Note to the Teacher
The primary focus of this lesson is on being a part of the family of God. The ice breakers get students talking with one another and hopefully laughing! The discussion allows students to consider what it was like for Jesus in his last hours and how we might respond. The activity allows students to experience some physical difficulty in person or to consider more about what it means to be a part of God’s family on Zoom. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.
1. Ice Breaker: What is It? (10 minutes)
If Meeting in Person: Shaving the Balloon
Blow up enough balloons for every two students to have one. Pair up the students and hand them a balloon, a can of shaving cream, and a cheap shaving razor. Tell them to cover their balloon in shaving cream. One person holds the balloon, and the other shaves the balloon, trying not to pop it. If a balloon is popped, that pair is out. The last pair standing wins. If more than one pair have a balloon left with all of the shaving cream shaved off, then have the teams recover the balloons and start over until there is only one pair left standing.
If Meeting oline: Desert Island
Before you meet with your group, come up with a list of fifteen items that you think someone might need to survive on a desert island. Present these fifteen items to the group by sharing your screen. Tell the students that they can pick only three items to use to survive. Allow students to discuss why they chose their three items.
If your students need to get up and move around, get them to select three items from the room they are in to gather and describe to the group.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our scripture reading today happens the night of Jesus’ arrest. Jesus has just finished time with his disciples, teaching them, comforting them, and preparing them for what lies ahead. This scripture describes what happens when Jesus is arrested.
Read John 18:1-19.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
There are several characters present in this scene, but let’s focus on Jesus and what he might be feeling and going through.
- After reading this scripture, how do you think Jesus felt at each stage in this story: before he was arrested, as he is being arrested, as Peter gets violent, after he is arrested, and when Peter denies being one of his disciples.
- Jesus seems prepared, knowing what lies before him and what he must go through. Tell us about a time when you had to do something that you didn’t want to do and how you prepared for it. It could be anything from taking a test to having surgery.
- Why do you think Jesus chose to be with his disciples in his final hours and even minutes before his arrest? Do you think he looked at his disciples as family?
Read Isaiah 53:1-6. Many point to this as a messianic prophecy. It was written about six hundred years before Jesus’ time. As we read it, listen for echoes of the parts of Jesus’ story that you know.
- What in these verses seems to apply to Jesus’ time on earth?
- Since Lent is a time for us to reorient ourselves toward God, are there parts of this scripture that help you see yourself in a new way? What do the words of this scripture call you to do/change?
- Look at the verbs in these verses. What verbs are physical actions? Which ones are mental or emotional actions? In what ways would these verbs transform you if you experienced them? In what ways do they transform our understanding of Jesus’ life?
- If we consider that this prophecy came true in the person of Jesus, how do you think this prophecy affected the disciples as they reflected back on Good Friday during the rest of their lives?
- There is certainly a lot of language about suffering in these verses. What does the willingness to experience this suffering tell you about the heart of God and about Jesus’ character?
- How does Jesus’ suffering help us find meaning in the difficult parts of our own life?
We have talked in this series about the importance of our response to Jesus affecting our world and the people around us. We are called to invite all people into the family of God. What can you do this Easter season to do that? Who are you connected with that no one else in this group is? How can you show them the love of God’s family?
4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)
The theological significance of what happens on the cross is the subject of thousands of books and articles. Like anything else of this level of importance, there are several schools of thought that help bring clarity to different aspects of the crucifixion. Whenever wading into something of this weight it is important to talk your leadership (pastor, supervisor) through what you are speaking to make sure it aligns with how they see the theological weight of this moment.
If meeting in person:
This activity can be physically demanding, and the leader of the group should consider the physical capabilities of the group and make appropriate alterations to match the details of this activity with the ability of the group.
Work with someone in your church or community to secure a large wooden cross. The cross should be large enough that it takes a group of students to carry it. If your group is larger, secure more crosses. If you cannot secure a cross, consider a long beam of some kind that students can carry, but will struggle to do so. Find a park, large parking lot, field, or someplace where you can mark about a half a mile distance. Have a clearly marked beginning and ending line.
Students will begin carrying the cross, stopping seven times spaced evenly from start to finish. At each stop, read from The Last Seven Words of Christ (below). Encourage students to read and lead the prayers along the way.
Some discussion questions for the end:
- How do you feel? Was this difficult for you? How so?
- Was it easier knowing that your group was here suffering through this with you? Did it feel like a family?
- How do you think Christ felt as he carried his cross by himself?
- One of the ways of think about this is that Jesus took the punishment for us so that we might have life in him. How does that perspective help you understand the suffering of the cross?
- Another way to look at the crucifixion is that Jesus overcomes humanity’s violence by allowing himself to become the victim of human violence. Through that sacrifice we are opened up to living beyond that violence and experiencing the fullness of creation. How does that perspective help you understand the suffering of the cross?
If meeting online:
Give students five minutes to describe the perfect family. It may be their own family, but you can also encourage them to consider what the truly perfect family looks like. They will describe this family to the group in three ways:
- Writing down five words to describe the people in the family
- Identifying a song or a line from a song that describes the family. Tell students to have this song ready to play and to share their computer sound (or put a link in the chat) with everyone so they can hear the song. They can get it from YouTube, Spotify, or whatever music source they have access to. For the sake of time, tell them just to play the part of the song that describes the perfect family.
- Describing the perfect family evening and what it looks like to them.
Close by saying something like, “Understanding Jesus’ death is a lifelong quest. Jesus’ death and resurrection transforms everything. It undoes the violence of humanity and invites all people to recognize their part in the family of God. Jesus calls us to invite all people into God’s family. How can we do that in coming days? Are there things in your life or things that make it challenging for you to invite people into God’s family?”
End in prayer or whatever is typical for your group.
Total time: 50 minutes
If Meeting in Person:
- Balloons, enough for every two students
- Shaving cream
- Cheap shaving razors, enough for every two students to have one
- Large, heavy, wooden cross(es)
- A large open area such as a field, park, or parking lot
- The Last Seven Words of Christ attachment
- Drinking water
If Meeting online:
- Device to connect to Zoom or other platform
The Last Seven Words of Christ
Note for leaders:
You are encouraged to read through this exercise and review the language used in this script, built around Jesus’ final words during the crucifixion narrative. People have spent lifetimes working to understanding this pivotal sequence of events. This exercise does not shy away from scriptural accounts of the crucifixion, and explores concepts and terms that may carry baggage depending on your context. As you prepare this exercise, consider the following:
- Do these words sound like words we would use in our church? Are the words used in the same way that they normally are used in our worship and teaching?
- Are there phrases or sentences that make me uncomfortable as a leader? What are they, and how would I talk about the concept in a way that better matches my context?
- Are there places where I am unsure of how the theology of the exercise matches my church’s/senior pastor’s theological understanding of the crucifixion. If so, we encourage you to talk with the pastoral leadership, or educational leadership, of your church to ensure that you offer an experience that is consistent with your congregation’s understanding of sin, sacrifice, the crucifixion, and the concept of atonement.
Today we will remember the journey that Jesus took to be crucified on top of a hill. We will walk alongside Jesus and experience some of weight of the cross he carried. It will be difficult and tiring, but it will help us understand some of what Jesus went through. We will stop along the way up so that we may talk as he did. These are the last words of Christ.
Prayer - Leader (or youth invited by the leader) begin with a prayer.
Luke 23:34, KJV: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The first words Jesus spoke when carrying his cross were, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34, KJV). These are powerful words that revolve around the idea of God's forgiveness. The people surrounding Jesus when he carried his cross were spitting at him and throwing rocks. They placed a crown of thorns on his head after he was wrongly condemned, yet even as he is the victim of this horrible violence, he forgives them of their sins. God, through this experience can do the same for us – God forgives and will not let sin separate us from being in relationship with God.
Take a moment to think of a time when you have sinned, a time where you have done something that seemed to separate or sever your relationship with God.
(Give a moment to let everyone think.)
On the walk to the next stop, let it go. Psalm 103:12 (NRSV) says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far [God] removes our transgressions from us.” This does not mean we are sinless. It does not mean that we are saved from ever repeating hurtful mistakes. It does mean that God forgives us of our sins. That we are saved for a purpose!" If God can forgive people for doing these horrible things to God’s son, and God can forgive us of sin in our own lives.
Let us pick up the cross and carry the burden of Jesus Christ.
Prayer - by leader or youth.
Luke 23:43, NRSV: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
At this point, Jesus is waiting and listening to his Father’s people mock and torture him. He isn’t alone. Two other men hang on the crosses beside him.
The men are criminals. Both of them have done something deemed worthy of death by crucifixion. They are sinful and broken, and they may never have believed or followed God. This is their first encounter with Jesus, on the cross, waiting to die.
One of the men mocks Jesus. He tells Jesus that if he truly is who he says he is, then he should save himself. If he is the Savior, why doesn’t he save them?
The other man suddenly turns, “Do you not fear God?” he asks. “And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41,NRSV).
He turns to Jesus and pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
In this moment, the criminal is seeking forgiveness, running back to his savior’s arms. He is perhaps saying, “Look, I know I have done horrible things, and I have never believed in you, never prayed to your God. But I see you and I believe you and I want to follow you. I want to live in your presence for the rest of my life. I’m running to you. Please remember me. When I die, please take me to your kingdom, to heaven.”
Here’s the amazing thing: Jesus does not rebuke him. He loves him and welcomes him with open arms, saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus loves the man, even though he is broken, even though he has sinned, committing crimes. That is mercy. That is grace. And that is an example of God’s incredible love for us.
Prayer - Adult leader or youth
John 19:26-27 “Woman, here is your son.” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
At the cross, the humanity of Jesus is on full display. He was born, he will die, and he has compassion through it all.
As Jesus hangs on the cross (one of the cruelest forms of punishment devised by humans), as both blood and life escape from his body, Jesus feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. Jesus’ first thought is not of himself, but of his mother. And that shows something important about the character of God.
At a moment when most people’s thoughts would be consumed by their own pain, Jesus manages to escape the confines of himself and turn his thoughts to his mother, Mary.
The events that happen on the cross remind us there is a better way to exist, and that way is the way of empathy. The Son of God is about to die, yes, and yet even in the act of dying and eventually overcoming death, Jesus embodies amazing ways to live. By studying Jesus’ life, we will see a better path to follow, a picture of the loving character of God.
As followers of Christ, as disciples, we are called to demonstrate God’s character to the world. We can imitate Christ’s humility and empathy, showing others a more life-giving way to be together.
Prayer - Adult leader or youth
Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 "My God, my God have you forsaken me?”
In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 Jesus says, "My God, my God have you forsaken me?" This is the fourth word of the seven last words of Jesus.
Jesus gets this statement from the opening of Psalm 22; he and other religious leaders would have known this phrase by heart because of this Psalm’s prominence and King David’s voice. These words seem to be given as a fulfillment of prophecy even while they could also be heard as a lament as the pain overtakes Jesus’ consciousness. Psalm 22:1 begins with "My God, My God, have you forsaken me?” When Jesus quotes, he may be signaling to those familiar with the Psalms and other Old Testament writings to recognize the phrase. This would have helped his disciples and others to revisit familiar passages and interpret language related to the Messiah and descriptions of agony of the “suffering servant.”
The anguished tone of this expression makes it very different from the first three words of Jesus. It can be difficult to understand in what sense Jesus was “forsaken” by God. God and Jesus both seemed to know about and enter into this situation, we can look to the prayer and stress that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest to be certain that Jesus knew what was coming his way. We can also understand that Jesus was innocent, after all – the crimes he was charged with were so very different than the crimes of those next to him during the crucifixion. Jesus was innocent, in the sense that he had done nothing to forfeit the favor of God. Even if the pain made Jesus feel as though God had left him behind, God’s love never departs from Jesus.
One way to understand Jesus feeling forsaken is that it was a cry from the pained heart of the human Jesus and his feeling of abandonment by the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the apostles. Jesus feels separated from his father. In those awful moments, Jesus may have been expressing his feelings of abandonment in the face of so much pain and agony. He may have been quoting the prophet Elijah, further linking the prophecies of the Old Testament with his life on Earth. As Jesus endured this suffering and loneliness, we could indeed think that he may have been experiencing separation from God for the only time in all of eternity. God did not desert his son during Jesus’ suffering. This was God’s chance to complete a human experience. All people are born, all people die, and more often than we would care to admit, we all experience a sense of divine abandonment. Too often, we as humans often feel forsaken in our times of need, and this feeling can be further complicated when we consider the impact of sin in our lives.
Prayer - Adult leader or youth
John 19:28, NRSV: “I am thirsty.”
Imagine Jesus as the one speaking to you here:
Ever since the Resurrection, this has been my word to those who long for me. Just as you are, let my peace settle over you and bring you into my loving presence. Receive my peace abundantly and thankfully. The more intimately you experience me, the more convinced you become of my goodness. I am training you to find me in each moment and to be a channel of my loving presence. Sometimes my blessings come to you in mysterious ways: through pain and trouble. At such times, you may thirst for me and will know my goodness only through your trust in me. Understanding will fail you, but trust will keep you close to me.
You need my peace each moment to accomplish my purposes in your life. Sometimes you are tempted to take shortcuts to reach your goal as quickly as possible. But if the shortcut requires turning your back on my peaceful presence, you must choose the longer route. Give in to your thirst and walk with me toward a lifetime of peace filled with life giving waters; enjoy the journey in my everlasting presence.
Prayer - Lord Jesus, continually grant me the peace that only you can give, a peace that passes all understanding. Sustain me then in my daily life, knowing that this true peace with God assures me of eternal life with you. In your name, I pray, Amen.
John 19:30 “It is Finished.”
In John 19:30, Jesus utters the words, "It is finished." When most people read this, they read the surface and believe he is saying that his suffering on the cross is finally over, but when you actually look deeper into his words, he is saying something else is done – Jesus’ human experience before the resurrection is complete. Jesus finally accomplished what he set out to do, what he had stressed about in the Garden of Gethsemane, what created a new way for us to understand both life and death. Jesus’ death on the cross is his final human experience. Those at the foot of the cross, as well as those apostles and disciples who hear the story later are left to make sense of his death. When we have someone close to us pass away, even today we will try to make sense of that person’s passing. Some will say that Jesus died for our sins and opened the kingdom of heaven to us. Some will say that his death was part of a grand act of reconciliation or an act of atonement, something that had to be done so that all people could again be at one with God. The violence and execution that Jesus experienced can be difficult to make sense of. Perhaps this confusion, that the Son of God could actually die a human death, prepares us for what will prove to be an even more confusing Easter, when the Resurrection changes everything. Because God, not death, or sin, or anything else, has the final word.
Prayer - Adult leader or youth
Luke 23:46, NRSV: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
We made it. Earlier, in Jesus' first words, he spoke of forgiveness. We were told to look into our own sins, and mistakes, and failures, and moments that we reflect back on and think, “Oh, if only I had known then what I know now I would have acted so differently!” and let those thoughts and feelings and regrets go. We are invited to be honest with ourselves and hand them over to God. God forgives. Jesus' last words were, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” This message orients us all toward the future and urges us to go forward. In order to go forward and walk with Jesus, we must lift our hearts up to the Lord and walk as Jesus walked. We have little to fear, we know that Easter is coming. Sin and death have been overcome, and we can show ourselves as disciples that offer up our spirits and lives as we walk in the way that leads to life. I pray that we learned and empathize with Jesus’ final human moments today as we carried the cross, and reflected on his final words. My final encouragement to you all is this; Let us leave here and resemble Jesus in our words and actions every day! We, and others in our lives, may be carrying a weight that we cannot see. We, and they, may even feel like that weight may never be taken away or forgiven. As disciples who understand some of what carrying the cross feels like, we can share the good news that God and forgiveness are always there to help lighten the load.
Prayer - Adult leader or youth.