The Easter Story

The Easter StoryThe Easter Story
Brian Wildsmith
Eerdmans, 1993

We’ve recommended a couple of Brian Wildsmith’s other books already here at Aslan’s Library, and since each contains a pretty straightforward retelling of a biblical story, that tells you something about the beauty of his artwork. We have Exodus and Joseph in my Sunday school classroom, and they’re consistently the books the children who want to settle in with a quiet story gravitate towards. They’re simply gorgeous to sit with and pore over.

The Easter Story varies slightly, and tells the story of Jesus’ last week as seen through the eyes of the donkey who carries him into Jerusalem. Happily, the donkey is a reliable witness whose account mirrors the synoptic gospels; nothing is added, and the focus is squarely on the man who drew all eyes to himself as he gave himself over to Jerusalem, its leaders and its crowds.

As in all of Wildsmith’s books, the colors are rich and the illustrations detailed; although the words are sparse, there’s plenty to linger over on each page. An angelic observer follows Jesus through Jerusalem, and at the moment of his crucifixion an entire heavenly host looks on, perplexed and distressed. It’s both a thoughtful echo of the angels on hand at Jesus’ birth, and a moving witness to the cosmic significance of the moment. Jesus is abandoned, yet all of heaven and earth look on.

This would be a lovely addition to an Easter basket, and I especially like the idea of giving it as a gift to a child who isn’t familiar with the Easter story in all its magnitude and beauty. It’s also pretty widely available in public libraries, so you still have time to track it down to share on Easter morning!

The Longest Night

The Longest NightThe Longest Night: A Passover Story
Laurel Snyder and Catia Chien
Schwartz & Wade, 2013

Easter is coming soon – my children may or may not be counting down the days until our fasting from sweets ends! – but the momentous journey through Holy Week still stands between us and the resurrection. And the major dramatic background to the events that we’ll relive together next week is the ancient Jewish celebration of Passover. As Christians, we often treat Passover as a nice decorative backdrop; we nod at it on Maundy Thursday because, after all, it’s so convenient that Jesus had a ritual meal so he could institute the Last Supper.

But spend any time at all in the Old Testament, and it’s obvious how theologically rich this setting is. When Paul writes that God sent his Son “in the fullness of time” (kairos), he means that this was the cosmically opportune moment. And the story of the people of God and their passover from slavery into freedom is woven into the fabric of that moment’s consummation. Which is all a long and unwieldy way of saying: I’ve got a great Passover book for you, and now’s a great time to read it with any small children in your vicinity.

The Longest Night is an account of the Exodus story told in rhyme, and from a child’s perspective. What might it have been like to know forced slavery as your only reality, to witness the descent of the plagues, to suddenly have the opportunity to rush out and away to freedom? This story’s strength is that it doesn’t offer a theological explanation for what’s going on, but rather invites us into experiencing it as a child. The grownups know that something is up – they bake the bread and slaughter the lamb – but the children watch, and wait, and receive the new life of freedom.

And that’s what is about to happen to us. Going into Holy Week, it’s good to be reminded that something is about to happen that is not of our own doing. Like children, we will watch this sacrifice unfold, we’ll crouch beneath the blood of a lamb, and we’ll wait to see what happens: to hear the news that we are free.

The Theological Easter Basket

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As I mentioned on Sunday, this is Holy Week and properly a time for quieting down, lingering, waiting with Jesus. The temptation is there to rush through to Easter – especially for those of us hosting friends or family on Sunday, since we do have to plan ahead – but if we let ourselves, this week can be received as such a gift. It’s a chance, briefly, to taste eternal time; to let all the many things that occupy us pale a bit as we let ourselves be swept into these most momentous days of God’s story.

However. Those of us with kids still have lunches to pack, clothes to wash, baskets to fill, not to mention some planning to do as we prepare to usher our children through the transition of Jesus’ final days, his death, and his rising to life.

I can’t pack tomorrow’s lunch for you. (Sorry: I’m a pretty good lunch packer, but it is one of my LEAST FAVORITE chores.) And I can’t help with your laundry, either. (Sorry again: I love getting things clean, but I do so dislike the whole process of putting it all away.) But ideas for a theologically-rich Easter basket? That I can do.

Each year, I try to fill my children’s baskets with things I hope will encourage them to love Jesus more and want to know him better. To let them know that his love for them is the most important thing in their lives. (Also some Peeps, but that’s because I’m a traditionalist even when it involves disgusting over-sugared marshmallows.) In other words: I try to give them theological Easter baskets, Easter baskets that say something about God and why we’re hunting behind the couch for baskets filled with disgusting over-sugared marshmallows anyway.

So from me to you: some ideas for filling the baskets of your own small ones, with love and hope for a blessed week. Tuck one or more of these inside your child’s basket and commit to enjoying it together during the Easter season. Peeps optional.

ADD A FAMILY READ-ALOUD
(especially if you have an older child who wants to stay up just a little later: make some tea and read a little together!)

GIVE A DEVOTIONAL BOOK: & HELP YOUR CHILD USE IT!

INCLUDE A CD

  • Slugs and Bugs Sing the Biblewe haven’t reviewed this yet, but rest assured – we will. Because trust me, you didn’t know that you needed a song about Deuteronomy 14:21 BUT YOU DO.
  • Resurrection Letters: vol. II
  • Amy Grant CollectionBecause it still stands up, and is super accessible for kids. And it gives you an excuse to sing along to El Shaddai one more time.
  • Jim Weiss CDs: these aren’t explicitly theological, but they’re such a treat. If you haven’t discovered Jim Weiss yet, Do It Now. If you have, then you know what I mean.

INVEST IN THE MATERIALS TO TELL THE STORY

(A few Easter stories from Worship Woodworks – you can buy or make the materials, and tell the story throughout the season)

We’ll be quiet here the rest of the week: see you on the other side, when everything is “turned inside out and upside down” (Godly Play)  – or, in some of my favorite words, when we find the answer to our question “is everything sad going to come untrue?” (Tolkien) in the empty tomb.

The Story of Easter

The Story of Easter

The Story of Easter
Aileen Fisher & Stephano Vitale
HarperTrophy, 1997

While I love, and will probably always gravitate towards, books that invite us into the experience of the Passion and Easter (Peter’s First Easter and  At Jersualem’s GateI’m looking at you), I also have a seven-year-old who is hungry for information. This child falls asleep at night reading her science dictionary, and asked me yesterday on the way home from a playdate how the Romans stopped killing Christians and became Christians themselves. She likes to know why and how things happen: why are there so many eggs at Easter? What does a bunny have to do with it anyway? Bunnies don’t lay eggs, do they? Snakes do: hey, how long is an anaconda? Does an anaconda eat bunnies?

Sometimes you just need a good reference, right?

If you’re looking for just such a book for a similarly inquisitive child, or perhaps for a child who isn’t familiar with the holiday beyond the version you can buy at Target (as is the case for many of my daughter’s friends), The Story of Easter, by Aileen Fisher, is just the thing to tuck in their baskets.

This book does a lovely job explaining the history of Easter itself, beginning with the life of Jesus and the events of Holy Week. The pastel illustrations in this section of the book echo Renaissance frescoes, with color, light, and activity to draw us in. The second half of the book is devoted to illustrating how parts of ancient spring festivals were drawn into Easter celebrations as the good news of Jesus’ resurrection spread beyond the Jewish world. Easter eggs, the bunny, wearing new clothes on Easter: they’re all there. Fisher tells in simple, direct language the origins of each custom and how it complements and was taken up into the Christian celebration. It’s all very winsomely, gently written, and I especially appreciated that it gives my daughter a point of connection with the (sometimes-derided-as-“pagan”) pieces of Easter that are all her friends know.

And full of fun facts, which is just the thing for her right now! For instance: did you know that wearing something new on Easter can be traced back to the white baptismal clothes that early Christians received on their entry into the church (often on Easter)? But it all comes back to the sole reason for the holiday at all: “It is the joy and celebration of the belief that God’s love is stronger than death.”

 

Getting Ready for the Week

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Happy Palm Sunday, friends!

I hope it’s been a good one for you. We had a lovely service this morning – where we sang this song – and I was reminded yet again that this week is all about Jesus the king, God’s king, the king who is lifted up not to a throne but a cross. Our pastor remarked, “All that’s left for us to do is cry, hosanna! Save us!”

So we’re heading into Holy Week. And I usually use Sundays to plan the rest of this week — which, this week, includes trying to build in some meditative time around preparing for a big Easter dinner, filling baskets, and getting ready to feast. I like to have things mostly done by Wednesday night so I can enter into the Triduum a little less distracted than usual. Sure, some years are more organized than others (this is one of my less organized years!), but it’s what I aim for.

In that spirit, we’ll be offering you some resources to prepare for Easter in the next few days: not to jump the gun, but to help you finalize your feast preparations before quieting down to walk with Jesus through his final hours. To start with, check out this oldie-but-goodie from Haley on the Sights and Sounds of Easter. On my own to-do list this week is to make sure I have Champagne in the fridge Saturday evening – oh, and I need to remember to order eggs from the Natural Candy Store! For the kids. Really.

So stay tuned, and may this week be a time of blessing, quiet, and deep love in your homes.

“By thee all heaven is poured into my heart…”

Holy Saturday

When Satan approaches may I flee to thy wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms…

Thy cross was upraised to be my refuge,
Thy blood streamed forth to wash me clean,
Thy death occurred to give me a surety,
Thy name is my property to save me,
By thee all heaven is poured into my heart,
   but it is too narrow to comprehend thy love.
I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel,
   but thy cross has brought me near,
     has softened my heart,
     has made me thy Father’s child,
     has admitted me to thy family,
     has made me joint-heir with thyself.
O that I may love thee as thou lovest me,
   that I may walk worthy of thee, my Lord,
   that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.
May I always see thy beauty with the clear eye of faith,
   and feel the power of thy Spirit in my heart,
   for unless he move mightily in me,
   no inward fire will be kindled.

From “Need of Jesus,” in The Valley of Vision

“Give me perpetual broken-heartedness…”

Good Friday

Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me:
that by thy stripes, I am healed,
that thou wast bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of thy concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.

From “The Broken Heart,” in The Valley of Vision

“In this supper I remember his eternal love…”

Maundy Thursday

When I gaze upon the emblems of my Saviour’s death,
may I ponder why he died, and hear him say,
‘I gave my life to purchase yours,
presented myself an offering to expiate your sin,
shed my blood to blot out your guilt,
opened my side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice.
O may I rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design,
draw near, obey, extend the hand,
take the bread, receive the cup,
eat and drink, testify before all men
that I do for myself, gladly, in faith,
reverence and love, receive my Lord,
to be my life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight.
In the supper I remember his eternal love,
boundless grace, infinite compassion,
agony, cross, redemption,
and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, glory.
As the outward elements nourish my body,
so may thy indwelling Spirit invigorate my soul,
until that day when I hunger and thirst no more,
and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast.

From “The Lord’s Supper,” in The Valley of Vision

“I am always going into the far country…”

Wednesday

I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.

From “Continual Repentance,” in The Valley of Vision

“…take me to the cross and leave me there.”

Monday

Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own God,
or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart;
show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross
and leave me there.

From “Man a Nothing” in The Valley of Vision