Hosanna! — Christian ed at home (Palm Sunday)

When I was young, my father rented the movie “Old Yeller” for our family to watch.  We’re a family of dog lovers, so he assumed it would be a good pick for us.  As he inserted the tape into the VCR, he said: “You guys will love this movie.  It’s about a boy and his dog.  The ending is sad, though.”  “Does the dog die?” I asked.  “Yes,” he replied. “They have to put the dog down because he’s sick.”  I watched the movie with a sense of dread knowing this tragic moment would come.  I couldn’t enjoy it knowing the final scene would be Old Yeller’s death.

We tend to read the Palm Sunday the same way.  Even as we wave our palms and repeat, “Hosanna!” we can’t help but think what is coming on Good Friday.  But Palm Sunday is a moment of celebration.  It’s a time to think about the many gifts Jesus offered us through his earthly ministry before culminating it with the greatest gift of all.  This week’s at-home family activity offers your family the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the many ways Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry guides and enriches our lives.

Begin the time with your children by asking each to share the best things someone has ever taught them.  They may offer life lessons they have learned or practical skills they have gained.  After each person has shared, reflect on what made these teachings so important.  How have these lessons influenced the ways they live their lives?

Prepare to read aloud Mark 11:1-11.  Explain to your children that this story takes place just before the festival of Passover, the time when Jewish people remember God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Many people would travel to the holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate this seven-day holiday. They would attend prayer services and would share a special meal that commemorated their liberation.  At the start of this story, Jesus and his disciples are arriving in Jerusalem to prepare for Passover.

Read the Scripture aloud.  You may choose to use a children’s Bible version of the passage.  (“Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible” offers a particularly nice child-friendly version of this reading.)  After reading the story aloud, ask your children what the mood of the town was in this scene.  Did the people seem happy, sad, etc.?  Then ask them to recount what the people shouted to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey.  What do they think the people were saying about Jesus?  You can share that the word hosanna was used to offer praise during some religious holidays like Passover.  It translates as “save us now.”  Ask your children why the people may have been both praising Jesus and asking him to save them.  What had they likely heard about Jesus or seen him do or heard him say that would make them celebrate Jesus in this way?

Next, tell your children that Jesus’ ministry did not just help the people who experienced it firsthand.  Through the stories in the Bible and our experiences with one another, we are also influenced by Jesus’ work on earth.  Ask your children to brainstorm all of the lessons they have learned from Jesus.  Encourage them to share both joyful and challenging lessons.  Make a list of these on a whiteboard or a piece of scrap paper.

Then, print out one paper palm branch for each of your family members.  (There’s a free download available here.) Give each person one copy of the palm branch printout along with some crayons or markers.  Ask each to write or draw one of the lessons they have learned from Jesus or one word that describes Jesus on each of the palm leaves.  You can refer back to the list made during the previous section of this lesson.

Once each family member has created his or her paper palm frond, use scissors to cut it out.  Then attach each palm to a popsicle stick or a short branch found outside.  Wave the palms at home while singing a hymn or two. If your family watches an online worship service, wave your paper palms during the service.

JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.