The Way to Jerusalem
A children's drama for Good Friday
We wanted to offer the children who came to our pre-school service something of the Easter story by having a service for them on Good Friday. I wanted to include the story of the crucifixion and Jesus' death but without placing too much emphasis on it. As many of the children were unlikely to be in church on Easter Day, I also wanted to include the story of the resurrection. As the children were so young, I wanted to make the service as experiential as possible. I had recently read Gretchen Wolff Pritchard's account of her church's activities on Holy Saturday in her book "Offering the Gospel to Children." This inspired me to adapt some of her ideas for our pre-school children.
We began by sitting in a circle in our side chapel and the narrator began by saying:
"It's long, long ago. The Romans are in power in Jerusalem. Everyone has to do what the Romans say. But the people are hoping for a king. They hope they will soon have a king who will set them free. They want to be free of the Romans. Someone is coming… I wonder who it will be...
We then made our way to the back of the church. One of our teenagers had agreed to take on the role of Jesus; he was already hidden behind the curtain that hangs over our west door. (He wore his usual jeans but had agreed to wear an authentic middle eastern headdress; this was enough to set him apart.)
Our other teenagers were pressed into service to act as leaders of the crowd and stage managers.
When the children were in position at the back of the church, Jesus appeared and walked slowly down the nave. We encouraged the children to wave branches and throw down cloaks in front of him, while we shouted, "Hosanna! Here comes the king!"
The narrator went on: "Everyone thinks Jesus is going to be a king. They think he will set them free.
But things are going to change. Jesus' enemies are in the crowd. They don't want Jesus to be king. They want to keep power for themselves. They watch the crowd shouting and they are angry.
Let's follow Jesus and see where he goes."
The Last Supper
Jesus led the children around up the aisle and round to the side chapel, where bread and "wine", a bowl of water and a towel had been set out.
The narrator told the story of the last supper, while Jesus broke and handed out the bread and wine (coloured water.)
This was done in silence, "Jesus" did not speak at any time during the drama.
Then the narrator said: " What's happening now? His friends aren't happy. They keep arguing about how important they're going to be when Jesus is king. What's Jesus doing? He's washing feet. But whoever heard of a king washing someone's feet?"
Jesus started by washing the feet of one of the teenagers, then he washed the feet of any children who were happy to take part.
The narrator went on: "Jesus is saying something else. 'One of you is going to betray me to my enemies.'
Everyone says: 'It won’t be me Jesus. I won’t betray you. I won’t let you down.'
But Judas gets up and leaves. He's going to tell Jesus' enemies where they can find Jesus... (At this point one of the teenagers left.)
After supper Jesus and his friends went to a garden to pray."
(This was to give Jesus an opportunity to leave, and for the most difficult part of the story to take place off stage.)
The narrator continued: "Judas came with the soldiers. They took Jesus away to his enemies.
The soldiers made fun of Jesus. They said, 'Do you think you’re a king?' and they made him a crown of thorns to wear" (we showed the children the crown of thorns).
"Then his enemies held a trial. They said Jesus was guilty. They said Jesus had been making trouble for the Romans and that he was against God. In those days, long ago, if you made trouble for the Romans you had to die.
So they took Jesus to a hill outside the city and nailed him to the cross."
(Our large wooden cross had been placed in the transept. We led the children over to the cross and placed the crown of thorns upon it.)
"He was on the cross all day. And then he died.
His friends took his body and put it in a cave."
Behind our organ there is a thin, dark, forgotten space. I had hung a curtain at the far end which made it even darker than usual, though not completely black. We took the children into this space and closed the door behind us. (As the children were mostly under 5, they were accompanied by their parents or carers.) When we were all inside the narrator said:
"It was dark and cold in the cave. It seems like the end of the story. But it isn't..."
Jesus pulled aside the curtain. He carried a large candle and appeared a mysterious figure.
He led us out of the dark tomb, through the church, out into the sunshine.
We finished the service by singing outside - "We have a king who rides on a donkey", "Sing Hosanna!" and "Jump up and down and say you love the Lord". We had an Easter egg hunt and then went inside for a drink and Easter cakes (chocolate cornflake nests with sugar coated chocolate eggs.)
How well did it work?
We ran this event two years running, but I think it would have been better for a gap.
Older siblings came with their younger brothers and sisters; the story relied a lot on surprise - Jesus appearing from behind the curtain on Palm Sunday, washing the feet, the risen Jesus appearing in the tomb - and by the second year they knew what was coming.
The complete silence of the teenager playing Jesus meant there were no distractions from the narrative and gave the story an air of mystery (even though he was the older brother of one of the children).
This was especially true of the part in the story where the risen Jesus draws back the curtain; I knew what was going to happen but even for me, as an adult, there was a moment of awe and wonder.
The first year we had fewer children and they all joined in the foot washing; the second year with more children no one volunteered. We found the teenagers invaluable - acting as Jesus or disciples but also stage managing so everything happened at the right time. We had a quick walk through with them before the service began but no proper rehearsal.