Wondrous Love: a Celebration for Holy Week

Today is the first day of a very special season," I told a first grade class at Seymour Christian School. "For the next few weeks we will be joining many other Christians around the world in celebrating the season called…?"

"SPRING!" several students shouted, obviously happy at the thought.

"No, not spring," I smiled. "Everybody is happy it's springtime, of course, but we Christians have a special season to celebrate just now. I'll give you a hint—it ends with Easter."

More hands waved and more eager faces looked at me, confident that now they knew the answer.

"I know! Advent!" announced one proud little girl. "We always talk about that in church, and you're always telling us about it here in music."

At about that point I began to realize that these children were not very familiar at all with Lent and its meaning for them. I did spend a lot of time teaching them about Advent—singing carols and often giving special programs or Christmas assemblies. But usually I highlighted the equally important Lenten season by only a passing mention on Ash Wednesday and a few verses of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" just before spring vacation.

I decided that this year I would set off on a journey with the children through the season of Lent, using my music class to help them discover what Lent was all about. We would end those weeks of discovery with a special Holy Week program.

I began looking for an appropriate musical that not only would provide the children with the opportunity to learn some Lenten music but also would help them understand what the Lenten season means for them as Christians. I wanted them to realize that Lent is a time of penitence and renewal, a time for remembering our sins and Jesus' death—all culminating in the joyful "Alleluias!" of Easter morning.

After several sessions at the local music store, I was still searching for the right combination of simplicity, musical integrity, and meaningful dialogue. I found myself humming "Wondrous Love" as I drove home after my last fruitless visit, and the words of that hymn seemed to express exactly what I wanted the children to feel and understand about Lent and Holy Week. I decided to write my own program, using hymns and anthems linked together with narration paraphrased from the Bible.

The result, "Wondrous Love—A Celebration for Holy Week," was a simple and straightforward retelling of the events in Christ's life from Palm Sunday through Easter. In learning hymns and anthems for the program the children became very aware of the progression from joy through sadness to joy again which characterizes the events of that week. Although they responded enthusiastically to all the music, they especially loved the quiet, introspective pieces that spoke gently of Christ's suffering and wonderingly of his love.

We scheduled our performance during Holy Week on a Wednesday evening. The response from audience and children alike was a positive and resounding "Hallelujah!" For all the times we had celebrated Christ's birth with a special program, we at Seymour School found celebrating Christ's death and resurrection together as a community to be a very moving and memorable event. It is a celebration we will continue.

With a bit of modification the program can be used by youth choirs or church school groups in a worship setting. Originally the program opened with a performance of Hal Hopson's children's musical "The Singing Bishop" (see p. 21), which retells the events of Palm Sunday. Replacing the musical with a choir processional during the opening hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" will tailor the program to about fifteen minutes and make it suitable for use during a worship service.

Participants:

A children's choir
Narrator 1     Matthew
Narrator 2     Mary Magdalene
Peter             Man
John

Costumes:

Choir robes for the choristers and the narrators
Simple long robes and head pieces for children who play characters

Props:

Palm branches for the choristers
Communion table set with a chalice and a loaf of bread
Earthenware water jug
Three crosses (easily made from lightweight 1" by 2" slats)
Crown of thorns
Three or four bright banners containing symbols of Christ and the resurrection

Setting:

The front of the sanctuary or any place where the choir and speakers are easily visible.
The choir should be positioned behind the communion table, the narrators to one side.
The dialogue is carried on in front of the communion table.

I. Palm Sunday Processional

(sung by congregation and choir)

"All Glory Laud and Honor"(ST. THEODULPH)

(During the singing of this hymn, the choir and narrators process to their positions behind and alongside the communion table. The children should be waving their palm branches and carrying the banners. The final verse could include the descant and free accompaniment found in Hal Hopson's "The Singing Bishop. "At the conclusion of the hymn the congregation should be seated and the banners lowered before the narrators begin.)

Narrators and Choir: "Hosanna!"

Narrator 1: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Narrator 2: "Blessed is the King of Israel" (John 12:13).

Narrator 1: From the shouts of "Hosanna!"

Narrator 2: To the quiet communion moments of Maundy Thursday.

Narrator 1: From the dark hours of betrayal and death.

Narrator 2: To the bright, shining, glorious joy of Easter morning.

Narrators and Choir: Hosanna! Hallelujah! Blessed be Christ Jesus!

II. Maundy Thursday

(Peter and John stand to one side of the communion table)

Peter: Where do you suppose Jesus wants us to meet for our Passover meal, John?

John: It will be as he said, Peter. When we get to the city, we will meet a man carrying a jug of water. We will follow him home and give him Jesus' message.

Peter: Yes, I know what Jesus said, but don't you think we ought to seek out a special place with plenty of room? After all, there will be twelve of us plus Jesus, and we do want the Passover to be a memorable meal!

John: Don't worry so much, Peter! See—here comes the man with the water jug. Let's give him Jesus' message.

(Peter and John move slowly toward the center and are met by a man approaching from the opposite side, carrying a large jug.)

Peter: Peace be with you, good man!

John: Our master, Jesus, asks, "Where is the room in which I may eat the Passover with my disciples?" (Luke 22:11)

Man: I've been expecting you. Come with me. Everything is ready.

(He gestures to the communion table and all three turn and look. The man leaves, and Peter and John turn toward the congregation.)

Peter: Well then, John—all is ready.

(They leave.)

Narrator 1: "Jesus arrived with the Twelve. During supper he took bread, and having said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them, saying: 'Take this; this is my body.' " (Mark 14:17, 22)

Narrator 2: "Then he took a cup and having offered thanks to God, he gave it to them; and they all drank from it. And he said, 'This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, shed for many.' " (Mark 14:23-24)

Anthem: "In Remembrance" by Beryl Red (Broadman Press, 1972. #456535, SATB, 80tf) (Although this anthem has a 4-part setting, it can be presented effectively in unison with the children singing the soprano line throughout. The piece is well within the range of a children's choir. A flute or other obligato instrument is a lovely addition to the voices.)

III. Good Friday

Narrator 1: What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
(A chorister in the back row raises one of the crosses.)

Narrator 2: What wondrous love is this, O my soul? (A second cross is raised.)

Narrator 1: What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

(The center cross, with the crown of thorns on it, is raised between the other two.)

Hymn: "What Wondrous Love" (see "Hymn of the Month," RW2)

stanza 1—solo
stanza 2—small group of choristers stanza
stanza 3—choir
stanza 4—choir and congregation

(Matthew, Mary Magdalene, and Peter move to the center)

Matthew: I know of Jesus' wondrous love! Before Jesus called me to be one of his disciples, I was "Matthew, the despised publican"—-just another greedy tax collector. I can still hear his words as he hung on that cross (he gestures toward the cross): "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." In his wondrous love, he forgave me!

Peter: I know that love, too, Matthew. I denied that Jesus was my Lord—not once but three times. Yet he looked down on me from that cross with mercy. (He looks to the cross.)

Mary: My heart knows the tender mercy of Jesus, Peter. Once I came to him as he was eating supper and washed his feet with my precious oil. He would not let the others send me away. In his love, he forgave me so much.

Together: For us and for all who call upon the name ofJesus—

Matthew: He suffered and let himself be humiliated.

Peter: He endured the final agony of the cross.

Mary: He died and was buried.

Together: For us and for all who call upon his name.

Anthem: "We Had a Share" by Natalie Sleeth (A.M.S.I., 1973. "234,2 part, 80tf)
(Again, even though this anthem is written for two-part singing, it can be sung in unison simply by having the children follow the melody line throughout. The three crosses may be lowered at the conclusion of the anthem.)

IV. Easter

Narrator 1: "On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took spices… and went to the tomb" (Luke 24:1)

Narrator 2: "They found the stone rolled away from the tomb." (Luke 24:2)

Both: The grave was empty!

(The Easter banners should be held up at this time, during the introduction to the anthem.)

Anthem: "Sing, O Sing" by Carolee Curtright (Choristers Guild, 1977. CGCA-191, unison/ optional 2 part, handbells and keyboard, 75^!) (As the anthem ends, Mary Magdalene and all the disciples move to the center and look wonderingly and joyfully at the banners. They appear to be speaking and gesturing to each other, and as the music ends, their voices can be heard saying any of the following phrases: "He is risen!" or "Hallelujah!" or "It's like he said: he's risen!"or "Praise God!Jesus is risen!" The chorus picks up the happy news and joins in calling out any of the above phrases. They are all interrupted by the full organ introduction to the final hymn).

Hymn: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (Easter Hymn)

(This hymn is sung by the congregation and choir. The descant suggestions provided for #312 of Rejoice in the Lord could be effective on some of the verses.)

*NOTE: If the service is to proceed after this, the children could be seated during the final verses of the hymn.

Excerpt

Other Lenten and Easter cantatas and musicals for children:

He's Alive!
Ruth Artman
Studio 224, SV0821—$5.95
Unison/optional 2-part and baritone solo

Have You Seen My Lord?
Betty Ann Ramseth and Trilby Jordan
Augsburg, 11-9226—$2.50 Unison/optional SA or SATB
Orff instruments, guitar, percussion,
optional brass parts

Risen and Returning
Bill Ingram
Lillenas—$3.95
Unison

The Singing Bishop
Hal Hopson
Choristers Guild, CGCA-200—$1.75

Criss Van Hof taught music at Seymour Christian School, Grand Rapids, Michigan.