The collection of Lectionary texts for the fourth Sunday of Lent includes these three Gospel readings:
- John 9, where Jesus heals a man who has been blind his whole life, and causes a lot of controversy (Year A; 2014, 2017 and so on)
- John 3, where Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the idea of being ‘born again.’ (Year B; 2015, 2018 and so on)
- Luke 15, where Jesus tells the story of a young man who abandoned his family, had to come crawling home in shame, and was received by his Dad with great celebration. (Year C; 2016, 2019 and so on)
The idea of this Lent with Kids series is that it will last us each year of the three-year Lectionary cycle. This year is ‘Year A’ so it’s the blind man, not Nicodemus or the Prodigal Son who will feature in churches on Sunday.
But when it comes to the candle-lighting ritual and prayer, I wanted to come up with something that would make sense for each of those three years. So this week’s theme is that ‘Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one.’
Some of us need a dramatic, life-changing fresh start. We need Jesus to heal us of something enormous so we can begin an entirely new kind of life, as the man who could see for the first time must have gone on to do. All of us need to hear Jesus’ call to us, as to Nicodemus, that God offers a light-filled life that is entirely different to what’s on offer without God.
But daily and weekly, we and our kids need to experience the frequent fresh starts that Jesus offers. Some people call it ‘keeping short accounts’ to take time regularly to consider what we need to apologise for – to God and to people – and to ask for and receive forgiveness. It’s a life-skill and one that is part of daily life for most people with kids in their homes.
The story of the father forgiving his ratbag of a son is a reminder to us that God is generous with forgiveness.
So this week, let’s be extra deliberate about focusing on the beautiful ritual that is apology+forgiveness.
Here’s a conversation to have around the dinner table (or wherever): Which part of this process do you each find easiest and hardest?
- Realising you’ve done something wrong?
- Saying sorry to a person you’ve hurt or offended or wronged?
- Saying sorry to God?
- Receiving forgiveness from a person? Does that make you feel bad or ashamed?
- Receiving forgiveness from God? Do you find it hard to believe and really feel that God forgives you?
What can you ask Jesus to help you with this week? What can you practise? How can we help each other to get better at this stuff or feel better about it?
If you’d like a little more inspiration, Pope Francis this week did an extraordinary thing. Roman Catholics are well known for their rituals of confession and reconciliation. You know, you go into one of those cool little boxes and talk privately with a priest (though often it’s just a face-to-face conversation these days). Or you could do it on camera with the world watching!
Here’s this week’s Quick Guide with a bunch of different resources to help your household. As always, I’d love your input in the comments with extra links, tips and resources to share around, and stories of what’s going on in your house.
Quick Guide to Week 4
- Bible reading: John 9, the account of Jesus controversially healing a man who had been blind all his life. The Year C text for this week is the parable of the Lost/Prodigal Son from Luke 15, which you may want to look at as well or instead (read both and see what you think). Whichever story you choose, you might like to act it out together so everyone gets the idea of who was involved and what they were doing.
- Candle lighting and sentences: Once a day, light the first candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is wise,’ then the second candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus and the prophets make us brave,’ then the third candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better,’ and then the fourth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one.‘
- Spiritual Practice: Confession. Practise saying sorry to each other and to God, and forgiving each other and understanding that God forgives us. More on this below.
- Prayer: ‘Thank you, Jesus, for giving us a fresh start whenever we need one.’
Extra prayer sentence for older kids: ‘Please help us to understand that you forgive us. Please help us to follow your example and forgive other people too.’
- Hymn of the week: Amazing Grace: ‘was blind but now I see’. Put a link to your favourite version in the comments below. You could sing it each night before bed, perhaps.
Here’s a 7-year-old singing it:
Here’s a 1922 recording:
And here’s a Sacred Harp style version (I was obsessed with Sacred Harp for a while after hearing it in Cold Mountain 🙂 ), with a child leading the choir:
(If that clip doesn’t play, find it here.)
- Indie pop song of the week: So Sorry, by Feist. Link and lyrics below.
- Artworks to look at together: Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal (above, and see below for a book to go with it). Or pick something from this list at Textweek.com – a great reminder that churches all over the world are contemplating this text this week – or head to this Orthodox site with a few pieces to discuss.
- Poem: Yehuda Amichai, The Place Where We Are Right.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thy enemie?, Francis Quarles, especially the final two stanzas.
(Thanks to Jody for both recommendations.)
- Art and craft: Play dough or mud play to act out what Jesus did with the blind man.
See below for a confession activity.
- Hospitality: Is there someone your child would like to have a fresh start with? Depending on the age, and the speed of friendship formation and breaking at early ages, there probably isn’t any need for formal apologies and forgiveness, but an invitation to come and play will speak volumes.
- Movies: Lots of kids’ movies have people needing a fresh start. Pop your suggestions in the comments below.
- Games: Pick a game that works in lots of short rounds, like gin rummy, noughts and crosses or Boggle. As you play, talk about how it’s nice that after every round you all start from scratch and have a chance for a fresh start.
- Reading for adults: A short, confronting article by Fred Craddock on the dangers of being healed by Jesus. From the early days of Momastery.com, Glennon Doyle Melton offers two punch-in-the-stomach quotes from Anne Lamott on forgiveness.
- Book for adults and older children: Henri Nouwen’s compact book reflecting on the Rembrandt painting above is well worth your time.
Absolution is something those from liturgical traditions get the benefit of each week. Us Baptists often leave it out – partly because the ‘priesthood of all believers’ easily slips into the ‘priesthood of no believers’ if we all feel uncomfortable taking on a priestly function like reminding people that God forgives them.
Here are some words you and your household might like to say to each other this week whenever anyone asks God (or perhaps even a person) to forgive them:
From Australian resource site Laughing Bird:
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.
Everything exposed by the light becomes light.
You have brought your sin into the light of Christ.
Your sins are forgiven.
Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
From the wonderful New Zealand Prayer Book (all of which is online):
Through the cross of Christ, God have mercy on you, pardon you and set you free. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. God strengthen you in all goodness and keep you in life eternal. Amen.
I runga i te mana o Ihu Karaiti, ka murua e te Atua o koutou hara, ka wetekina nga mekameka e here nei i a koutou, ka unuhia nga mauiuitanga e pehi nei i a koutou. E mea ana te Karaiti, Haere mai, haere, i runga i te rangimarie. Amine.
I’m writing this week for Kiwi Families on creative ways to pray with kids – nice coincidence! My piece won’t be published for another couple of days, but here’s an excerpt from my draft, outlining a dramatic family confession activity you might like to try:
Most kids don’t have too much trouble accepting forgiveness – from people or from God. But by the time they hit their teens, it’s often hard for them to move on from mistakes and let go of guilt. Younger children who have gone through trauma or family difficulty might also struggle to really feel forgiven.
Give your kids a picture of how full and final God’s forgiveness of us is with this dramatic prayer ritual. If you do this a few times through their childhood, it could be something that sustains them when they’re feeling worst about themselves later on.
You’ll need a paper shredder, used for destroying sensitive documents. You may well know someone who has one at home, or an office you could borrow one from overnight.
This could be a good thing to do each year at Easter time, when we are all contemplating our own guilt in a particularly poignant way.
Give everyone a piece of paper and invite them to take a few minutes by themselves to write or draw the things from the last day, week or year (depending on their age and stage) that they want to say sorry to God about. Tell them no one will see what they write or draw. It’s between them and God.
Read, act out or tell the story of the Lost (Prodigal) Son in Luke 15.
Remind everyone that God tells us that if we say sorry to God, and want to live more like Jesus showed us, then God is really happy to forgive us and give us a fresh start.
Invite everyone to say sorry to God for the things on their paper, then put the paper in the shredder. Supervise children closely, of course, watching especially that clothes and hair don’t get caught.
If it’s safe and wise for your setting, burn the paper instead of shredding it.
I’ll let Feist have the last words for now:
So Sorry, Feist
I’m sorry, two words
I always think after you’re gone
When I realize I was acting all wrong
So selfish, two words that could describe
Old actions of mine when patience is in short supply
We don’t need to say goodbye
We don’t need to fight and cry
Oh we, we could hold each other tight
We’re so helpless
We’re slaves to our own forces
We’re afraid of our emotions
No one, knows where the shore is
We’re divided by the ocean
And the only thing I know is
The answer it isn’t for us
No the answer isn’t for us
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And I’d love to hear how it’s all going! Please pop a comment below if you are finding Lent to be a useful time for you or your household. Let’s encourage each other (and me, especially! 🙂 )