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Repeat after Jesus — Weekly Christian ed lesson

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Starting off

When I was in middle school, my Spanish teacher taught us using what she saw as a fool-proof method for learning vocabulary. She believed if someone repeated a word or phrase three times, it would be integrated into their memory. “Once. Twice. Three times. It’s yours,” she would say. I’m not sure this approach is evidence-based, but repetition can help us learn. And its use can highlight important ideas. In this lesson, children will explore the words Jesus repeats to Simon Peter as he encounters him after his resurrection and they will consider what these ideas mean for modern-day disciples.

Begin your time with the children by asking them to say the letters of the alphabet in order. Likely they will all “sing” them using the familiar tune taught to children when they are young. Ask them how they learned the letters of the alphabet. Who taught them? How did they memorize them? Did they know all of them after saying them the first time or did they need to repeat them to learn them? Share that repetition is one way to learn information. When we repeat something over and over again, it becomes integrated into our memories. Ask the children to share other times when repetition is used. Note that we also repeat words or phrases to show they are important. Throughout the Bible, we hear particular ideas and words used again and again.

Exploring the passage

Prepare to read aloud John 21:1-19. Provide some context for the reading. Share that this story takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. It is the third time he appears to the disciples. On this day, Simon Peter decides to go fishing. Remind the children that Jesus first gathered the disciples as they were fishing. Also, share that one of the disciples Jesus encounters on the shore is Simon Peter. Remind them that Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus before his death because he was frightened that he would be hurt or killed for knowing Jesus.

Read aloud John 21:1-19. After reading, ask the children to summarize what happens in verses 1-9. How many fish do the disciples initially catch? How many do they catch once Jesus guides them to the best fishing spot? Note that they are able to catch many more fish by following Jesus’ guidance. However, they do not initially realize the person helping them is Jesus. When they realize, Simon Peter jumps into the water. Ask the children to wonder why he might have done this. Could he be hiding from Jesus because he turned his back on him before his death?

Next focus in on verses 10-19. Ask the children what Jesus asks Simon Peter. He asks him if he loves Jesus. How does Simon Peter respond? Each time he says he loves Jesus. Ask the children to wonder why Jesus asks this question three times.

Note that Simon Peter’s answer appears to be the same each time Jesus asks the question. However, the word for love that Simon Peter uses changes. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, there are several words for love, each showing a different aspect of love. The first time Simon Peter says he loves Jesus, he uses the word that means knowing or loving someone or something simply by observing it. This is a one-way kind of love, like you might say you love pizza or you love a particular sports team. The second and third time Simon Peter says he loves Jesus, he uses a different word. The word he says is used to talk about a deep love that comes from having a relationship with someone. It is the kind of love you have for someone you know well and who you spend time with. Ask the children to wonder why Simon Peter changes the way he talks about his love for Jesus.

Finally, have the children recount the directions that Jesus gives Simon Peter. What does Jesus mean when he tells Simon Peter to “feed his lambs/sheep” and “tend his sheep”? What is Jesus asking Peter to do?

Relating the passage to our lives

Conclude your time with the children by connecting the idea of “feeding and tending” Jesus’ “sheep” to their lives. Tell the children that Jesus’ words were not just for Simon Peter and the disciples who followed him during his life on earth. Jesus calls on all of his disciples throughout time to care for his sheep, including us. Ask the children how they might feed and tend Jesus’ sheep. Make a list of their ideas on a whiteboard or a piece of chart paper.

Gather the materials you will need for this activity: several 2-inch-wide strips of colored paper, crayons or markers, and glue or a stapler. Distribute the paper strips and crayons or markers to the children. Ask them to write or draw pictures of ways they carry out Jesus’ call. They can use the ideas the group came up with or additional ideas of their own. Encourage them to fill as many of the paper strips as they can with ideas. Then, use the strips to make a chain by looping each paper strip into a circle and affixing the end together with glue or staples. Interlock each of the loops to that they are joined together.

When the paper chain is completed, have the children reflect on its size and the ways that each of the individual actions works together to nurture and care for Jesus’ “lambs.” Hang the paper chain somewhere where it can serve as a reminder of Jesus’ call and our response.