The reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday is often an emotional experience - we go from proclaiming Christ as King to calling for his crucifixion in a head-spinning 20 minutes. If your children have Sunday School on Palm Sunday, here's one way to create that experience for them in an interactive, memorable way.
Set up your Sunday School space to include four "stations":
1. Gethsemane. Borrow plants from your Easter Garden, and spread a green cloth on the floor, if you have one.
2. Chief Priest’s house. I created this simply by placing a chair by our child-sized altar, and covering it with a purple silk cloth. If you have space, you can have Pilate's palace as a separate station, otherwise just use the same space for both.
3. Golgotha. Here I placed a stepstool - when we came to this station, the child playing Jesus ascended the stool and stood with his arms out.
4. The tomb. I used a small table covered with a cloth, so that it was dark underneath.
I also borrowed some Christmas pageant costumes - a crown for Pilate, a plain brown shepherd's robe for Jesus, Mary's headscarf for Mary Magdalene, etc.
When the children come in, assign them roles and hand out the scripts of the Passion reading. I used St. Mark's, as it's the most child-friendly, and I've included the script below.
Non-readers can be the crowd and the soldiers, crying "Hosanna!" and "Crucify him!!" and "Hail, King of the Jews!" - lines that are repeated and easily learned.
It may help for the leader to be the Evangelist, so as to help direct the action.
Read out the script and move from place to place. Stage directions are included in the script.
For your activity, children can either illustrate a timeline of the story they've acted out, or they can make their own scratch-design crosses to take home. Baker Ross sells scratch-art crosses - they are multi-coloured paper covered in black. Children make their own design and scratch it away to reveal the glorious colours underneath. This is a symbol of how the cross changes from a symbol of death to a symbol of life, while allowing children the freedom to creatively come up with their own designs, using whatever imagery from the Passion story is meaningful to them.
Here is the script:
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, According to Saint Mark
Servant Girl Servant Boy
Evangelist: While Jesus was still speaking, Judas came, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard." And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said,
Evangelist: And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them,
Jesus: Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.
Evangelist: And his disciples all forsook him, and fled.
(Move to the “chief priest’s house” area.)
And they led Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council sought evidence against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none.
And Caiaphas, the high priest stood, and asked Jesus,
Caiaphas: Have you no answer to make?
Evangelist: But Jesus was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him,
Caiaphas: Are you the Son of God?
Evangelist: And Jesus said,
Jesus: I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and
coming with the clouds of heaven.
Evangelist: And the high priest said,
Caiaphas: Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy!
Evangelist: And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to strike him.
(Crowd pretends to spit on Jesus and hit him)
Now one of the maids of that house came to Peter in the courtyard and said,
Servant Girl: You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.
Evangelist: But he denied it, saying,
Peter: I do not know what you are talking about.
Evangelist: And he tried to walk away, but the maid followed him and began saying to
Servant Girl: This man is one of them.
Evangelist: But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter,
Servant Boy: Certainly you are one of them; your accent is just like Jesus’.
Evangelist: But he began to swear and said,
Peter: I do not know this man!!
Evangelist: And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.
And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. And Pilate asked him,
Pilate: Are you the King of the Jews?
Evangelist: And he answered him,
Jesus: You have said so.
Evangelist: And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him,
Pilate: Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.
Evangelist: But Jesus made no further answer. Now at Passover, Pilate used to release one prisoner. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release Barabbas for them. But Pilate asked,
Pilate: Do you want me to release for you Jesus instead?
Evangelist: But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And the crowd called,
Crowd: Release Barabbas for us!!
Evangelist: And Pilate said to them,
Pilate: Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?
Evangelist: And they cried out,
Crowd: Crucify him!!
Evangelist: And Pilate said to them,
Pilate: Why, what evil has he done?
Evangelist: But they shouted all the more,
Crowd: CRUCIFY HIM!!!
Evangelist: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having whipped Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away.
(move to the Golgotha station)
And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and put a crown of thorns on him. And they began to salute him, saying,
(soldiers pretend to bow down, salute, etc.)
Soldiers: Hail, King of the Jews!
Evangelist: And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull).
And they crucified him.
(Jesus stands on the stool with his arms outstretched)
And those who passed by made fun of him, and teased him, saying,
Crowd: He saved others; he cannot save himself! Let the Christ, the King of the Jews, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe!!
Evangelist: And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,
Jesus: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Evangelist: And he uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.
(Jesus’ head goes down onto his chest)
There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of Jesus. And when evening had come, Joseph of Arimathe'a, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate granted the body to Joseph. And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Mag'dalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where he was laid.
(With help from the leader, children take the body of Jesus down from the stool and carry/drag him to the tomb. You may want to add a hymn here, such as “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”)