Several years ago, I was attending Holy Family’s Good Friday service. Behind me a precocious three year old was asking questions. Dad, what’s happening? Dad, did him die? Dad, is this sad? Dad, did Father Sarah die him? Is him going to be alive again? You could see the wheels turning and sense that the pieces were falling into place. Jesus–the one who died during the events of Holy Week–this is the Jesus who is alive again on Easter morning. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t always so. Indeed, some of the children in the parish had a lively debate going in the children’s liturgy last year: Did Jesus really die or did he only pretend to die? Was Jesus really raised from the dead or were people seeing a ghost?
Holy Week with children can seem daunting, but there is nothing like watching the children of the Parish witness and respond to the drama of Holy Week. There is more to the story than the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Resurrection on Easter morning. When we walk with children through this time, we can answer their questions and share ours. What happened to Jesus and why? What does it have to do with the hope we share as Christians? Our hope is deeper and more real when the joyful Alleluias of Easter morning are put in the context of the events of Holy Week.
This year, join us for the services of Holy Week, and bring your children. There is a lot for them to seem. Join us to get it all started on Wednesday evening, when we will have a All Parish-friendly Stations of the Cross. This short service might be just the thing to help your family get ready for the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil). Nursery care will be available for all of the services except Wednesday evening.
Palm Sunday: In lieu of Sunday School, Join us today at 9am in the Parish Hall. We will fold palm fronds into crosses. Children and adults are also invited to walk a set of interactive Stations of the Cross in the Library.
Every year, right around this time, folks ask me about storybook Bibles that they might purchase for the young people in their lives. I’ll begin by stating what may be obvious: Storybook Bibles have their limit. They are not meant to replace an actual Bible, but for young children they offer access to stories that might otherwise be quite opaque. In doing so, however, they never remain neutral (there is no neutral reader of Scripture anyway) and each storybook Bible reflects the context and perspectives of those who wrote and compiled it. That said, here are a couple that I recommend for pre-school to first grade.
We use a selection of Bible storybooks in our Church School classes and I have three favorites which I describe and link below.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This book has wonderful illustrations and a very engaging layout. It begins by saying that the stories in the Bible are not about heroes and they aren’t about moral lessons; they are about God. Here is how the opening page of this storybook puts it: “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing, It about God and what he has done.” I appreciate this approach to the Biblical stories and it is pretty unique in this respect.
Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: This is another book with wonderful illustrations. Different stories are illustrated by different artists which gives the book a fun, unique feel. The stories are told in briefer fashion in this book than they are in the Jesus Storybook Bible and the layout makes it look more like a young children‘s book as opposed to a Bible. This book really tries to highlight God’s love for us and the command that we love one another. It does have the tendency to interpret the stories in light of moral lessons about faith, bravery, love, or the virtues, but in this it does a pretty decent job. The unique addition to this book is that each story ends in a short (7-10 word) prayer. I think this can be helpful for showing how we respond to the Biblical stories through prayer and celebration of who God is and what God has done. It can also be a nice way to introduce prayer to a young child.
The Children‘s Illustrated Bible by Selina Hastings: This book is probably for children on the older end of the ages I mentioned above and children through fourth or fifth grade might enjoy this storybook Bible. On the downside, the illustrations aren’t quite as engaging for small children, and the stories are a bit too wordy for them. The layout, is kind of like a history book with maps, text boxes with character descriptions, and quotations from Scripture. I like this book because it more directly cites Scripture and offers insight into historical context. For a child who is really interested in research (I had a children‘s Atlas and Medical Encyclopedia that I spent hours looking at as a child), likes to learn facts, or look at real photographs (as opposed to just illustrations). This could be a great next step or companion for the simpler and more colorful storybook Bibles.
Sometime around second or third grade, many children are ready to begin reading a study Bible in an accessible translation. It’s good practice to read Scripture together as a family. Indeed, in our Church School classes, this is when we begin to transition away from using Storybook Bibles, though these may still be enjoyable for children and easier for them to read aloud.
Every parish has their own way of telling the story of the birth of Christ. Some, like the parish in which I was raised, develop or purchase elaborate plays, spending hours rehearsing the story of the nativity or an adaptation of it, presenting it in a series of shows. Others create videos. Still others choose a dramatic reading of the story. The aim of all is to invite the congregation into the story of God’s most magnificent work, dwelling among us in the person of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the world’s true and only hope.
As with many things at Holy Family, our method for retelling the story of the Nativity is one of a kind. Every year the children of our parish gather on a weekend day sometime in the middle of November. They come in costumes determined by age or select costumes from among those we have on hand at the church. The youngest are barnyard animals. Children in the middle elementary years are angels, shepherds, and townspeople. Our fifth graders are assigned Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, soldiers, and the innkeeper. In a day full of logistical puzzles (naptimes, meals, children of all age groups running everywhere), the children act out scenes from the Nativity while several of our Parish’s skilled photographers take photos. Afterwards, several members of the parish select from among the photos, compiling them into a narrative slideshow of around fifteen minutes. This slideshow is timed manually to the reading of the Gospel of Luke woven with several hymns and carols at our Christmas Eve family service. The impact is pretty incredible and there’s always a wonderful buzz during the presentation. The slideshow is not just a cool and cute way to tell the story.
While this story is shared in the context of a Christmas Eve Liturgy, it is not the only worshipful moment in the process. Members of our church gather intentionally, work together on various parts of the story, laugh together, keep children company as they make cards for members of our parish who are sick or shut-in. The whole day is marked out to focus on the work at hand: telling the story of God together. The word “work” is no accident here. Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” All of our work is worship: whether we are taking photos, assembling costumes for a host of angels, acting out Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary, selecting photos, setting up projectors, timing slides, practicing the hymn music, hearing the words of the Gospel reading, or singing “Glory to God” together on Christmas Eve. All of our work is worship. All of our worship is work and it isn’t about us or the lovely children of our church.
Throughout the year, in the liturgy, in Church School, at VCS, we hear and share the story of God with one another. We respond in many and various ways to this story all year in worship, Christian education, outreach, in daily living and working together as community. The children who have been born and baptized in our congregation also participate in this. Indeed, there are always several adults who remark throughout the process of creating, practicing, and viewing the slideshow: “I remember when ______ was baptized” or “______ was the first baptism I witnessed here.” They have heard the wonderful stories of God and, once a year, they present this story–ancient and new–back to us. It is not only our children who receive the gift of God’s story on another’s lips, we do as well. In this way, the pageant photos are, as they should be, first and foremost about the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, the God we praise with our lives and work and the God who lives in the midst of the community that has been called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ to the ends of the earth.
As we have worked through the lives of the saints, we have learned that saints always point beyond themselves to Jesus Christ. They show us how members of the Church led lives of holiness in various times and places. Whenever we read stories and legends about the saints, we should keep at the front of our minds the question: What does this person’s life show us about God and who God is in Christ?
This week we will take a break from Church School for an intergenerational celebration of All Saints at 9am (Brunch and Saint Inspired fare) and 11am (Cupcakes to celebrate baptism and activities in the commons).
Everything we have done and learned thus far has prepared us for the liturgy of All Saints by reminding us to listen closely for stories of faithfulness and giving us a sense of the great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
By now your children (and you!) have learned a great deal about the Saints–Clare and Francis, Augustine and Monica, Mary Magdalene, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Luke the Evangelist–and you may have a good idea of what their lives were all about. We have focused on these saints with our Flat Saint project, in Sunday School, children’s liturgy, and here on the blog. Now, we close out our unit on the Saints with a festal celebration.Read stories about your family’s favorite saints and check out the list of suggestions below. Be creative! Dishes can be inspired by a saint’s location, symbol, story, or a food traditionally made on their feast day. Breakfast and finger foods are welcome.
Looking for a Saint inspired dish to bring to this Sunday’s Potluck brunch at 9?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Soul Cakes, a classic treat for All Saints’ Day (Here’s a short article about the tradition of Soul Cakes)
Mary, the Mother of Jesus: Baked Apple Roses
Mary Magdalene: Madeleines
Saint Francis: Tonsure cake
Saint Ambrose: Honey Cake
Saint Michael or Saint George: Dragon Bread
Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (Archangels): Angel Food Cake
Saint Lucia: Saint Lucia Buns
Saint Nicholas: Saint Nicholas Spice Cookies (many recipes here)
Once you’ve selected a Saint and a recipe, members of your family can write something about your saint on one index card and illustrate a scene from your saint’s life on another. Bring your index cards on Sunday and put them down next to your dish. We will feast in the memorial gardens if the weather is nice and the commons if it isn’t.
During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition and learning about the saints in as many ways as possible. Check out some suggestions here. Come back all this month, for posts about our saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.
Saint Luke the Evangelist (First Century)
Feast day: October 18
Symbols: Book, ox or winged ox, Madonna and child, paintbrushes, icons of Mary and Jesus, physician symbol (snake and rod).
Saint Luke is the writer of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is thought to have been a physician and a painter. We don’t know a whole lot about each of the Gospel writers as there is little information about their lives that is considered historically reliable. We do know from Scripture that Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), a travelling companion of Saint Paul (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11), the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and it is suggested that Luke was probably a Gentile, making him the only non-Jewish Evangelist. Some tradition has suggested that he was also a martyr, but no significant details of his death are known.
An At-home Activity
Icons of the Madonna and Child: Some traditions hold that Saint Luke was a friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and that he painted her first portrait. This is why images of Luke often show him painting Mary and Jesus. It is also why Luke is the patron saint of artists and iconographers. (When iconographers paint an icon it is called “writing” an icon.) Create your own image of Mary and Jesus.
Writing an icon is very serious work. It isn’t just painting, an iconographer prays with every stroke, reflecting on the life and work of the person, scene, or story that is depicted and how the story behind the icon points to God. Icons are holy. If you do this activity, do so with a sense of calm and quiet.
During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. We have already heard about Mary Magdalene, Monica and Augustine of Hippo. Aside from these posts, there are several other ways to learn about our Saints. Check out some suggestions here. Remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.
The Poor Saints of Assisi: Clare and Francis
After returning to Assisi upon his release as a prisoner of war, Saint Francis found himself praying in a church: “God what do you want from me?” when Christ, from the crucifix on the wall responded: “Francis, rebuild my church; it is falling apart.” This is exactly what Francis began to do, earning one stone at a time as payment for singing, Francis carried stones to rebuild the dilapidated church in Assisi.
It is quite easy to sentimentalize the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, at least hundreds of years after their lives. The potency of their witness to the church has seemingly lessened in their popularity. Though they had many followers in their lifetime, even in their own time, their rule of life, which required giving up ownership of any material possessions and living in poverty, was difficult for those who opted to follow their way of life. Before establishing the Order of the Friars Minor, the pope said that the requirements of their lives were far too stringent, and perhaps the standards might be relaxed. Clare and Francis both responded that this was the life God had required of them.
Following God, for Francis and Clare, was costly and the requirements of a holy life, extreme. In their lifetimes, they challenged and pushed the church to see God at work in poverty. In his lifetime, Francis built churches, cared for the poor, lived a poor and simple life, gave away all of his family’s wealth, and most amazingly received the stigmata (the markings of Jesus’ crucifixion) on his hands, feet, and side. Clare was the first woman to write a rule of life, which has already been said, was found difficult even for those in the church’s highest levels of leadership.
Francis of Assisi (1181-October 3, 1226): Remembered on October 4. His symbols are skull, stigmata, cross or crucifix, birds and other animals, friar’s robe.
Clare of Assisi (July 16, 1194 – August 11, 1253): Remembered on August 11. Her symbols are flowers (esp. roses and lilies), monstrance, book/Rule of life, cross, cloth.
Books in the Christian Education Cabinet: The books in our Christian Education resource cabinet are always available for check out. Please remember to fill out and leave the card that comes with the library book and remember to return it when your family is finished. We have many books about Francis and Clare in our Christian Education Library. Among them:
Saint Francis by Brian Wildsmith Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie de Paola Clare and Francis by Guido Visconti Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Patterson Canticle of the Sun by Fiona French
Activity to do at home:
Canticle of the Sun (also called the Canticle of Creatures). We have several children’s books, in the Christian Education library in the Commons, illustrating the words of this hymn. The last verse, welcoming sister death is said to have been composed by Francis moments before his own death, and the song sung in its entirety for the first time by the community gathered around him on his deathbed.
Learn the Canticle of the Sun together and work on the art project below.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Art Project: You can find a simple art project to do at home with young children (through third grade) that visually reflects the section of the song written above, here.
During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. There are many ways for our students to learn about their Saints (Check out some suggestions here). Come back all this month, for posts about our seven saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints. We have already covered the story of Mary Magdalene here.
Saint Monica and Augustine of Hippo
“We are made for you, O God, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.”–Confessions
Monica of Hippo (c. 331-387)
Feast day: August 27
Monica is the mother of Saint Augustine, who writes about her in Confessions. Monica and her prayers were instrumental in Augustine’s religious training and conversion, making her responsible for the spiritual life of one of the Church’s most important theologians.
Symbols: Tears, symbols of prayer (esp. rosary and praying hands). She is sometimes pictured with a scroll that reads, “I cried to the Lord in my distress and he answered me,” from Psalm 120: 1.
Augustine of Hippo (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430)
Feast day: August 28
Saint Augustine was an early Christian theologian, philosopher, and Bishop. After many years of mother Monica’s fervent prayers, Augustine converts at the age of 32 when he hears the voice of a child saying “Pick it up and read,” right before picking up a Bible and reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.Augustine’s writings remind us that we are made as creatures of desire and love, but fall into sin when our lives are not rightly ordered toward God. Desire and love are not bad; indeed, they are gifts, but desire and love have their proper end and goal in worship of God.
Symbols: He is often shown with a Bishop’s hat or staff, book, pen, pear, or heart. That fabulous hipster scarf? A Bishop’s vestment, called an Omophorion (Check out images of some other bishops, like Nicholas of Myra, here).
Why a pear? In Book II of The Confessions, Augustine discusses an incident in which he and friends stole pears from a neighbor’s tree even though there were better pears at home. He is very concerned with this particular sin, saying: “I loved my fall into sin.”
Young Children: Augustine wrote more than a hundred books in his lifetime and an unknown number of sermons. With small children, try to determine what a hundred books look like by making ten piles of ten books (Take a picture of your saint at the top of the stack and post it with the #CHFSaints).
Older Children: Write out a collect for Augustine’s Feast day from Holy Women, Holy Men (545) below. Then respond to the prayer by journaling ways we might love and serve God. Use the prayer several times over the next week continuing to add ways to love and serve God.
Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of
the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that
serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant
Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly
love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you,
whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. There are many ways for our students to learn about their Saints. Check out some suggestions here. Come back all this month, for posts about our seven saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.
Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles and all around cool lady.
I have seen the Lord. — John 20:18
Life dates: First century
Feast day: July 22
Symbols: Red egg, cross, skull, perfume jar, the color red, book, candle or torch.
Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus during his lifetime. She was present at Jesus’ death and went with other women to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. She was the first to see the risen Christ and shared the news of his resurrection with the disciples. She is sometimes called “apostle to the apostles.” Even though Mary plays a significant role throughout all of the Gospels, she is never mentioned after. It is believed that Mary Magdalene spent the remainder of her years preaching in France where she died.
Why the red egg? Perhaps the strangest of a Mary’s symbols in Christian art is the red egg. There are several possible stories for this symbol. Legend has it that after Christ’s death and resurrection, Mary went to share a meal with and preach to Emperor Tiberius, saying: “Jesus Christ is Risen!” The Emperor responds: “Christ has risen just as surely as the egg in your hand is red.” Upon saying this, the egg in Mary Magdalene’s hand turned red. Another story says that Mary Magdalene had with her at the crucifixion a basket of eggs which were made red by the blood of Christ, or alternatively, that she took a basket of white eggs to the tomb and after seeing the risen Christ noticed that the eggs were red. Whatever story you find most interesting, the symbol is clearly connected to Mary’s witnessing and proclaiming the risen Christ.
Books in the Christian Education Cabinet: The books in our Christian Education resource cabinet are always available for check out. Please remember to fill out and leave the card that comes with the library book and remember to return it when your family is finished.
Saint Mary Magdalene and the Red Egg The Legend of the Red Egg
The First Easter
Activity to do at home:
For Adults: Interesting podcast episode from Krista Tippett’s show On Being, the changing faces of Mary Magdalene (click “play episode” in the right hand column). This episode also covers some recent scholarship about women in the New Testament (interview is with New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University). As a companion to the show, Tippett also has an overview of art depicting Mary Magdalene on her blog that children, youth, and adults all may enjoy looking through together.
Church School is off to a great start! Three weeks down and we have already worked with the words of Psalm 1, creating a communal illumination that will soon grace the walls in the Commons. Two weeks ago, we began a six week series on the lives and witness of the Saints. In view is All Saints (on a Sunday this year!) as well as two other feast days that land on Sundays, Saint Francis (October 4) and Saint Luke the Evangelist (October 18).
Our Saint series began with an overview. In their Church School classes children worked with Christian art and iconography in order to identify the symbols of particular saints (Mary Magdalene, Francis and Clare, Luke, Augustine and Monica, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). After working through these saints, each student created a flat version of their favorite.
Saints were laminated and students were given an activity book encouraging them to research their saint in different ways–Checking out a book from the Christian Education library (in the Commons), visiting the North Carolina Museum of Art to look for their and other saints among the religious art in the permanent collection, and coming back to this blog throughout the month as each of the saints is featured.
Our activity also involves taking pictures with the saint throughout the month as families learn different things about their saints, then engaging on Facebook (or Instagram) by posting photos with #CHFSaints. Let’s see how much we can learn about these saints, and more importantly, recognize how their lives point us to the person and work of Christ!
Every Friday during Lent, members of Holy Family gather in the Nave to walk the Way of the Cross. The custom of walking the Stations of the Cross has long been observed by pilgrims to Jerusalem who want to walk in the footsteps of Christ on his journey to the Cross. Since pilgrimage to Jerusalem isn’t a possibility for everyone, stations based on the Scriptural and pietistic accounts of Jesus’ journey to the cross, have been compiled andadapted to local custom in a variety of ways over centuries of Christian practice. At times there have been as many as twenty stations and at others as few as five or six. The stations we walk every week at CHF come from the Book of Occasional Services and may be used, as we do, in a public service, or for private devotion, particularly on Fridays during Lent.
The Way of the Cross invites us to reflect together on the suffering of Christ as we journey with him to the cross. Usually, when we pray the stations together, we do so without images. The language of the prayers and readings provides rich imagery of their own. As a way of inviting our Parish’s youngest members to join this practice, last Friday, we met to pray using an interactive set of Stations. Our readings remained the same and we didn’t use images, but we explored key moments in the story through objects gathered over the course of our journey to the cross.
We began our journey at the altar, then moved to the first station “Jesus is condemned to death” at which participants received a burlap bag. Burlap, aside from it’s connections to simplicity and sackcloth and ashes, is a symbol that we use for Lent in Christian Education. The stories we work on in Lent, like burlap, are rough. On the one hand, they are often difficult or sad stories. On the other hand, Lent is a season during which we ask God to smooth out the rough places in our lives, places where various sins have taken hold.
Arriving at each subsequent Station, participants collected a symbol, holding it as the words for the Station were read. Some of the items, whose meaning was initially obscure (a toothpick), became apparent as we listened (Simeon’s words to Mary in Luke 2:35: “a sword will pierce your own soul also”). Some stations entailed a movement. At the tenth station, Jesus is stripped of his garments and “offered wine to drink, mingled with gall.” In the versicle and response which follow participants repeat the words of Psalm 69: 21, “and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.” At this station, participants received vinegar on a sponge. At Station thirteen, “The body of Jesus is place in the arms of his mother” participants marked their burlap bags with ashes in the shape of a cross.
Moving through the stations, each item was placed in the burlap bag as we chanted the Trisagion–Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us–during walking transitions.
At four stations, all three times Jesus falls and the station at which Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross, there were no symbols for participants to gather. Rather, we took note of the increasing weight of the story we carried as we approached Golgotha.
We concluded at the altar: Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us.
Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.
Interested in reflecting further? Come back during Holy Week for reflections on several of the symbols explored in our interactive Stations.