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Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

Open the Word

Ways to help all ages engage with the readings

Adult & All Age

To help the listener

The reader could use these words to provide context to today's readings: Isaiah 43.16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3.4b-14, John 12.1-8

As the Passion of Christ draws near, today’s readings challenge us to be more passionate in our worship, in our faith and in our devotion to Christ.

Present the Old Testament

Isaiah 43.16-21

In this short passage, Isaiah refers twice to ‘rivers in the desert’ (in the NRSV, the second is translated ‘water in the wilderness’ but it is the same word in the Hebrew text).

Nothing is more important than water to a people who had spent 40 years in the desert! The idea of God supplying freely flowing rivers is the equivalent of reaching the promised land – or heaven. To put this universal and timeless basic human need into context, before or after the reading, show a film clip or display some images from Oxfam Pioneers of projects that seek to provide water in the desert places of humanity:


Sierra Leone



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Present the Gospel: Whoever lives and believes in me will never die

John 12.1-8

A monologue

This monologue is a reflection, from Lazarus’ perspective, on the events leading up to those described in this week’s Gospel reading. It can be used to set the scene for the reading.

From Lazarus’ seat at the table

I never seem to get a word in. That’s what comes of having two sisters!

Even when I shuffled my way out of that tomb – and don’t get me started on how weird that was – after they had unbound those grave clothes, I never got a chance to speak out. All those people crowding round me, asking questions:

What had it felt like?

Did I see the face of God?

Did I know I was supposed to be dead?

And not much has changed since. I’ve become something of a celebrity – an object of interest. And plenty of folk keep coming by the house, wanting to touch me.

Today, Jesus is here again.

When I think about Jesus, I really am speechless. I have no idea how to express my feelings – even to him. But he knows that I know what he did. I sometimes wonder ‘Why me?’ He was a friend of the family, of course, but even so... I feel there must be something he needs me to do, with this ‘extra life’ he has given me. Inviting him to dinner seems hardly to scratch the surface of saying thank you.

Martha has prepared a lovely meal, giving her best energy and effort to make everything perfect for him. It’s what she does, who she is.

Mary is…well, Mary is the one more on a wavelength with Jesus. She gives herself wholly to listening to him, being attentive, being fed by his presence as well as his words. But I’m not sure what’s she doing today, because earlier I saw her take out the jar of nard. It has been in the family for decades, added to when we could afford it, to be used when we needed it.

Just the sight of the jar reminded me of those grave clothes, scented from that very jar. I know Jesus said that ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’, but I still think we should keep it safe for when our time comes. Mary’s got it with her now. She needs to be careful not to spill it – we’ll never get that smell out of the rug! I wonder what she’s going to do with it.

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Present the reading & Talk together

Open the Bible at John 12.1-8

Judas is angry when Mary pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet to show how much she values him.

Choose from these two ways telling the story, followed by ideas for discussion time

Share the gift

Show the children a wrapped birthday gift, saying it contains sweets/chocolates. Explain that it belongs to you but you don’t want to wait until your birthday – you want to open it and share the contents with them now. Do so, and enjoy eating the sweets/chocolates together while you read the story. Mary has a precious gift that she wants to give Jesus, and he appreciates it greatly.

Scented story

Gather the children to sit in a circle. Display a clay pot with a copy of the story on a scroll rolled up inside it. Invite a confident reader to unroll the scroll and read it out. When they reach ‘the whole house was filled with the sweet smell of the perfume’, light a scented candle and place it in the centre of the circle.

Talk together  ( Connect faith with everyday life)

  • How do you think Mary felt before, during, and after Judas’ argument?
  • If you had a valuable gift to give away, would you give all of it to one person, or small amounts to lots of people?
  • How are worshipping God and helping other people connected?


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For very young children

For very young children

 Play, and explore Mary wiping Jesus’ feet.

Play materials: play food and a tea-set.

Gathering prayers

Young children love repetition. Using the same prayer to start your session each time you meet will create a sense of familiarity and expectation.

Suggestion 1: God loves me

From the top of my head
(Touch head)

to the tips of my toes;
(Touch toes)

from the lobes of my ears
(Touch ear lobes)

to the end of my nose;
(Touch nose)

from my back, to my front
(Turn round)

to my wiggly fingers,
(stretch out arms and wiggle fingers)

God loves me!
(jump up and down)

Suggestion 2: God loves...

Leader: God loves
Child 1: (say name)

Leader: and God loves
Child 2: (say name)

Go round the circle until all the children have been named (the leader or accompanying adult can say the name of pre-verbal or shy children)

All: Thanks be to God!



Pass round a story bag and invite the children to dip their hands in and choose an object (in italics) to help you tell the story.

Jesus arrived in Bethany and went to visit Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.
(people figures)

Lazarus sat down for dinner with Jesus and their guests, and Martha served the food she had prepared specially for Jesus.
(play food)

Then Mary brought in an expensive jar of perfumed oil. She poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped his feet with her hair.
(‘perfume’ bottle)

Judas said, ‘What a waste of money!
(person figure)

That perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.’
(purse containing coins)

Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She was helping me to get ready. The poor will always be here, but you will not always have me.’


Give the children cushions, cloths, Bible storybooks and symbolic objects, and invite them to set up a special place to pray and be with Jesus.


Give each child an organza bag and invite them to fill it with different scented items, e.g. lavender, rose petals, pot-pourri, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, as a reminder of the story.


Provide a selection of resources, e.g. musical instruments, flags, streamers, a parachute, a bubble machine, and ask the children how they would like to worship Jesus today.


Invite the children to anoint each other by rubbing scented hand cream (or talcum powder) onto each other’s hands.
Say together:

Lord, you care for us.
You let Mary care for you.
Help us to care for each other.


Jesus, Jesus, here I am (JU, KS)
When I needed a neighbour


Colouring sheets
English version
Welsh version


A sending out prayer

Young children love repetition. Using the same prayer to end your session each time you meet will create a sense of familiarity and expectation.

God bless you,
(Point to others)

and God bless me.
(Point to self)

Amen. (Wave arms)

Leader: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Children and parents: In the name of Christ, Amen.


Additional activities

These activities are from this week's Explore & respond and can be adapted for Under 5s:

Treasure pot                       10 minsS

A container for valuable things

You will need: air-drying clay/play dough, paint and paintbrushes, beads, sequins, etc.

  • Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with very valuable oil. Invite each child to shape a special pot to store their precious things in, e.g. notes from friends, toys, money.
  • They can personalise their pots with paint and decorations. Leave them to dry.

Sensory prayer                     5 minsS

Think about Jesus using all five senses

You will need: an incense stick or oil burner containing an essential oil, a clay pot/holding cross, some bread, a picture of Jesus, gentle music, e.g. ‘Alabaster Box’ by Julie Meyer (see Listen on the Young People page). (Note: be aware of anyone who is coeliac or suffers from asthma.)

  • Lay out all the items on a rug or table as a focal point and play the music quietly.
  • Encourage the children to spend some time smelling, touching, tasting, looking, listening and thinking about Jesus.


Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles 

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