This is the first in a series that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class. Although the Sunday of the Last Judgement is not part of Great Lent, it is significant because it is part of the process of preparing ourselves for Great Lent, so we are including it in the series.
Here’s a meditation on Judgement Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:
It is not yet Great Lent, but very soon it will be! We have already started the Tridodion. The Triodion is the service book with the special texts for the services for the part of the Church year that begins in the pre-Lenten period and goes all the way through Holy Week. The canons for Matins during all of these weeks have three odes: hence the name Tri-odion.
We have been mentally preparing for Great Lent with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. Now here we are, one week from Great Lent, and the Triodion directs us to read from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In Matthew 25:31-46, we read (New King James Version):
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did itto one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This Gospel reading is about the Last Judgement and what will happen then. But if we look at it closely, it gives us a good idea of what SHOULD be happening in our lives now so that we know that we have done our best, and we are ready when the Final Judgement day is here.
The passage talks about Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. If you’re not familiar with the ways of these animals, here’s the general idea of how they function: sheep are more likely to do what they’re told and, together, they follow the shepherd. Goats are much more independent: they’d rather eat whatever they want and go wherever they want, on their own, without paying attention to the person in charge of their care. One glimpse at the sheep and goats in this way leads us to thinking “well, that’s easily taken care of! I want to be a sheep, so I’ll just follow God and do what I’m supposed to do. Simple!”
But is it really simple? The rest of the passage goes on to describe what each group did during their lifetime. They didn’t just show up at the Judgement and arbitrarily get assigned as a sheep or goat. Their entire lifetime of choices judges them, showing whether or not they were following Christ. At the judgement, no excuses in the world were able to change their designation. But at every moment of their life, they had the chance to do so.
So what choices did the “sheep” make that caused them to be judged as “sheep”? What did they do to show that they are followers? St. Matthew records our Lord saying that these people were the ones who gave food and drink to Christ. They took Him in. They clothed Him. They visited Him when He was sick and in prison.
And when the “sheep” are surprised (they don’t remember doing these things to Christ), He reminds them that whatever they did to the least of these, they’ve done to Him. Anytime they have reached out to someone who needed help, they reached out to Christ. Any good gifts they have given, they’ve given to Him.
The “goats” on the other hand, have done none of this. When they are surprised at their judgement, Christ reminds them of the opportunities they’ve had and what they chose. He reminds them that each person they’ve met is His icon, made in His image, and they’ve chosen to turn away or ignore Him by ignoring and not helping them.
So, how are we measuring up with this? If today ends up actually being the Judgement Day, what will our life’s choices show about how we care – or don’t care – for Christ? As we approach Judgement Sunday, let’s each take some time to evaluate how we’re doing. Who has God placed in our life who needs help? How are we doing with helping them? Are we seeing Christ in them, or do we see them as a nuisance? If we truly love Christ, we will also love those around us, and we will treat them as the icon of Christ that they are.
Oh Lord, have mercy on us, and show us how to better love others. Not so that we receive earthly rewards or “check it off of our list” or even so we are counted as one of your sheep: but rather so that these precious ones which you have placed in our life receive the love, care, and support that You deserve.
As you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday, pray that they will be ready to love those around them, especially as we prepare to begin Great Lent. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful to use as you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday:
Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.
Teachers of a variety of ages may want to take a look at this (non-Orthodox) lesson, or at least at the suggested group games and the many learning printables at the end of the lesson. Perhaps something here will help you plan a lesson on the parable of the sheep and the goats as you teach about Judgement Sunday. https://www.sermons4kids.com/sheep_or_goats.htm
Students of all ages may enjoy watching this simply-illustrated telling of the parable of the sheep and the goats as part of a lesson about Judgement Sunday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWSkdx-XwWY
For young students, or a class that loves to move:
After a lesson on Judgement Sunday and the parable of the sheep and the goats, help to make the lesson practical for young students. Bring a stuffed sheep to class and stuffed goat. Place them on different sides of the room. Offer suggestions of ways that kids can love (or not) and respond to (or ignore) others around them. (You may want to create these little story scenarios before class, unless you can think of them on your feet. Something like this: “Izzy sees that Jo has a nice stuffed dog, so he grabs the dog so that he can play with it.” or “Carmen is about to open her lollipop when she notices Frankie crying. She takes the lollipop to him and gives it to him.”) After you make each suggestion, encourage the kids to vote for whether that was a “sheep” way to react or a “goat” way. They vote by physically moving to one side or the other, to stand with the sheep or the goat. After everyone has voted, talk about their judgement. How do they think God would judge that person? Ask the students to consider which one they want to be at the Last Judgement. Give them an outline of a sheep, and let them draw or write some ideas of how they will work on being a better sheep, in the sheep’s “wool.” (Here’s a sheep printable that you could use.)
For older students, or a class that loves to create:
To prepare your students for Judgement Sunday, tell them the parable of the sheep and the goats. Discuss the parable and what it means. Then help your students each make their own cardstock sheep and a goat. As you share ideas of ways that kids can love and respond to (or not) others, students hold up the animal that they see reflected in that action (or lack thereof). Talk about their choices, and how they think God would view each situation.
Suggested printable for the sheep: http://kidzactivities.net/cotton-ball-sheep-craft/
And for the goats, check out this one.
Encourage your students to write their own list of sheep-like and goat-like behavior inside each animal, then to take the animals home and put them somewhere where they’ll see them all week, and be reminded to work on being a good sheep instead of a goat.
For tweens and/ or teens:
In preparation for Judgement Sunday, read Matthew 25:31-46. What does that scripture mean to each member of your class? Do they find it soothing or frightening? Why? Present the class with a pile of articles you’ve clipped from the newspaper or printed from online sources. (Be sure to include some “good news/sheep”-type stories and some “bad news/bad choices/goat”-type stories.) Have each student select one article, read it, and judge for themselves whether the story is about sheep or goats. They can share with one other student, and be ready to defend their answer; or you can invite each student to share with the whole class. Offer some quiet time for students to react to this parable in a creative way. How do they feel about the parable? Where would they like to find themselves at the last judgement? What can they do now, each day, to be found there? Perhaps they’d like to write about it, or draw, or create something related to it. Include a few minutes at the end of class for any student to share what they’ve created, then pray and ask God to help each of you to remember to love and see Christ in everyone around them, and to make sheep-like choices.
Bonus post: as we approach Great Lent, you may want to see if Pascha Passports would be something you’d like to use in your Sunday Church School class. Pascha Passports take their readers on the journey to Pascha, with descriptions of the “destinations” along the way. At each “destination” (Lenten services, confession, the Jesus Prayer, Lenten retreat, and other important parts of the Lenten journey), travelers are given a stamp (beautiful icon sticker) to place in their passport with the destination information. What a beautiful, pocket-sized way for children to mark the passage of the Lenten season, and embrace the journey! These passports would beautifully support lessons related to the Lenten season and could be easily incorporated into your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the passports, stamps, and other materials in quantities for parishes or church schools here:
Added bonus post:
Church School Teachers with young students may be interested to know about these brand new resources for lessons about Lent and Holy Week.
“Color Your Way Into Pascha” offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1796731684
“Color Your Way Through Holy Week” offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1796742805/
And, for your own growth during Great Lent, there is this possibility: Y2AM has created the “Live the Word Bible Study Guide,” a daily study based on the Sundays of the Triodion period. This free guide offers 100+ pages of explanations, quotes from the Fathers, and study questions to help you learn from the readings for the next 10 Sundays. Y2AM created this resource to help you to make the most of Great Lent. Find more information (and the link to download your free copy) here: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/free-live-the-word-bible-study-guide-for-the-triodion