Christian festival of Holy Week lesson plan

Here is an off-the-shelf Easter Holy Week lesson plan with two Holy Week worksheets.

There is no need to waste time trying to work out a lesson plan because here is a free one based on the Christian Holy Week

This covers the lead-up to Easter and covers the whole Easter story in two parts:

This is part 1 which covers Holy Week, and part 2 is the Christian festival of Easter lesson plan

This teacher’s copy of the Christian Festival of Holy Week lesson plan is printer-friendly.

Christian festival of Holy Week lesson plan. Jesus on a donkey with crowds worshipping him.
Christian Festival of Holy Week lesson plan. Image by Jo Justino from Pixabay

1. Resources for Holy Week lesson plan

Play the embedded YouTube clip of an excerpt from the Jesus of Nazareth film. (Carlton Video Ltd, starring Robert Powell, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. PG General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children).

Cut out two Roman coins and one Temple coin each. (The image is further down the page).

2. Starter for Holy Week lesson plan

Q. Are there any good things that happened to you or your family years ago, which are still remembered and celebrated?

Christians remember certain events in Jesus’ life and celebrate them on set dates in the year.
We are going to look at the Easter celebration and the week leading up to that, which is often referred to as ‘Holy Week’.

Easter is not a set date, but it always starts on a Friday, finishes on Sunday and is celebrated around March or April.
The Friday is known as ‘Good Friday’ which seems rather a weird name at first because that is the day that Jesus Christ died a painful death on the cross.
So we are now going to see what really happened leading up to this event.

3. Main teaching for Holy Week lesson plan

a) Jesus’ followers and enemies

For about three years huge crowds had followed Jesus.
Christians believe that he taught the people and did various healings and miracles, even raising some back from the dead.

Jesus had made a lot of enemies among the religious leaders, because they were jealous of His powerful teaching and because so many people were listening to Him, rather than listening to them!
They were hoping to discredit Him in front of the crowds, but they were frustrated because Jesus’ lifestyle was blameless and without fault and they couldn’t find anything to pin on Him.

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They couldn’t even deny the healings and miracles that He did!
All they could do was wait for an opportunity.

b) Palm Sunday – Jesus on a donkey

Then suddenly, on a Sunday, they heard that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem and sat upon a common donkey like a poor peasant!
The religious leaders sneered at the thought; ‘a king rides on a horse, but Jesus chooses a donkey, what a pathetic thing to do!’

Q. What does a Queen / King travel around in?

A Limo, a gold stagecoach, etc.

Q. What would you think if the Queen / King drove around in an old banger – a rusty old car?

It doesn’t fit with the image of a Queen or King.
In the same way, Jesus sitting on a donkey riding into Jerusalem didn’t fit the image of a King, but the religious leaders should have remembered that this was written about in the Scriptures (Bible) before it had happened:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Zechariah 9:9 NIV

‘Daughter of Zion’ was the term used originally for the ‘Jewish people’ and then later for the ‘people of God’.

The city was going wild with excitement.
They were laying their coats and palm leaves down in front of Jesus as He rode along!
They were shouting and praising Him, and they gave Him titles which could only be given to God’s Son, the King!
Perhaps many in the crowd had remembered the ancient prophecy in the Scriptures that spoke about this.

Q. What is this Sunday called, that celebrates this event?

Palm Sunday.

Q. Why is it called Palm Sunday?

Because of the palm leaves they laid on the ground in front of the donkey that Jesus was riding.

c) On Monday Jesus overturned the tables in the temple

Then on Monday, Jesus walked up the steps and into the temple court.
There were many people selling things at hugely overinflated prices, which were to be used by the worshippers in the temple.

(Teachers note: The children could each draw and cut out: two Roman coins – which would have Caesar’s head drawn on them – and one Temple coin. We’ll call them one-pound coins.)

A temple coin and a Roman coin. Christian festival of Holy Week lesson plan.
A temple coin depicting the temple and a Roman coin with Caesar’s head.

The people needed to pay for the things that were to be used in their worship, with Temple money, but they only had Roman money.
So for example, for every two Roman pound coins they gave to the money changers, they might only get one Temple pound coin given back to them!

(Teachers note: A child could be asked to come out to the front and they would have to give you two pounds and you would give them only one pound back. You could say “What do you think of that?”)

Jesus was disgusted by all this money being made from religion in this way, so He tipped their tables over and drove them all out of the temple area! And He said to them:

The Scriptures say my Temple is a place of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Matthew 21:13 (The Living Bible)

Then many blind people and those who were crippled came to Jesus and He healed them.
So the religious leaders became even more furious at Him!

d) Jesus severely warns the religious leaders in Holy Week

On one occasion He warned the crowds about the religious leaders and He didn’t hold back in telling them what He thought of them!
Here are just some of the things He said:

Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach…
Everything they do is done for men to see…
Woe to you, blind guides!..
You blind fools!.. you hypocrites!
You are like whitewashed tombs,
which look beautiful on the outside
but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous,
but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness…
You snakes! You brood of vipers!
How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Matthew 23:4-39 NIV

Q. If you had been one of the religious leaders how would you have reacted to that?

Q. If you had been one of the people in the crowd how would you have reacted to it?

Jesus was not being nasty, He was showing the people what these religious leaders were really like – they were hypocrites!

Q. What is a hypocrite?

It is pretending to be something that you’re not.
So these religious leaders were pretending to be godly people, but they were only interested in themselves.
They were so caught up with making themselves look important, that they overlooked the fact that God’s Son had come among them.
Not only that, they were trying to find a way of killing Jesus, but unknown to them this was all part of God’s plan!
We will now look at how this came about:

Judas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, was not truly following Jesus, and he decided to make some money out of this situation.
He went to the religious leaders and offered to lead the Temple guards at night, to the place where Jesus was.

Through that week Jesus taught many things about the Kingdom of God and the end of the world.

e) Jesus and his followers prepare to eat the Passover meal

Then on Thursday Jesus sent some disciples to hire a room in Jerusalem so that they could all eat the ‘Passover Meal’ which is a traditional Jewish celebration.
(Teachers note: This actual meal is discussed in another Lesson Plan: ‘What is Holy Communion / the Last Supper?

At this meal, Jesus explained that He was going to die.
Try to imagine how Judas must have felt.
He had arranged for the Temple guards to come later that night.
Then suddenly Judas hears Jesus saying:

But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. I must die. It is part of God’s plan. But, oh, the horror awaiting that man who betrays me.”

Luke 22:21-22 (The Living Bible)

Everyone was confused and was wondering who He meant.
Then Jesus said that whoever He gave a piece of bread to was the one who would betray Him.
Jesus gave it to Judas and because everyone was talking, Judas left the room without the other disciples realising what was happening, and he went straight to the religious leaders.

Meanwhile, Jesus being God, knew everything that was going on, so He spent a long time teaching His disciples many important things about the Kingdom of God.

f) Peter is warned that he will deny Jesus three times

Earlier in the evening Jesus had said that He was going to leave them and Simon Peter said,

Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me?
I tell you the truth, before the cockerel crows, you will disown me three times!”

John 13:36-38 NIV

Simon Peter would have nothing of it, deny Jesus once, twice, three times! Never!

Q. How easy is it to pretend to be brave when there is no danger?

Q. But what happens when danger approaches, how do you feel?

When it was late they walked to an Olive Grove outside of Jerusalem where they had been many times before.
The disciples settled down to sleep while Jesus spent some hours in prayer.

g) Jesus is betrayed

Suddenly there was the sound of a large group of men coming through the trees carrying lanterns and weapons with Judas the traitor leading them.
Jesus, who knew everything that was going to happen to Him, went towards them and challenged them:

Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said.
When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”

John 18:4-6 NIV

Q. Why do you think they all fell to the ground?

Christians believe that God was showing them His power, proving to them that they couldn’t take Jesus by force.
It was only possible if God allowed them to do that.

Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’
And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’
‘I told you that I am he,’ Jesus answered. ‘If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’ ”

John 18:7-8 NIV

Then Simon Peter drew a sword and thrust it wildly at one of the men.
The man tried to duck away but it caught him across the side of his head and cut off his ear!
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away!”
Then Jesus completely healed the man’s ear and said to the armed group of men:

“Am I some dangerous criminal, that you had to arm yourselves with swords and clubs before you could arrest me?
I was with you teaching daily in the Temple and you didn’t stop me then.
But this is all happening to fulfil the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.”

Matthew 26:55-56 (The Living Bible)

The disciples seized the moment, they turned and ran as fast as they could through the trees, but no one followed them.
Simon Peter and another disciple quickly stopped running and they hid behind a tree.
They were determined to follow them to see where Jesus would be taken.

h) The religious leaders conduct an unlawful trial

The group bound Jesus with ropes and then took Him to the house of a very rich religious leader, where all the other leaders were waiting to silence this prophet!
They had gathered together a group of so-called witnesses, who were trying to make up some false evidence against Jesus so that they could present it to the Roman court which was the only authority that could carry out the death penalty.
Then these religious leaders would be happy because Jesus would finally be silenced!

But the trouble was that all these false witnesses could not agree, and they kept asking Jesus questions, but He didn’t answer any of them.
Then the High Priest, in total frustration, said to him: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus said that He was.
Then the High Priest tore his robes and shouted: “That is blasphemy!”

Q. What is blasphemy?

To speak evil against God, to put God down.

The High Priest continued to shout: “Why do we need any more witnesses?
We have just heard Him blaspheme! What do you think?”
Many of the other religious leaders called out “blasphemy! He is guilty! Give him the death penalty!”

Then they put a blindfold on Jesus and different people began to punch and hit Him.
Some shouted; “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”
They spat in his face and continued to hit Him with their fists.

i) Will Peter deny Jesus?

Meanwhile, Simon Peter followed them to the house of the very rich religious leader.
The large house had an outer courtyard with an entrance gate.
As Simon Peter went through the gate a servant girl said to him, “Surely you are not another disciple of this man?”
Simon Peter froze with fear and said, “No, I’m not!”

There was a big bonfire burning in the courtyard, and because Jesus was being interrogated inside the house, and the night was cold, many people were huddled around the fire.
Simon Peter tried to hide amongst the crowd.

Then someone suddenly pointed at Simon Peter and said in a loud voice,
“This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth!”
Simon Peter denied it saying, “I don’t know the man!”
So he moved around the crowd to get away from them.

Then someone else said, “You are one of His disciples, your voice gives you away.”
So Simon Peter began to curse and he said, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a cockerel crowed, and he looked towards the window of the house, where he saw Jesus standing before the leaders.
Jesus turned His head and looked straight at Simon Peter and he suddenly remembered what Jesus had said to him earlier that evening.

Q. What had Jesus said to Simon Peter?

“Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the cockerel crows, you will disown me three times!”

Simon Peter quickly left the courtyard and wept because he was so sorry that he had denied being a friend of Jesus.
It was now early in the morning and the religious leaders decided to take Jesus to the Roman authorities to persuade them to execute Him.
We will be looking at this next time.

4. Plenary for the Holy Week lesson plan

Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him and yet He still went through with it.

Q. What do you think of Jesus for doing that?

Q. Do you think Jesus would forgive Simon Peter for denying Him three times?

Christians believe that when Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to Simon Peter and He did forgive Him. (John 21:14-17)

Q. How does the build-up to Easter on the TV, compare with the
story of the first Easter you have just heard?

Either take a short time to discuss these questions, or leave it with them.

(Teachers note: There are two worksheets to accompany this lesson plan:
Holy week worksheet 1
Holy week worksheet 2)
Also see the: Christian festival of Holy Week. RE resources.

5. Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Why is it called Holy Week?

Holy Week, is also called the Great Week and Passion Week.
Those names all indicate the importance of that week as it led to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
It was the culmination of God’s plan of providing a substitute to take God’s judgment upon humankind – Jesus paid the penalty for all the wrongs, hatred, lies, jealousy, greed, lust and murder that rises up towards a Holy God.

What did Jesus do during Holy Week?

1) Palm Sunday: Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowds worshipping him.
2) Monday: He went into the temple courtyard and drove out those selling doves, the money changers, etc.
3) Tuesday: Jesus teaches the Prodigal son, the ten virgins, he gives the date of his crucifixion, he is anointed with oil by Mary and Judas agrees to betray Jesus.
4) Thursday morning: The disciples make preparations to celebrate the Passover.
5) Thursday evening: Passover meal was eaten together. Jesus washes the disciple’s feet, then tells Judas that he knows of the betrayal, and reveals the practice of sharing bread and wine to remember him. Later Jesus struggles at Gethsemane.
6) Friday: Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus to arrest him. Religious leaders hold a fake trial, mock and abuse him. Judas commits suicide, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor who wants to release him, but because of the danger of a riot Pilate passes the sentence as ‘king of the Jews’. He is scourged, crucified, and buried in a tomb with an armed guard.
7) Saturday: The Jew’s Sabbath is celebrated as a day of rest. The end of Holy Week.
8) Sunday: Easter day when Jesus rose alive from the grave.