On Monday of Holy Week, my always-inspiring friend Victoria emailed a link about a children’s activity for Easter and Holy Week. I was enthralled. Some further browsing yielded a few promising Stations of the Cross suggestions, and by Saturday morning, there we were, slightly chilly in the back garden while five little boys began a loosely-interpreted but very tangible Stations of the Cross experience.
It was special. Too special, in fact, to keep to ourselves.
We started in the Garden of Gethsemane. I wanted to think not only about Jesus’ emotions in the garden, but also about the fact that he absolutely knew and understood what was ahead of him, that he very much chose to surrender to the cross despite his intense lack of desire.
We looked at some images, talked about his feelings and, to help us imagine being there, we smelled bay leaves. (Don’t olive groves smell sort of bay-ish?? Anyway, they did for us.)
We then proceeded into the bathroom where the kings and shepherds from our knitted nativity had become the chief priests, Pilate and Herod. We talked about Jesus’ trial, his lack of sin, and the crowd shouting “Crucify Him!” We all shouted with the crowd. To help us remember that Pilate washed his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death, we washed our hands. Then, as per the gospel account, we tied up our knitted Jesus’ hands (cue the Joseph doll from my Christmas set) and brought him to the next station.
Here each child made a cross out of two sticks and some string. After Mr B played with his like a sword (I tried to shut that down without being too serious about it all), they placed their crosses on the knitted Jesus’ shoulders. I possibly should have talked here about Jesus accepting the cross, but I think the point was clear.
The night before we did this, Paul humoured me by fashioning a cross out of two spare fence posts. It was pretty stark to have a substantial cross in the back garden. I was definitely worried that the neighbours would think we were crazy, but I also loved looking out the back windows at it.
At this station, we talked about how physically difficult it was for Jesus to carry his cross. I invited the children to have a go at carrying it over their shoulders. They were all keen, each trying to walk more quickly than each other with it. It was intense visually, our gorgeous boys draped with this heavy symbol. Looking at the photos later, I was taken aback and thought about how dark this day must have been for Mary, her dear son not play-acting in light of the resurrection, but, as far as she knew, truly going to his dreadful death. If I were doing this again I’m not sure that I would have the children carry it- yes for adults who choose to do it themselves, not sure for children. Maybe just a bit too much??
We remembered Simon the Cyrene helping Jesus, and we all together carried the big cross up the slope of the garden. We talked about the importance of helping people who are hurting or suffering. I think I also mentioned something here about team work, although I hadn’t planned that and surely it’s slightly off-piste theologically?! Anyway… will learn my points better next time!
To remember that Jesus was stripped of his garments, we each tore a piece of cloth and wrote our name on it. I completely forgot to say my key point for this station, gleaned from Loyola Press, “Though Jesus was a very poor King, he was rich in what is important: Love for us.” The kids however were totally hushed and enthralled with what we did here. Maybe the permission to tear something valuable slightly stunned them. Each ceremoniously stepped up and tore a bit of cloth, then carefully wrote his name.
At this station we thumb-tacked our bits of cloth to the cross, remembering that our forgiveness is forever pinned to Christ’s death. Hammers and nails would have been much more weighty experientially, but I wasn’t quite feeling up to the associated risks. Maybe in a few years. Safety push-pins and all, the boys were again hushed and very serious about this. It felt significant.
Jesus said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”, the sky went dark and the curtain was ripped. We each tasted (or smelled, depending on bravery) vinegar and did a big, final (type) sigh.
One boy carefully brought the knitted Jesus over to a tomb we had fashioned out of paper-mache-on-balloon during the week. Together they wrapped him in a linen cloth and tucked him into our little grave. Someone rolled across the stone. I promised Mr B that if he were first up in on Easter morning, he could roll the stone back and pull Jesus out. He appeared at my bedside early on Sunday “I’m first up, do I get to take Jesus out of the tomb?!” –completely concerned with his own victory rather than Christ’s… I’m thinking we’ll chat more about the joy of the resurrection next year!
The boys loved this station particularly. They huddled close. They all wanted to hold Jesus. It was a visual, engaging, imaginative experience. We remembered that though we would be celebrating his resurrection in the morning, his friends had no idea what was coming. We remembered their sorrow and the suffering Jesus endured.
We closed with prayer. Mr B offered a very heart-felt and precious prayer of thanks to God for loving us so much.
Then the boys bounded off to run and shout and play and fight, but the mummies lingered, to review it all, to savor the Holy Week events for ourselves, and to wonder at the joy of watching our children engage with this profound and life-changing story.
Here are the rough notes I wrote out the day before: Stations of the Cross children Please use them, I would love to see and hear what it yields for you.