Focus Passage: Luke 23: 1-49
Memory Verse: “So Pontius Pilate gave his verdict…he handed Jesus over as the people wished.”
Items for Preparation
Find the biggest, ugliest potato you can find, and wash it well, so that kids can pass it from one to the other during your children’s sermon.
Read the adult lesson in the Nurturing Faith print edition and find additional material online. There is waaaaay too much important theological material covered in this huge passage today; why do the powers that be choose such a long passage for the lection today? We need this meted out in Biblical verse doses that we can swallow. Alas. Maybe this dynamic contributes to our whole understanding of the unbearable nature of the story we are reading.
For kids we’ll need to select one idea, and for your Children’s Sermon pleasure today, allow us to select for you the idea of not taking responsibility, and the terrible effect this passing of the proverbial potato (and an actual one) can have on events.
Say: You know that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which we are going to remember this week on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But Jesus was the best person who ever lived, wasn’t he? So why did he have to die? [Allow for answers. Get out your potato.]
Say: We can understand what happened if we play a game of Hot Potato. Let’s stand up! Gather into a circle. Now, I’m going to give this lovely potato to you [and hand it to a kid near you] and ask you to pass the potato from one person to the next. You can do it slowly. Or you can do it very fast. But while you are passing it, I am going to turn around and sing a little song, and I will STOP singing suddenly and say “Hot Potato!” and turn around to see who is holding the potato right then. If you are the one holding it, then you are OUT. Do you understand the game? Alright, here we go.
[Now play a few rounds of Hot Potato, and choose your favorite Palm Sunday hymn to hum or sing, making sure you give a little time for kids to pass that potato each round and get really nervous about moving it out of their own hands as fast as they can. Goodness, you want them to fairly be throwing it to one another by the time you turn around the 4th or 5th time. Ah. Your work here is done.]
Say: Okay, I’ll take that Hot Potato off your hands now. It’s over. You can relax and sit back down.
Say: This is what happened the day before Jesus died. The important leaders of the Jewish people, called the Sanhedrin, wanted to get rid of Jesus. But they didn’t have any power over the law; they couldn’t call the sheriff and get Jesus arrested. [Now pass the Hot Potato to the nearest kid.] So the Sanhedrin passed the Hot Potato: they went to the sheriff, who was the powerful person from Rome, the Roman governor, named Pontius Pilate. Pilate had a big trial and couldn’t find anything that Jesus did wrong. He said “I can’t tell a single law he has broken, I can’t arrest him. Let him go.”
[Now take your Hot Potato from the first kid and hand it over to the next nearest kid as you tell your story.]
Say: But then Pilate heard somebody say that Jesus was from Galilee, and he got an idea. “Oh!” He thought to himself. “If Jesus is causing a ruckus in Galilee, I can send him on to the Roman sheriff over in Galilee! That will get this whole mess off my hands. That will let me off the hook. That guy will have to deal with Jesus, not me. He’ll have to be the bad guy, not me. He’ll have to be the one to arrest Jesus, not me.”
Say: So Pilate played Hot Potato. He passed Jesus over to that Roman sheriff in Galilee, who was Herod. You remember Herod – he had never liked Jesus. But Herod had his own trial and couldn’t find a law Jesus had broken, either. So Herod, sadly, had to send Jesus back to Pontius Pilate.
[Now get the Hot Potato back and hold it, sadly. Sigh a bit.]
Say: Pontius Pilate didn’t want to arrest and kill Jesus; he offered to set free one of the people who had been called criminals, and he let the people in the crowd who were watching choose which one. They chose another man, Barabbas, instead of Jesus, which meant Jesus would be arrested and killed on the cross.
Say: This is a sad and terrible story, because either of the two leaders, Pontius Pilate or Herod, in all their Roman glory and power, could have done the right thing and set Jesus free. But they passed the hot potato around instead. They didn’t do the right thing. We must learn from them a very important thing: be responsible for doing right. Jesus would want us each of us to be responsible, to follow him, and to do what is right.
Prayer: Say these words after I say them.
O God of Palm Sunday,
Fill our hearts with courage
To do good and right things
Even when it is very hard.
Let us follow Jesus on Palm Sunday
When it is easy,
And even on days when it is very hard,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.