Sometimes our youngest are our best teachers...

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministry

I have had the privilege of presenting a chapel lesson entitled The Faces of Easter to children 3-9 year olds at our own church school and All Things Bright and Beautiful. It is a beautiful lesson written by Jerome Berryman, the creator of a children's faith formation program, Godly Play. In the lesson the story teller, the adult, presents eight gorgeous, hand painted, 8"X10", wooden plaques each depicting a part of the life of Jesus. These plaques are placed carefully on a long scroll like purple felt cloth.

Week after week as a plaque is presented a time-line of Jesus' life begins to unfold. For example, the first one is a picture of Jesus as a baby being held by Mary and Joseph. The second is a picture of Jesus as a little boy when his parents found him teaching in the Temple. The third depicts his baptism; the fourth, the time he was tempted by the devil. Others represent Jesus as a healer, or teacher, or celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples. The lesson is designed to be taught over several weeks during the Lenten season as the children prepare for the celebration of Easter; therefore, one or maybe two plaques are presented with the corresponding story.

Once a plaque has been presented, the children are asked to search the chapel and choose something that "will help tell the story better." Many times children would choose Nativity figures and place them next to the picture of Jesus as a baby. The small shell in the baptismal material was typically placed by the picture of Jesus being baptized. Occasionally, the felt figures of Adam and Eve, along with the apple tree, were laid next to the picture of Jesus being tempted by the devil, and a few times a chalice stood next to the image of Jesus at the Last Supper. Noticing the connections our youngest members were making was incredible. Watching them fall in love with the story of Christ was a real gift.

The last week I presented the final plaque: an image of Jesus' face hung low with a crown of thorns on his head. Though his arms were seen, his shoulders' placement suggested out stretch arms. The background in the previous pictures was white. In this one it was dark grey. This was the plaque representing the crucifixion. As I told the story about last few hours of Jesus life, the children were quiet. One little girl asked, "Why? Why did they kill Jesus?" I asked the group gathered, "Why do you think?" Silence followed.

Then one little three year old girl whispered, "They didn't know him."

Another little four year boy followed, "They thought he was a bad guy."

A five year old girl finished with, "They didn't understand God."3

Yes. Yes. Yes to all of that.

What struck me most about that moment was that none of these small, little children made anyone in the story right or wrong. There were no good people versus bad people. They simply heard the story of people, of human beings behaving as human beings.
I continued the lesson by telling them that the story did not end with the death of Jesus. I told them about Jesus being placed in the tomb, how the disciples were afraid, and about how the women came to visit.

When I came to the part of the story when the women find the tomb empty, I slowly turned the plaque over and showed the picture of the resurrected Jesus. The background was white again. Jesus was smiling and holding out the bread and the wine to anyone looking at him. I heard a few gasps of delight. Then one small voice said, "This plaque has two sides!"
I continued by explaining that this plaque does have two sides that cannot be taken apart. They must go together because we cannot have Good Friday without Easter, and we cannot have Easter without Good Friday. I placed the plaque along the time line and sat for a moment.

Then we all realized something. We could not tell the story of Jesus in a line. The end, Good Friday, was also the beginning, Easter. Therefore, we had to place the plaques in a different configuration. A line did not work. They had to be placed in a circle. As I moved the plaques in the newly desired shape, one third grader said, "Look, these two are the same." As he pointed to the plaque of baby Jesus and the plaque of the risen Christ he said, "The beginning. And the beginning."

Yes. Yes. Yes to all of that.

Jesus was born. He lived. He died. He rose so that we might be born anew and live forever.
We finished the lesson during the last week of lent, just before Holy Week. At that time we engaged in caring conversations, and I asked the children where they might place themselves in the story. There were many answers. Some wanted to be placed right next to baby Jesus being held by Mary. Others wanted to be with Jesus the healer. A few wanted to help Jesus say no as he was tempted by the devil. Others said they were with Jesus at the resurrection. As they answered, some stood and placed their bodies physically next to the picture they chose. It was fascinating to hear their answers and to see how this story, The Faces of Easter, was becoming, not only a story about people long ago or the life of a man named Jesus, but was becoming their story. They were in it completely, fully.

And so are we.

I invite you this Easter season to have your own caring conversations with your family. Wonder together about the power of the Easter story. Invite one another to discern where they find themselves in the story or what their favorite part might be. These conversations may be the beginning of many more to come; times when you as a family share your faith and the gift of Easter.

As we accept the gift of new life given to us this Easter, may we never forget that the end is actually the beginning: a new season to step out of the grave we have made for ourselves and begin again as the resurrected children of God. When you think about this story, The Faces of Easter, I wonder where you would place yourself. I wonder what your resurrected Easter face looks like. May we be brave enough to live our life as a new beginning.