Begin your time with the children by telling them that you have a gift to share with them. Then hold your hands together as if you have a ball hidden between them. Open your hands and tell the children to look at the gift you are giving them. They will likely comment that there is nothing there. Tell them that you are actually holding a very important gift. You are giving them love and hope. Let them sit with this idea for a bit. Encourage them to hold on to the idea of a gift that appears to be nothing actually being something bigger and more powerful than they can ever imagine.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud John 20:1-18. Tell the children that this story take place three days after Jesus died on the cross. It would have been customary for the body of someone who had died to be prepared for burial by those who loved them. The family or friends would wrap the body in linen cloth and aromatic spices and herbs to help preserve it and reduce the smell. In this reading, notice what has happened to the linen cloth that was used to wrap Jesus’ body.
Read aloud John 20:1-18. Ask the children to recount what Mary Magdalene discovers when she visits the tomb where Jesus’ body was buried. Note that she does not find Jesus. Rather she finds the linen he had been wrapped in laying on the ground. Have the children wonder what this detail tells us about Jesus. Where was Jesus? Later, while Mary is crying two angels speak to her. Moments later she turns around and sees Jesus alive and well. She doesn’t recognize him at first, thinking he is the gardener. Then she realizes he has returned from the dead. She goes to tell the other disciples what she has seen. Have the children wonder what this experience must have been like for Mary.
After discussing the reading, ask the children to return their focus to the tomb. Have them again recount what Mary finds when she arrives at the burial site. The children will likely say that she only finds the linen cloth used to wrap Jesus before he was buried. Share that there is much, much more in the tomb. In fact, there is the greatest gift we can possibly be given. Have the children wonder what this gift might be. Share that the emptiness of the tomb means that God’s love cannot die. Nothing, not even death, can separate the world from God’s love. Jesus’ resurrection shows us this. The fact that the tomb is empty of Jesus’ body means it is filled with God’s everlasting love.
Relating the passage to our lives
Conclude your time together with a craft. Gather the materials you’ll need: one box or coat hanger per child, several rolls of ribbon cut into 4-inch lengths (if using boxes) or 6-8-inch lengths (if using hangers), glue and markers. Give each child a box or a coat hanger. Ask them what is in the box/on the coat hanger. Note that they are empty, just like Jesus’ tomb was when Mary Magdalene arrived there. However, while the tomb didn’t contain Jesus’ body, it did contain an important truth. Jesus’ absence meant that he was alive! He had returned from the dead, showing us that all he said was true!
Hand several lengths of ribbon to each child. Ask the children to use markers to write or draw words or ideas that they associate with Jesus. If they need help coming up with ideas, you can brainstorm a list together that you can record on a piece of chart paper or a whiteboard. Once they have written on their ribbons, have them attach the ribbons to the top of the box or to the bottom part of the coat hanger. If they are using boxes, they can use glue to secure the edge of each ribbon to the inner top of the box. The ribbon should hang down from the box top so that they can read the words they wrote on it. If they are using hangers, they can tie one end of the ribbon to the bottom part of the hanger, letting the rest of the ribbon hang down.
Encourage the children to place their boxes or hangers somewhere in their homes where they will see them often. They are a reminder of the love, hope and truth contained in that seemingly empty tomb.