Across the nation, COVID-19 cases are dropping and more and more people are being vaccinated. There’s a sense of hope and the feeling that we may actually see the end of the pandemic. It seems as if anxiety should be at an all-time low. However, we’re also finding that reentering spaces we haven’t been in for many months isn’t as easy as it seems. We’re awkwardly attempting to be together as we were pre-pandemic while also recognizing that the virus has not been eradicated. Many of our children still aren’t eligible for vaccination. High-risk individuals are still part of our beloved communities. How can we feel at ease when risk still exists?
This week’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark offers us guidance. As Jesus’ disciples worry about a windstorm, he reminds them to still themselves and be at peace. His words speak to us today. In this lesson, your children will hear Jesus’ calming words and will explore the ways that he continues to love and care for us, even in the midst of life’s storms.
Begin your time with your children by playing a modified version of freeze tag. Select one person to be it. This person should chase the others around the room. Select another person to be the freezer. This person will periodically yell, “Freeze!” When the others hear this word, they will freeze in place. After a few seconds, the freezer will say, “Unfreeze!” and the game will resume. After playing the game for a while, gather everyone together to debrief. Ask the children what it felt like to be chased. How did they feel when they were asked to freeze? Note that the moments when they were able to freeze allowed everyone to take a break and rest. It also let those being chased relax because they did not need to watch out for the person chasing them.
Prepare to read aloud the lectionary Gospel text. Tell your children that this story takes after Jesus has been teaching his disciples and others who have gathered near the Sea of Galilee to hear him. Jesus told the group several parables about the kingdom of God. He shared stories that related to their own lives, so they could understand what God’s wishes are for God’s people. In the evening, Jesus and his disciples prepare to cross the sea in a boat. This story tells what happens while they travel in the boat. Encourage your children to notice how the weather changes during their trip. Also, encourage them to notice how the disciples react and how Jesus responds.
Read aloud Mark 4:35-41. The original text for this passage is fairly child-friendly. However, many children’s Bibles also include it. Choose whichever version you feel your children will connect with best. After reading the story, note that an unexpected storm comes while Jesus and the disciples are in the boat. Ask your children to share how the disciples react to the weather change. Note that they appear to be frightened. They tell Jesus they are “perishing,” meaning they think they will die because the boat is filling with water from the storm. Next, ask your children what they noticed about how Jesus acted during the storm. Note that he sleeps throughout it! When the disciples wake him, he is calm. He simply tells them to be still and to be at peace.
Share with your children that this story isn’t just about a one-time event that occurred during Jesus’ life on earth. Mark shares this story with us to help us understand something about Jesus. He wants us to know Jesus is with us when times are difficult. We can feel calm during these moments because Jesus is by our side, making sure we are well.
Prepare materials for an art activity that will help children connect this idea to their own lives. Gather several sheets of blank paper, markers and crayons, scissors, and glue. Give each child a sheet of blank paper. Ask her to draw an outline of herself on the paper. Alternately, you can print out templates here. Next, have each child use markers or crayons to write or draw things that he worries about inside of this outline. These can be general worries or specific events or things that upset them. Because talking about worries can draw out emotions, you may need to offer a bit of extra care and comfort to your children as they complete this part of the activity. When they have finished, ask them to cut out the paper person along the outline.
Then, hand each child another blank sheet of paper. Ask them to trace their hands on the paper using a crayon or marker. Younger children may have difficulty holding one hand on the paper while tracing it with the other. You may want to have them place their hands on the paper while you trace them. After finishing this, have each child write Peace on one of the paper hands and Be still on the other. If your children are pre-literate, you can write these words for them. Cut the paper hands out using the scissors.
Have your children glue the paper hands on the paper people they made, so that it looks like the hands are hugging the person. Tell your children that this piece of art is a reminder that Jesus helps us feel peace and be still when we are worried or scared. Hang it somewhere in your home where your children can refer back to it.
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.