Explaining Easter: where do you begin?

20140420-085420.jpgIt is the early hours of Easter morning. I have been up late with friends and should really go to sleep now, but instead I find myself holding a little Easter vigil. More than a day would have gone by since they buried Jesus, and now, after the initial shock, the bleak reality of life without him must have started to set in for his friends and family. Maybe they were lying awake, like me, wondering what the whole thing had been about if it was all going to end in a bloody, painful and humiliating death.

It isn’t easy to explain what Easter is about. In fact, Jesus had to supernaturally appear to his friends, undercover, to explain it in person because they hadn’t twigged. It took him the entire length of the road from Jerusalem to Emmaeus. That’s seven miles. On foot.

Good Friday, 11.30am, found me in a crowd of people walking from one end of the high street to another, to the beat of a solitary drum, carrying the limp body of the actor playing Jesus in the dramatisation. I was crying my eyes out, like I do every year. Every year it gets to me. He is dead he is dead he is dead.

And I know why. And I know that he rises on Sunday morning. But in that moment I feel the desolation of a world without Jesus.

“Are those people religious?” I hear a teenager coming out of Top Shop ask her friend as we process past.

“Oh my god, are they carrying someone?”

They look shocked. Outraged even.

I remember that look from the faces of the shoppers during the first Good Friday walk of witness I ever experienced. The looks of disgust. How dare you bring some morbid funeral procession to our high street? What is wrong with you people?

It is hard to explain. As I watched them lift half naked Jesus, covered in wounds, onto their shoulders I wondered what my children were thinking sitting in the buggy. Christmas is accessible. It’s easy to get excited about the birth of a new baby; there are fun dressing up opportunities (angel, donkey, three kings); they can identify with having birthdays, being the son of a wonderful Daddy and being special. You can even talk about saving the world a bit, and maybe they imagine the baby will grow up to be a superhero and that they – small now – can do the same when they grow up. But how do you explain Easter morning without Good Friday? And how do you explain why Jesus had to die to a three year old? He has no concept of death yet, let alone sacrificing yourself to pay the price for the sins of humanity.

As we walked back to the car, The Boy asked if we were going to the party now. I was still crying.

“Yes, we’re going to the party.”

“Is it my birthday?”

“No, it’s an Easter party.” I paused, feeling that I should now try to summarise and define for him why we were celebrating the gruesome death on the cross of this Jesus that we sing about, in whose name we pray, who we thank every day for making life beautiful.

“At Easter we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. Because of Jesus we can all be God’s best friends.”

I am someone who likes to start at the beginning and explain everything in great detail. This did not seem enough. But as we went on to the party – loud, busy, children running about laughing and collecting chocolate and sweets in their party bags – I thought that it was enough for now. At 34, I still discover more about the meaning of Easter every year. We start here, with best friends and chocolate eggs and sitting in a buggy while people walk down the shopping street carrying a very tired man with red make up on his body on their shoulders, and we add the rest as we go along.

They have just started their road to Emmaeus and I am only a few steps ahead.

If you have any ideas on how to explain Easter to children that involve Duplo or dressing up please help me out in the comments!

I am linking up to Loud ‘n Proud, as I very rarely blog about my faith. This is my virtual walk of witness.

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The Nativity – in Duplo

The Husband & the Fairy Godmother recently made a stop-motion animation of the nativity with our kids’ Duplo, using fishing wire and kitchen roll to create flying angels. This was for work. I’m going to leave that thought hanging there while I carry on with my story, but suffice it to say, the project proved that we had in our Duplo collection all the most important pieces to create a nativity scene.

As they had finished, I had bagged up all the figures ready to return to the Duplo box. Then suddenly I had a thought. Here in my hand was an honest to God, ready made “story sack” with which I could tell my tiny people the Christmas story.

The next morning, I prised the Boy and the Girl away from Team Umi-Zoomi (the new craze) and sat them down near the Christmas tree.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” I announced.

The Boy’s eyes wandered longingly back to the living room where the TV is.

I took his Numberjacks from his arms and placed them by the tree. “There, number 3 is all ready to hear the story, and so is number 4, and 5 and number 6 [= the artist formerly known as Teddy]). Are you ready too?”

He was ready.

Numberjack 5, listening attentively to the Christmas story

Numberjack 5, listening attentively to the Christmas story

I took items out of the bag one by one and told the story, building it up as I built up the scene. First I introduced the stable and its inhabitants. The Boy provided the noise for each animal as we placed it in the stable, then he put them around their manger to eat. That evening, Mary and Joseph arrived on their donkey, looking for a place to sleep.

“They asked the animals: can we sleep in your house tonight? We can’t find a bed anywhere! What do you think the animals said?” I foolishly asked the Boy.

“They said no!” he supplied merrily.

“They said yes, actually,” I corrected tersely. “They were very friendly animals.”

Then there was drama in the night, and the baby was born. But oh dear, where could the baby sleep? The manger was invitingly placed front and centre. I gave the Boy the Duplo baby and asked him to find a place for it.

“I know!” he said, and evicted all the animals from the main stable building, ready to put baby Jesus there.

“Or how about this?” I hastily put in, holding up the manger, “This could be a good place for a baby to sleep. Shall we put some hay in to make baby Jesus comfortable?”

The Boy and the Girl industriously collected fallen pine needles from under the tree and placed them in the tiny manger with tiny fingers (which saved me some hoovering later in the day, bonus!). Baby Jesus went on top, and his proud parents stood to either side.

Baby Jesus in his manger, cow and pig in the stable, chickens on the roof. All is right with the world.

Baby Jesus in his manger, cow and pig in the stable, chickens on the roof. All is right with the world.

“Jesus was no ordinary baby,” I explained, “He was God’s son. So God put a beautiful bright star in the sky, just above the stable, to show where Jesus was so people could find him and visit him.” I took out the one Christmas decoration we hadn’t put up yet (as it had been in use for the stop-motion animation), the star. I hung it above the tree and our little scene.

“Wow!” said the Boy in awe. “Is a velly big star.”

The shepherds (one of them in a zoo keeper’s outfit, but neither of them can read so I figured it would be okay) followed the star and arrived with their one sheep, followed swiftly by the wise men with their presents for Jesus. They all gathered round and said thank you to God for the baby.

I had to get creative with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bonus points if you guess which random item is meant to be which gift...

I had to get creative with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bonus points if you guess which random item is meant to be which gift…

To my utter surprise, the kids were actually engaged and paid attention throughout the whole thing. We then found that lots of our usual activities could link in to the story:

Beautiful sticker advent calendar

Beautiful sticker advent calendar

The Boy’s advent calendar – he could identify the stable, the animals, the shepherds and the wise men.

It's not spelled wrong, okay, it's Dutch.

It’s not spelled wrong, okay, it’s Dutch.

We had to use a magnetic letter to supplement.

We had to use a magnetic letter to supplement.

The Boy suggested using the alphabet puzzle to spell some key words. He chose ‘Jesus’ and ‘Baby’, both of which had repeating letters, so I had to be a little creative (see above).

The Girl carried the story on for herself, and spent most of the rest of the day trying to get a wise man, the baby Jesus, Mary, a shepherd, ANYBODY, to sit. on. the. donkey. She managed it once and was very proud.

photo (14)

That evening, Daddy had finished editing the stop motion animation and came down to show us all.  We gathered round the laptop and my husband pressed play. The Boy’s eyes grew wide with wonder. There it was! The story from the morning, but the characters were moving, and there were flying angels! The Girl also bounced up and down in excitement. When the story reached its conclusion, the Boy pointed at the baby in the manger and exclaimed: “Baby Jesus!”

I wiped a proud little tear from my eye. Learning had taken place. 

You can see the animations here (Shepherd’s Hear the News) and here (Wise Men Visit Herod).

He knows the plans he has for me

An old one today. A lesson I need to learn over and over.

He knows the plans He has for me

I tried to sneak a look
but he replaced the lid.
His hands deftly diced carrots,
onions, garlic.
“Why so much onion?” I asked.
“Why vegetable stock? Chicken is nicer.”
He smiled.
He peeled and chopped
his movements a blur
sleight of hand
I couldn’t follow.
“Is that coriander?” I sniffed,
“I’d use thyme, myself.”
The knife flashed
steam filled the kitchen
a fragrant mist
I blinked blindly.
“What are you making?” I pleaded.
He gave me some potatoes and a knife
I peeled them and my hands
got covered in dirt
I couldn’t match his speed
but he was infinitely patient.

At last,
he stirred one last time
and held out a spoon:
“Taste and see,” he said invitingly,
“Isn’t it good?”

(c) Judith Kingston, 2008

Linking up to Prose for Thought at Victoria Welton’s blog.

Prose for Thought