers that are special or important to you. Follow this order:

1. Light a candle. Say, "Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us by the blood of the Messiah and commanded us to be a light for the nations and gave us Jesus, our Messiah, the light of the world."

2. Bless the first cup of juice. "We take up the kiddush cup and proclaim the holiness of this Day of Deliverance!" Everyone drinks the juice.

3. The green vegetables represent the hyssop that was used to place the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts. As you say the following, everyone takes a green vegetable and dips it into the salt water.

Say, "Blessed are You, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruits of the earth."

4. Next, everyone takes a matzo, holds it up, and says together, "This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover."

Everyone places the matzo back on the plate.

5. Pour a second glass of juice as you tell the story of the Hebrews' deliverance in Exodus 12. Everyone drinks.

6. Show the roasted bone and say, "Our ancestors in Egypt were spared by the blood of a lamb. This reminds us that God delivered his people from Pharaoh's judgment against them."

7. Hold up the maror and say, "The Egyptians made the lives of our forefathers bitter. The bitter herb speaks of sorrow." Hold up the charoseth and say, "This represents the mortar the Hebrews were forced to use building the Egyptian cities."

Mix the maror and charoseth. Place them between two pieces of matzo, and everyone eats.

8. Pour a third cup of juice. Say, "Blessed are you, oh Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." Everyone drinks.

9. Point out the egg on the plate. Say, "The egg is not touched because it symbolizes sacrifice. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins."

10. Pour a fourth cup of juice and say, "The redemption is not yet complete. The fourth cup recalls us to our covenant with the Eternal One, to the tasks that still await us as people called to the service of God, to a great purpose for which the people of Israel live: the preservation and affirmation of hope."

11. Lead children in singing praise songs. Then close by saying, "The Lord has remembered us. He will bless us. He will bless the house of Israel. He will bless those who revere the Lord, the small as well as the great."

MALCHUS MONOLOGUE

by RoseAnne Buerge

Have someone dress up in biblical costume and deliver this monologue for your children or the entire church.

"As the servant of the high priest, it was my responsibility to carry a lantern. The darkness was thick. I strained to keep up with Judas so he could see the trail. The chief priests and Pharisees had commissioned a squad of soldiers to accompany us.

"Glancing over my shoulder, I caught the glint of their swords in the torch light, and beyond them I noticed a mob had begun to follow us. We made our way down through the Kidron ravine toward what looked like a grove of olive trees. 'This time we'll get this Jesus,' I said to myself. Anger burned inside me. 'Who does this man think he is anyway? What authority does he have to say he's the King of the Jews. Blasphemy! Calling himself the Son of God-horrendous!'

"It turned my stomach. But I remembered all those miracles he'd performed. My mind warred against itself but found no answers for the miraculous events.

"The small band of men didn't notice us at first. Some of them were sleeping, but one man stood among them looking as if he expected our arrival. It was this man Judas approached saying 'Rabbi' then proceeded to kiss him. With hurt in his voice, Jesus replied, 'Friend, do what you have come for.'

"The soldiers rushed forward to seize him. This startled the men with Jesus, and they reacted defensively. One man reached and drew his sword and struck out at me. I leapt back, but I wasn't swift enough. The sword caught the right side of my head. I cried out in pain. Gripping my head in my hands, I realized he'd cut off my ear!

" 'Oh, my God, help me!' I cried.

"Overcome with nausea, I dropped to my knees. Amid a blur of tears, I saw Jesus approach me. My first instinct was to turn away, but his eyes caught mine and I froze. Those eyes. I'd never seen eyes like that before; so warm, so penetrating, so loving...He extended his hand toward me. I drew back but not far enough from his touch.

"As his fingers touched the side of my head, an incredible warmth flooded my entire body, as if the sun itself was shining on that cold, dreary night. 'What's happening?' The warmth remained as he withdrew his hand.

"Anxiously, yet with timidity, I reached to touch my head. I found my ear whole! Healed! Joy sparked inside of me-an uncontainable rejoicing, an unbridled feeling of exuberance! Then I noticed something else was ignited in me; it was a hope, a faith, and a belief that this man truly was who he claimed to be! I wanted to talk with him; I had so many questions.

"Turning to find him, I saw in the distance they were already leading him away. I ran, wanting desperately to stop the procession and explain that he really was Jesus, the King, the Son of God, my healer...but I slowed when I realized they wouldn't listen. Not to me. I was only a servant, a slave.

"I slipped into the shadows of the night and wept. I knew what Jesus was about to face; I'd observed it before. Even for those who justly deserved it, it was torture. I wanted to stop it, but what could I do?

"It wasn't until later that I understood why Jesus had to die. I couldn't have saved his life; he was sent to save mine. That's when the healer of my ear became the healer of my soul."

SPRING CLEANING

Long ago, Christians spent Maundy Thursday washing and sweeping their homes, according to Pamela Kennedy in An Easter Celebration (Ideals Children's Books). Lead kids in spring cleaning service projects around your church building on this day. The children can leave a calling card that says something such as "This closet was cleaned on Maundy Thursday. Compliments of the fifth-grade class."

CROSSWALKS

Lead your older children in studying the stories of Palm Sunday, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Have children choose several elements of the story to re-enact in friezes-or stop-action scenes. Kids can pose as soldiers whipping Jesus or as the women peering into the empty tomb. Assign children to different scenes, and have them dress for their parts. Have kids practice their frieze poses.

After your church's Maundy Thursday Dinner or Agape Feast, have the children set up their scenes in a large open space in your church. Keep the scenes in the order that they happened. Invite your congregation to walk from one scene to the other to experience the events of Christ's last days. To make this even more dramatic, set up spotlights on the scenes with total darkness in the rest of the room, and encourage children not to move or speak.

GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday is the day that Jesus died on the cross. It's typically a solemn day for Christians as we consider the suffering Jesus endured. Because we know the end of the story, though, we can make this an enjoyable opportunity for children to learn what Christ's death means to them.

GOOD FRIDAY CAMP

by Cindy Kenney

Turn a day away from school into a meaningful experience for kids. Follow this schedule.

9 a.m.-Opening: Set the scene with an opening worship. Have older children participate in a still-life re-creation of the Crucifixion as a backdrop to your service. Include a children's sermon and kids' praise music.

Lead kids in a large group craft that'll serve as a meaningful reminder of the day's experience. Give children cloth squares and fabric markers. Have kids anonymously write or draw something they need forgiveness for or something they need help with. Then have kids nail their squares onto a large wooden cross that'll be displayed during the closing worship.

10 a.m.-Scavenger Hunt: What better time to sacrifice our time and labor than on Good Friday? Lead kids in collecting food for the needy, while delivering Easter messages and invitations. Use the following ideas as a guideline:

1. Invite a food pantry representative to come to your church for this event.

2. Form groups of four children and one adult. Have each group fill 10 plastic Good Friday eggs with small candies and the message from Matthew 28:6: "He is not here, for he has risen just as he said!" Tape an invitation to your Easter worship services and activities to each egg.

3. Send each group out to collect canned goods from 10 people in your neighborhood. Tell kids to explain what they're doing and to deliver their Good Friday eggs to each person who donates food.

4. When all the children return, ask the food pantry representative to explain how the kids' service will help others.

Noon-Lunch: Serve kids a hearty lunch of lamb stew because Jesus was the lamb of God slain for the world, matzo crackers to remind them of the Passover, and grape juice to remind them of the communion wine Jesus and his followers shared. For dessert, have kids create "joy" sundaes because Christ's resurrection on Sunday gives us great joy!

1 p.m.-Craft Time: Provide craft supplies for the crafts you've selected for children to prepare. Enlist ample adult supervision for children to make any or all of the crafts.

2:30 p.m.-Closing Service: Display the cross with the fabric squares nailed to it. You'll need crumbled charcoal briquettes in a large bowl and a clean white cloth to use as an altar cloth. (If your church doesn't have an altar, you can use a cross or podium for this activity.)

As children enter your place of worship, dim your lights and require silence. Explain to children that Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday and that that time is approaching. Read aloud Matthew 27:33-50.

Say, "Jesus died for our sins-all those ugly things we do. Sin is choosing to go our own way instead of God's way. The Bible says that every single person has sinned against God. Sin makes us dirty; only Jesus can clean our sins."

Have children come forward in a single file line. Position an adult who'll guide the children to place their hands in the charcoal bowl. The adult says to each child, "Our sins make us dirty before God."

The children walk to a clean white cloth and another adult guides them in placing their hand prints on the cloth. Then the children walk to another adult who has a basin of warm soapy water. The children wash their hands, then the adult dries their hands with a towel and says, "Jesus died for us to make us clean before God." (You'll need extra towels and a helper to replace your water basin with a clean one regularly.)

After every child has participated, say, "It's a sad thing that Jesus had to die, but we know that we'd never have eternal life if Jesus hadn't died. We can have hope and joy because Jesus didn't stay in the grave; he came back to life on Easter Sunday! Let's celebrate!"

Give children long, wide ribbons and permanent markers. Have children write celebration messages on the ribbons, such as "Yea! Jesus lives!" or "Jesus rocks!" Play lively music as children come forward and drape their ribbons on the cross.

Take the altar cloth home and wash it. Use bleach if necessary to make it clean. Then place it on the altar again so kids can see it cleansed on Resurrection Sunday.

RESURRECTION DAY

Easter Sunday is at the heart of our Christian faith, for it's the Resurrection that distinguishes our faith from all other religions. It is this day that we proclaim to the world that Christ is more than a good man; he is the resurrected Savior! Use these ideas to celebrate our risen Savior.

EASTER CRAFTS

•Easter Tree-Making an Easter tree is an old European custom. Mount bare branches in pots of dirt. Have children hollow out eggshells by poking small holes in the ends of their eggs. Then have them drain and rinse out the eggs. Children can then decorate their eggs with dyes. Have children glue ribbon to their eggs and hang them from the tree's branches. You can either make one large Easter tree or an Easter tree for each child to take home.

•Easter Lily Hand Prints-Have the children trace their widely spread hands on white paper, and then cut out their hand shapes. Have them each cut two thin 6-inch strips of yellow construction paper and tape these to the center of their hand print.

Starting with the bottom edge of the little finger side, loosely roll the hand print to the other side. The base will form a small tube. Tape the tube so it retains its shape.

Roll each finger around a pen or pencil to curl it toward the outside. Use this process to curl the yellow paper too. Wrap the bottom of the hand print with green construction paper to create the stem.

•Egghead Disciples-Kids will have fun re-creating the last supper with these "eggy" disciples. Have kids poke a hole about the size of a quarter in one end of an egg, drain the egg, and rinse it. Kids can use permanent markers to draw on the disciples' faces. Spoon potting soil into the shell and plant grass seeds. Set the disciples in the bottom half of an egg carton, moisten the soil, and cover with plastic wrap. Water the eggs daily. The "hair" will grow in about a week.

•See-Through Eggs-Have children cut out a large oval egg shape from multicolored tissue paper. Then have them cut apart the egg, using a zigzag cut (see photo). Peel away the backing from clear Con-Tact paper and have children lay their tissue paper egg on the sticky side of the Con-Tact paper. Cover the egg with another piece of clear Con-Tact paper, sticky sides together. Cut around the edges of the egg. Punch a hole in the top of the egg, and tie a piece of ribbon through the hole to make a bow. Then thread yarn through the hole to use as a hanger.

"SEEKER" EASTER EVENT

The egg has traditionally been a familiar symbol for new life. Rather than resist this "worldly" practice, use it to reach out to the non-Christian families in your community. You can provide a fun, safe celebration for families and at the same time reveal the light of Christ.

Ahead of time, ask the families in your church to each dye two to three dozen hard-boiled eggs and bring them to your church Easter morning. Also give families several personal invitations (requiring R.S.V.P.s) to an Easter Sunday brunch at your church.

You could have the brunch catered or ask church members to prepare the meal. Hold an abbreviated Easter service during the brunch, complete with a brief sermon and background music from a string quartet. As families eat, have several people with instant-print cameras take photos of families and give them the photos.

During the brunch, have several youth group members hide the Easter eggs on your church lawn. Also have them hide the plastic Resurrection Eggs from Family Life. Call (501) 223-8663 to order these for $14.95.

Take kids outside and tell them not to open the plastic Resurrection Eggs if they find them. Have children line up, and on "go" run to find all the eggs. Have several people give Mylar helium balloons tied to strings to children who are too young to hunt for eggs, and say to the parents, "Jesus loves you-no strings attached!"

Once all the eggs are found, have children who've found the plastic eggs bring them to you. These children can stand with you as you use the eggs to tell the Easter story.

Afterward, play these egg games:

•Egg Rolling-If you have a hill on your church grounds, have the children stand at the top of the hill with an egg. On "go," have kids release their eggs and roll them down the hill. The first egg to the bottom is the winner. (You could also try this on a smaller scale on a playground slide.)

•Egg Bowling-Have the children line up behind a line. Place an egg about 10 feet away from the children. One at a time, have the children roll their eggs to see who can get their egg closest to the first egg.

•Egg Races-Form teams of 20. Place two lines about 20 feet apart and parallel to each other. In each team, have 10 kids line up behind one line facing the other 10 kids behind the other line. Give the first player in each team on one side an egg and a spoon. Children must place the egg in the spoon and race to their teammate across from them-touching only the spoon. The opposite teammate takes the spoon and egg and races back to the other side. If a child drops the egg, he or she must begin again. Continue until everyone in each team has run the course.

RESURRECTION DAY SNACK

For today's snack provide an empty cream puff for each child. You'll also need chocolate and vanilla pudding and spoons. Have children spoon the pudding into the empty cream puffs. Talk about how the women and disciples may've felt when they went to Jesus' tomb and found it empty -- just like these cream puffs were empty.

BANNER CELEBRATION

Have each class make an Easter banner with appropriate symbols and words. Kids may write "He is risen!" with a sunburst or an empty tomb. Or they may write "Jesus lives!" with a large lily. Create a T-bar out of 1X4 boards for each class. Attach the banners to the T-bar so kids can carry their banners and hold them high.

At an appropriate time in your worship service, have children march into the service and line up at the front. The kids shout "He is risen!" and the church members shout back "He is risen indeed!" Do this several times before the children march out to triumphant music.

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