Preaching on Maundy Thursday: A Visual Approach

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This past week I was invited to read books at an elementary school, as part of National Reading Week. I was allowed to read any children’s book I wanted to so I spent an entire evening going through the books that my own children loved: Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, Are You My Mother?, by P.D. Eastman, and Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I spent hours reading these books and was reminded of how powerful children’s books are.

I would bet that you can remember several of them from your childhood. I believe that there are three reasons that we remember our children’s books so vividly:

  1. The books contained both pictures and words.
  2. The books were read to you over and over until the story became of part of your soul.
  3. The words in these books were simple enough, and the images powerful enough, that you could remember them and ponder them even when the book was no longer around.

I am wondering if, like a great children’s book, the text of Maundy Thursday and the story of the last supper might be approached less like a traditional sermon and more like a children’s book, where the words and pictures work together to tell a powerful story.

In fact, I believe that the images used in the Maundy Thursday story are some of the most powerful in scripture; the long table with friends gathered; the basin and towel; feet being lovingly washed; the look of betrayal as Judas is confronted and exits; the bread; the cup; the sharing; Christ in his final moments with those he loves; prayer; tears, a kiss in the garden; and the darkness of the night.

Instead of preaching about the story in a regular sermon style this year, you might want to approach this text as if you were writing a picture book: using few words and many images.

You can create these “pictures” to accompany your text by:

  1. Creating tableau scenes using costumed actors.
  2. Using PowerPoint slides of scenes from the story or slides of the symbols from the story such as the cup, bread, upper room, garden, sword…
  3. Using several real objects such as the cup and bread, basin and cloth, which are lifted or carried in and placed on a table in the front of the sanctuary, as you tell the story.
  4. Setting up stations that are set up around the sanctuary and lighted as the story unfolds.
  5. Depending on the size of your congregation, setting up stations around the sanctuary where people physically move as the story unfolds.
  6. A large black background with symbols added and lit as the story unfolds.

You might use the sermon text and symbols at the same time. As you speak, the PowerPoint image changes, the object is carried in, or the tableau changes. Or another suggestion is that you tell the story without pictures, images or objects and then, following the text, enter a time of spiritual reflection and pondering where the objects are carried in one by one and placed on the altar, the tableaus change silently, or the images of the PowerPoint are changed every few seconds. This will allow spiritual space for your congregation to ponder the events of the story.

Words are powerful. Images are powerful. The text of Maundy Thursday is ideal to let both words and images speak together. And by using them intentionally together, the impact might last long after the service ends, much like the words and the images of your favorite children’s book remain with you today.

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week this year.

Leanne Hadley is dedicated to helping the Church better the ministries we offer to children and families. More about Leanne’s ministry can be found on her website: leanne-hadley.com or on FB at: Leanne cares about kids.

Image attribution: Ronnie Kaufman / Thinkstock

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Leanne Hadley is an ordained elder in the UMC and has a DMin in the spirituality of children. She has dedicated her entire career to working with and studying the spiritual lives of children. Her work experience includes working as a chaplain, directing a migrant ministry summer program, Minister to Children and Families, and Founder of First Steps Spirituality Center. She is passionate about strengthening congregations by helping them understand the spiritual lives of children and deepen and expand the ministries they offer to children and families.

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