Aramaic for Kids: Teaching the Gospel from Hosanna to Lema Sabachthani

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Kids love the Aramaic sayings of Jesus.

At first, I was a bit nervous about teaching the topic. Though the Aramaic phrases from the gospel of Mark have always fascinated me, I did not know if kids would share my interest. But my task was to prepare five lessons for a week-long camp called “Camp Hosanna.” I decided to give it a go.

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Hosanna

On Monday, we began with Hosanna. It was an easy starting place, not only because it was in the name of our camp but also because most of the kids knew it already, from singing “Hosanna in the highest” on Sundays.

So, we read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, discussing the many ways people offered praise: with palms, cloaks, and singing. They cried out:

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).

We discussed how “Hosanna” means “save us,” and therefore points to Jesus as our Savior. Though Jesus is not recorded saying this phrase, he certainly recognized it, as when the children sang “Hosanna” in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16). Some did not like to hear the sounds of children, but Jesus defended them, citing Psalm 8:2.

We learned a hand motion with each Aramaic phrase to help us remember and illustrate its meaning. With “Hosanna,” we waved our hands in the air, like the waving of the palms on Palm Sunday.

Ephphatha

On Tuesday, we went back to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee when a crowd brought to him a man who was deaf and mute. Jesus then:

…put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha” that is, “Be opened” (Mark 7:33-34).

This one was a big hit with the kids. Who doesn’t like to say, “Ephphatha,” while touching ears with forefingers? It is perfectly odd and perfectly delightful. Moreover, it is so encouraging to know that our Lord cares for the body and wants his people to hear.

This phrase also became helpful throughout the week; whenever the kids became a bit too rowdy, we could remind them to listen with another rendition of “Ephphatha!”

And by the end of Tuesday, the kids were already asking what Aramaic phrase we would learn the next day. They were getting into it!

Talitha cumi

On Wednesday, we looked at another phrase from Jesus’ ministry, from another miraculous healing. We read the story of Jairus’ daughter, a girl who became sick and then died. As with the children singing Hosanna, the kids recognized one of their own and were keenly interested in the story. Though the people thought to tell Jesus not to come anymore:

He put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:40-41).

First, we learned this phrase while slowly lifting an arm, as in the motion of Jesus. Then I asked all the kids to lie down as if they were the girl who died. They did and became quiet for a time but finally rose again as we all called out, “Talitha cumi!” Another way to do this would be to pair the kids off and have one play the role of the girl and the other play the role of Jesus.

This story taught us that Jesus gives life to his people, insisting on raising them from the dead!

Abba

On Thursday, we turned to the sobering story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew he was being betrayed, and he knew he would soon be arrested and killed. Jesus did not want to die, but he obeyed his Father in Heaven. And so, Jesus:

…fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:35-36).

To illustrate this phrase, the kids fell to their knees and held their hands together in a posture of prayer.

And we learned that just as Jesus prayed to his Father in Heaven, so Jesus commanded us to pray to “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” This passage illuminates the Lord’s Prayer, which we also prayed at Camp Hosanna daily.

Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani

On Friday, we arrived at the most moving story of all: Jesus’ cry from the cross. And here, the kids became quiet. Not only because Jesus was dying but also because Jesus’ final words are scary:

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, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33-34).

It’s sad and scary to imagine any father forsaking a child, let alone God the Father forsaking his Son. At this point, we had an extensive conversation, learning that Jesus on the cross became our substitute, taking our sin upon himself. His separation from the Father was a result of our sin. Jesus had never sinned before, but now, in our sin, he experienced the distance of disobedience.

All the kids knew what this distance of disobedience felt like. And everyone felt the moment’s weight when we said this phrase while holding out our arms.

But we also saw that this moment was good news because it meant that Jesus died for us and our salvation. As scripture says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Putting it All Together

We put all the Aramaic phrases together for our camp’s concluding presentation. The kids presented each phrase with its accompanying motion:

  • Hosanna (waving hands in the air)
  • Ephphatha (forefingers touching ears)
  • Talitha Cumi (arm forward and slowly rising)
  • Abba (kneeling with hands in prayer)
  • Eloi eloi lema sabachthani (arms held out)

In sharing these phrases, we proclaimed what we had learned: that Jesus is our Savior, that he wants us to hear and to live, that he obeys his Father despite his suffering, and that he dies for our sin to give us his righteousness.

Cover image by Ginger Oakes.

Published on

June 26, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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