An Easter discipline? Isn’t that for Lent?

Easter Disciplines

Yes, it’s been a bit quiet around here. Some of the things keeping us temporarily away from the blog: a new small person has arrived (congratulations, Haley!); Easter Sunday was welcomed with feasting and friends; I got to attend the Wheaton College theology conference; and the usual rounds of preschool, ballet, tennis lessons, Sunday school preparation, dinner-making, and reading alone and with the kids.

I’ve mentioned before that our church has begun using the Godly Play curriculum for Sunday School, and one of my favorite things is the huge church year “clock” we have hanging on the wall. Each week, the arrow shows us where we are in the circle of the church year. We’ve been talking a lot about why there are so many white squares for Easter. It’s been good for me to remind the children – and myself – that Easter is so special, so mysterious, so central, that it takes seven whole Sundays to experience it. One day of lilies and brass just isn’t enough to really get us into the midst of the Resurrection!

It’s in this spirit that my husband and I have taken up an Easter discipline together this year. Not a fast, exactly, because that implies deprivation. But we’ve decided that during these fifty days, we’ll just engage with Christian art: music, books, and film. On our listening/reading/watching lists? The Jesus Record and Arvo PartMatt Redman and Bach; a biography of Rich Mullins and Image Journal; Books and Culture and some academic theology; Brideshead Revisited and Cadfael.  Feels like a feast to me!

I did have some initial questions about the idea, though. Isn’t this just a slightly more sophisticated version of that youthful evangelical rite of passage, tossing the secular music? And what’s up with taking on a discipline during Easter, anyway? Isn’t that a Lenten practice? Doesn’t the Resurrection empower us to engage the world, knowing that God has died for it and is reconciling it to himself? Why sit around on a Saturday night watching a medieval monk solve mysteries?

(Well, the answer to the last question is obvious. Cadfael is awesome.)

During Holy Week, I read a short book called Life Out of Death, by Hans Urs von Balthasar. I came across this passage:

Jesus has to experience from within every sin and ungodly doing that has estranged mankind without distancing himself from it, so that, as Paul says, he is literally “made sin” for us (2 Cor 5:21)…The living body that achieves this is the world’s supreme work of art and love; in it, the ugliest side of our history, in all its realism, is transformed from within into what is most beautiful: bearing, forgiving and transforming love.

If the Resurrection is true, then what is ugly and horrific may have the seed of beauty within. Death and defeat are the doorways to triumph. There is a power at work in the world that I can’t fathom, working in ways I don’t expect. It’s not enough to confess “on the third day he rose again” with my lips. I need a new imagination if I want to start to see how that confession is true. And so I’m going to spend fifty days immersing my imagination in works that take the resurrection of the Son of God as their aesthetic starting point. Maybe they can help train me to see.


Reading through Holy Week: Good Friday

I’m not actually inclined to do a lot of reading, or talking, today. As far back as I can remember, Good Friday has been a day for keeping quiet, for reflecting, for watching and waiting. For realizing that nothing we, or any book, can say has any weight next to the eloquence of what’s happening on Golgotha. For sitting quietly in its shadow and letting God have the last word.

I’m going to light the candles on the dining room table before the kids have their dinner tonight. As they’re eating, I’m going to read to them from Mark 14:53 – 15:47. When we come to Jesus’ death, and the proclamation of the centurion that “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” we’ll extinguish the candles. And I think that’s it. If there are questions, I’ll field them. But I won’t be asking any. Not today.

Reading through Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Last night, we read Mark 14:1-52. I had planned to stop at verse 31, but we were both so into the story that I just kept going. Two things (apart from the young man fleeing naked at the very end – unwise choice on my part to stop there!) really caught my daughter’s attention: Judas’ decision to betray Jesus, and Jesus’ prediction that all of the disciples would desert him. All of her “why” questions fell during those parts of the story.

She didn’t know what the word “betray” meant, and it’s actually kind of hard to define for a five-year-old. We wound up with something like “pretending that you love someone, while all the time you’re planning on hurting them.” Not precisely right, I suppose, but it captures what Judas is up to. Anyway, she was perplexed and a little dismayed, I think, by the role Jesus’ friends play on the night he is arrested.

Her perplexity helped me see afresh the poignancy of Jesus’ plea in the garden: “Abba Father, all things are possible with you. Remove this cup from me.” It wasn’t just some formal request he had to lodge so we’d all get that he’s human. Everything around him is coming undone. Nothing about this is going to be okay. It’s easy to forget the deep pain and fear that must have clouded that night, living as we do on this side of the Resurrection.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me that my daughter was so intrigued by the disciples’ failures. Tonight we’re going to go to our church’s Maundy Thursday service, and later read the account of the Last Supper in the Jesus Storybook Bible**. After we read about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, I plan on talking about what Maundy Thursday means: maundatum, or commandment, is where the day gets its name. And the commandment is that we love one another as Christ has loved us (John 15:12). Hearing his commandment to love as he loves us – given as he served them, given even as he knew how deeply their love would fail him, and how he would continue to feed them and empower them to love nevertheless with his very body and blood – is one of the rich blessings of this day.

(**my only real dissatisfaction with the Big Picture Story Bible is that it doesn’t tell the story of the Lord’s Supper, which is a major theological oversight in my book. Happily, the JSB tells it in the context of the foot-washing — a great case for owning both!)

Reading through Holy Week: Wednesday

Today’s reading: Mark 14:1-31

In Mark’s gospel, this is the part where the story really picks up and gets moving. (Well, the whole book is kind of fast-paced, but this is where everything starts to accelerate towards the climax!) So I think we’re just going to read big chunks and let the story wash over us. Maybe tomorrow, on Maundy Thursday, we’ll read the account of the Last Supper in The Jesus Storybook Bible, so we don’t just zoom over it — but for now, I just want to steep us in the story.

Reading through Holy Week: Tuesday

Our walk through Holy Week continues!

My five-year-old daughter and I read Mark 11:12-33 tonight. She was distracted and I was tired, so I was afraid it was a wash — until, while we were looking at my study Bible picture of the Temple, she commented, “I have a picture of this story in my Bible!” She hopped up and grabbed The Big Picture Story Bible and flipped to the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. We read it together, and between the simple text and eloquent pictures (a sacrificial lamb lying behind Jesus, blood smudged on the corners of the altar), it did a much better job of getting to the heart of the story than I was.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Big Picture Story Bible?

Here’s our reading for Tuesday: Mark 12:1-12

There’s so much to talk about in Mark 12, but the parable of the wicked tenants is so incisive and shocking. Especially when I remember Jesus is telling it while looking at some of the very people who will kill him. Earlier in the day, I’m going to try to read her the “Many Silent Years” chapter from the Big Picture Story Bible, since it anticipates this passage so well. Then we’ll read the parable before bed.

Instead of asking specific questions, I want to ask her to narrate it back to me – and then see where her focus lands. We’ll try to imagine how each of the characters felt and draw some connections to the story of Jesus we’re inhabiting this week.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with more!

Reading through the events of Holy Week

Holy Week

This evening is Palm Sunday, and as always, it feels like this week has snuck up on me. In my ideal world, I would have cleared my calendar for the week; already have Easter baskets done; have the menu for Easter dinner mapped out and a shopping list complete; and be ready to settle in for a week of contemplation and gradual approach to the Cross.

Ever notice that this isn’t an ideal world?

Yet again, we have a busy week (my husband is traveling) and I’m struggling with how to prepare the slam-bang celebration that Easter deserves while keeping my heart focused on the place this week this culminates – namely, Golgotha. What to do?

There’s one rather large thing our family has committed to this week, but I don’t want to share about it until we’re done. I have no idea how it will go, and I want to reflect about and inhabit it before I report on it.

But in an additional effort to sacralize this week, especially for my 5-year-old, I’ve chosen to read through Mark’s passion narrative each night before bed. We started with the triumphal entry tonight. So for the rest of this week, I’ll be sharing our reading selections. I’ve also included some of the questions I might ask my five-year-old; I think they could work with a range of ages (thanks, Jerome Berryman!). Here’s today:

Monday of Holy Week:
Read Mark 11:12-33
Some possible questions:

  • Did anything in the story surprise you? Make you feel something?
  • Can you imagine having enough faith to move a mountain? I wonder what that feels like?
  • Can you imagine being in the temple when Jesus came? I wonder what that felt like for the people selling pigeons? For the people who bought them?
  • I wonder what it felt like to be one of the chief priests or scribes, watching Jesus do all these things?
  • I wonder what it felt like to be one of his disciples?

I find it hard not to overcomplicate things when I’m discussing Scripture with the kids – one of the professional hazards of studying philosophy and theology, I guess. I’m hoping this week to try and hear the story with my daughter’s ears, and try to speak in ways that help her make sense. Keep Scripture perspicuous, as it were. Any and all encouragement in this direction (explaining the withered fig tree, anyone?) is always welcome!

And do let us know how you’ll be marking Holy Week this year. Will you be reading poetry? Using a Lenten wreath? Any tips for walking through the week with children?