Growing up in the South at a time when there was a lot more etiquette in the air, I learned an important lesson about Easter: That's the day you can begin to wear white shoes again after winter. Fortunately, my family and church taught me more crucial lessons about the holiday that marks the crux of the Christian's life.
Crucial, crux, holiday -- in these words we see even our language bowing to the essential nature of the event we remember during Lent and Easter. Good Friday is not just a day off work; it is a holy day. Easter's Resurrection could happen only after the Crucifixion, and the cross is like a crossroads in our lives. Every one of us must stand at that crux, that point requiring resolution, and must choose which way to go. The decision we make is crucial -- the crisis of our lives is resolved by our turn toward either life or death. Jesus said, "Truly, Truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but he passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate. Is the season before Easter mainly a hassle to get to the mall and a strain on the budget purchasing clothes, candy, cards, and groceries for a big dinner? Or is it several days or weeks of considering God's work in our lives through Jesus, along with special activities to help us think about Jesus' death and resurrection?
Over the course of the Lenten and Easter season, we are remembering the lowest points of sin and the highest peaks of what God has done for us through Jesus. We have a way, the only way, to the Father through Jesus. That's worth celebrating!
Jesus said....I'm the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
And yet every year somehow it's so easy for Easter to slip up on us, and suddenly we're saying, "Oh, my goodness, it's Palm Sunday already!" Let's think of some ways to be prepared, to be waiting for Easter.
If the children in your life are young, Lent may be too long a waiting time. In that case, the week that begins with Palm Sunday may be just long enough for anticipating Easter. At our house, we use a play dough mountain and chenille stick (pipe cleaner) people to depict what happened during the week. (*see instructions for mountain at the end of this article.)
As you're reading the Gospels, make a list of the days beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter. Try to assign part of the Holy Week story to each day. I realize that it's not clear on which day some things happened, but spread out the events in order as evenly as you can.
Each day we play out part of the story with the chenille stick people. Finally on Good Friday the Jesus figure is placed on the cross and then laid in the grave under the mountain with a rock "sealing" the entrance. After activity all week, there is nothing to do on Saturday except wait. Perhaps that gives the children a tiny bit of empathy for the disciples who were hidden away, thinking all was lost.
The first year we made an Easter mountain, three-year-old Karsten woke on Easter morning and pattered out to the dining room to check the mountain. He saw "Jesus" astride the top of the hill, arms raised in triumph. After a few motionless moments of silence, Karsten shouted, "He's alive, Jesus is alive!"
This activity is excellent for as many years as children can enjoy it and take it somewhat seriously. As soon as it starts to be treated as silly, it's time to set it aside. The reality of the Crucifixion is too deep and horrendous to be treated lightly.
I felt the weight of it most heavily, I think, as I watched a video brought home by a missionary from a nation where it is very difficult to be a Christian -- where many people have suffered for their faith. We watched as the brothers and sisters in a house church broke bread together in remembrance of Jesus' death. Their tears and cries and spasm of grief were so overwhelming they could hardly eat and drink. It was as if Jesus were being crucified before them at that very moment.
It is no small think to "proclaim the Lord's death" (1 Corinthians 11:26), which is what we are doing not just on Good Friday, but every time we eat and drink together the Lord's Supper. Jesus' suffering is very real to his people who suffer because of their faith. May we not take our Lord's death for granted. Our lives depend on it.
I don't want to aim so purposefully toward Easter that I speed unthinkingly past the cross. But at the same time, the Crucifixion -- Jesus' death -- is not the end.
After the somber days of Lent, we wake to Easter morning. At our house that means I slip downstairs ahead of the children to set out the breakfast cake and turn on some "hallelujah music" to meet the family as they appear. A lamb cake, representing the Lamb of God, decorates the table and will be dessert later in the day. All the Lenten candles burn brightly because the Light of the World has overcome the darkness. At the table together we read the story of the Resurrection.
Then -- the high point of the day -- we gather with other glad believers to worship our living God and cry together, "The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!" This the cry that resonates through all our celebrations and traditions through all the year. If it were not so, it wouldn't matter what our traditions were or even if we had any. If it were not so, we would have no eternal inheritance, no Heirloom that is God himself.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Other Lenten and Easter Ideas
• Pull out all your CDs or tapes of Easter music. Have them handy to pop into your player.
• Read books that will deepen your spiritual life and your understanding of what God has done. Ideas might include missionary biographies or The Pleasures of God (John Piper), in particular the chapter entitled "God's Pleasure in Bruising His Son." You could use The Man Born to Be King (Dorothy L. Sayers), a radio play, for an evening of aloud with friends.
• Put all of your children's Easter-related books, tapes, DVDs, and videos in a basket so that they're handy for you and the children to pick up on the spur of the moment. This would include stories and information about Passover as well.
• Make use of the Jesus video (http://www.jesusvideo.org/) with your family and with friends who don't yet know Jesus personally.
• Set aside a special place for your family's devotional times.
• Attend your church's services that are held during this season. Prepare yourself and your children for the focus and mood of each service.
Palm Sunday -- The people were praising with hosannas but were ready to turn against Jesus.
Maundy Thursday -- The Last Supper was a time of good-byes and preparation for separation. It would be the end of life together as the disciples had known it. Afterward in the Garden, Jesus' prayer was heart-wrenching, and his disciples deserted him, first in sleep and then by running away. Judas betrayed him, and Peter denied him during the trial and following persecution.
Good Friday -- We see Jesus carrying his cross, and we imagine his pain. We hear his words from the cross. We shudder at his death and feel the weight of our own responsibility.
Easter -- Hallelujah! Jesus has triumphed over death!
*Make an Easter Mountain
4 c. of flour
1.5 c. salt
1.5 c. water
1 Tbs. oil
Mix ingredients and knead. Add small amounts of water as needed until the texture is right.
1. Use two backyard sticks bound together with twine to make a cross about five or six inches tall.
2. Shape the whole lump of play dough into a mountain. The size will be determined by the volume of your play dough. Leave an opening on one side into the "cave' that will represent the tomb, using your fist or a soup can to hold the space open.
3. Press the cross into the top of the mountain to form a hole deep enough to stand the cross in. Make the hole a bit larger than the actual stick circumference because the hole will get smaller as the mountain bakes. Set the cross aside.
4. Twist toothpicks into the dough or press fork tines randomly around on the hill to make "footholds" for the chenille stick people.
5. Press the rock that will cover the tomb against the opening, to shape a better fit. Set the stone aside.
6. Bake at 250 degrees for four to five hours. When cooled, color as desired with paint or markers.
Originally posted on Crosswalk during Holy Week 2007.
From Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper, copyright 2003, pages 92, 95-98. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.gnpcb.org. Download for personal use only. Scripture passages used in this selection are from, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright 2001
Noel Piper and her husband, John, have ministered since 1980 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They have four sons and a daughter. Noel is a graduate of Wheaten College (B.A.).