Power has long been associated with wealth, status, and strength. But Jesus offers a different version of power, one that is rooted in love, care, and humility. While he demonstrates this throughout his earthly ministry, it becomes crystal clear during the last week of his life. As he enters Jerusalem, he hardly looks like the Roman rulers of the day, yet he commands praise and adoration from many of those gathered. In this lesson, children will explore the Palm Sunday story of Jesus entering Jerusalem, and they will consider what it means to be a Christ-like leader.
You will need:
- A Bible
- A computer with Internet access, connected to a data projector or television.
- “Imperial Roman Triumph” video
- Access to Yertle the Turtle Audiobook, sheets of white drawing paper cut in half, crayons or markers, glue, and a sheet of chart paper or butcher paper (optional)
- Copies of the palm leaf template, crayons or markers, and scissors (optional)
Greet the children as they arrive.
Tell the children you will be showing them a video celebrating a victory by the Roman army. Encourage them to notice how the people celebrate this event.
- What did you notice about the soldiers?
- What did you notice about the military leader (riding in a chariot)?
- Who do you think is seated in a throne at the center of the city?
- How do the people in the town react to this parade?
Note that this scene was typical of the time period in which Jesus lived. The holy city where the Jewish people celebrated festivals, Jerusalem, was under the rule of the Roman emperor. Romans were used to honoring and celebrating their rulers like you saw in the video. Encourage the children to keep this image in mind as they hear the lectionary reading.
Exploring the passage
Say a prayer.
Provide context for the lectionary reading (Matthew 21:1-11):
- This reading comes from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew.
- Jesus and his disciples arrive in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the Jewish festival remembering God freeing the people of God from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the promised land. Many people would travel to Jerusalem for Passover.
- Most of the people in Jerusalem are Jewish people. Their nation was conquered by the Roman Empire, so the leaders of the city are Roman. However, the leaders in the Jewish Temple are Jewish. The Temple is able to continue operating and practicing their religion as long as the people respect and follow the Roman laws.
- The people of Jerusalem were used to seeing rulers like those shown in the video.
- Roman rulers could take people’s property whenever they wanted and use it however they wanted. It was not uncommon for a ruler to ask a soldier to go take a citizen’s horse or demand that the person come perform unpaid work for the leader.
- The Jewish people had been waiting for a long time for God to send them a ruler who would lead them in the ways of God. They referred to this leader as the Messiah, the one who saves.
- The people will call out “Hosanna” to Jesus in this reading. “Hosanna” means “save us”.
Read aloud Matthew 21:1-11.
After reading the passage ask:
- What does Jesus ask two of his disciples to do?
- Which is more powerful: a donkey or a horse? Why? Which does Jesus ask the disciples to get for him?
- What do you think the Jewish people who celebrate Jesus’ arrival think he will do once he is in Jerusalem?
- What happens to Jesus once he is in Jerusalem? (Preview the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion if the children are unfamiliar with it.)
- How is this different from what the people expect Jesus to do?
- How is Jesus like a Roman ruler?
- How is Jesus different from a Roman ruler?
Relating the passage to our lives
Choose one or more of these activities to help the children connect the reading to their own lives.
- Leading with humility: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or a television, access to Yertle the Turtle Audiobook, sheets of white drawing paper cut in half, crayons or markers, glue, and a sheet of chart paper or butcher paper. Begin by showing the children the video reading of Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. After watching the video, ask the children to reflect on Yertle’s leadership. How does it change throughout the story? Then, ask them to wonder about how Yertle’s leadership is similar to or different from Jesus’. Hand each child a half sheet of drawing paper. Ask them to use crayons or markers to draw an example of someone leading like Jesus. When they have finished drawing, have each child glue their picture onto the sheet of chart/butcher paper. Discuss the similarities and differences in the children’s images, noticing the variety of ways we can lead like Jesus.
- Hosanna!: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: copies of the palm leaf template, crayons or markers, and scissors. Give each child a copy of the palm leaf template. Remind them that the people in Jerusalem waved palm leaves and shouted “Hosanna” as Jesus arrived in the city. Recall the meaning of “Hosanna.” Then ask the children to use crayons or markers to write words that describe Jesus on the leaves of the palm frond. Encourage them to consider all of the stories they have heard about Jesus as they brainstorm. They may not come up with enough words to fill all of the leaves, so you can ask them to color in the additional leaves. Next, ask each child to cut out the palm frond. If it is difficult for them to cut each individual leaf, encourage them to cut a large circle around the entire frond. Have children call out words they wrote on their leaves. After each child says a word, ask the rest of the children to wave their palm fronds and respond “Hosanna.”
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