Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is Sunday, June 5, 2022. What I wrote about Pentecost in 2019 seems even more true these past two and a half years: The church isn’t a building; it never has been—it’s the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism… bringing light to dark places, mending and making, healing and helping, one conversation or small act of love at a time.
There are two terrific picture books that help us to remember that even when we can’t go to church, we are the church. This is the Churchby Sarah Raymond Cunningham and illustrated by Ariel Landy shows the rich and wide variety of contexts in which God’s people come together to do God’s work in the world.We Gather at This Table by Anna V. Ostenso Moore, illustrated by Peter Kreuger, will help children make the connection between the altar and the table, the church and the neighborhood, and how each are holy.
My friend Juniper has some great ideas for celebrating Pentecost at home. If you decide to take their suggestion and celebrate the birthday of the church with cake, I posted a recipe that you probably have all the ingredients for already. Another idea from Juniper is to make a “tongues of flame hat” and adorably, my husband made one at Waffle Church and models it on video.
Whether or not we are gathered in our beautiful, beloved places of worship, we continue to imagine all kinds of new ways to be the church. Take a deep breath, beloveds. What we need is here.
I am not a relentlessly cheerful person, but I was born on a sunny day and that has generally helped my outlook. However, these are trying times for all of us, so what I can offer this week are 5 good things:
Beeswax candle kits are a swell way to bring color and light to your table. I got mine on Etsy.
Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling, in secure homes, in carefree resting places.
For your child, home is already holy, and you are the one who makes it so. You are modeling God’s love and care by making your child feel safe and secure, nurtured and supported. Everything else is just window dressing. The rhythms of the day, the year and the seasons of our lives are full of opportunities to find and create sacred moments, ways of making meaning and memories, and all of them can be simple.
Start tonight, with dinner. Can you all sit down together? What you’re eating isn’t important. Light candles. Hold hands around the table and let the youngest child choose when to squeeze. No cellphones, no television. Music might be nice, without lyrics.
I aspire to cloth napkins every night, but that adds to the laundry load. My father remembers that his grandfather insisted on cloth napkins for every meal. There were silver napkin rings for special occasions and wooden clothespins with people’s names on them, even guests, for everyday use, so the napkins could be reused. This led to my family collecting napkin rings. Whoever set the table on Friday could choose the napkin rings, and we had lots of fun choices: olive wood from Jerusalem, a hand-painted folk art set from Austria, enameled ones from India. If you don’t have any, your kids can twist pipe cleaners into circles. If they want to get fancy, cut a cardboard tube into pieces and let them wrap each ring in a different color ribbon, one for each member of the family.
Do you have a bit more time? Ask your kids to find an object with meaning to set on a small plate and use as a centerpiece. It could be a baseball, or a baby cup, or a postcard from Nana. Let them tell about why they chose it. You can be directive: bring something that makes you feel proud, something that reminds you of when you were tiny, or something that’s beautiful.
What will you talk about tonight? Conversation cards are fun. Make your own. Ask questions you’d like to respond to yourself, or ones you don’t know the answer to: What is your favorite memory? If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Describe your perfect day. Tell about an act of kindness you saw or heard about today. How would you spend $100 (or $100,000) on other people? Throw in a God question, maybe not right away: When do you feel closest to God?
Homes are as holy as churches. Some families have a table or a shelf that’s set apart as sacred space, with a cross, candles, a Bible, a prayer book, fresh flowers or a small green plant. Place photos of loved ones here, or prayers you’ve written or drawn on scraps of paper and tucked inside a small box or jar.
We live in a Brooklyn apartment: three full-sized human beings and a double bass in approximately 650 square feet. Instead of a home altar, we have a blessing bowl. You could make something like this yourself. Choose any bowl you really like, although a shallow one will display the items you choose to put in it well. Then, collect some small items to put in it. We use a small beautiful bowl painted gold on the inside that was a wedding present from Peter’s godparents. Here is what is in our bowl right now:
• a marble painted like the earth, for travel, for those we love who are far from us, for being mindful of world events
• a heart-shaped stone, for acts of love and generosity
• an acorn, for growth
• a shell, to remind us of our baptisms
• an angel token, for acts of caring and kindness
• a LEGO piece, for play, fun and creativity
• a silk rainbow ribbon for promises made and kept
• a pottery pebble that says “peace”, for when we find it or need it
• an olive wood cross, to notice where Jesus has been with us that day
These tiny treasures are meant to spark meaningful conversation, prayers, remembrances, and gratitude.
“We don’t remember days, we remember moments,” says the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. Parents know this best. The warmth and love we create in our families may not be something that feels consistently present, but it is what we hope our children carry with them and learn to create for themselves and others. These moments of sacred connection can sustain us for a lifetime.
In my previous life directing formation programs for children, youth and families at Episcopal churches, this has long been my busiest time of year, with countless hours spent preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter and all the special activities that go along with them. Having left parish ministry at the beginning of March 2020, I did not anticipate how different Holy Week and Easter would be, for all of us.
To that end, I’ve written a series of posts with some ideas for households with or without children, with simple ideas for observing Holy Week at home. In spite of everything, and just when we need it most, the stone will be rolled away from the tomb, Easter will come, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that this year we will feel the mystery of the resurrection even more powerfully.
Palm Sunday with palms or without, and imaginative prayer
Maundy Thursday, with a simple foot-washing service and some thoughts about bread
Good Friday, with good theology and a recipe for hot cross buns
It has been a very long Lent. Today, the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. Wake your household up in the morning with the ages-old acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” They will soon learn the response: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Your earliest riser could do this for the family, given a bell to ring through the house. Before breakfast, light a candle and read from the Gospel according to John:
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
John 20:1-18, Common English Bible
This is a quirky story we tell, the resurrection of our Lord. Resurrection means, “to cause to stand up.” Easter is an even greater mystery than Christmas. My understanding of the hows and whys is imperfect. What I do believe is that our God is a God of love, grace and mercy.
Easter isn’t a day, it’s a season, a full fifty days. How will you celebrate? You could raise butterflies, even in an apartment. My most personal experience of resurrection was the year we brought home a caterpillar from the children’s museum, when Peter was four. Our tiny friend ate food from a tub they provided, and we painted the inside of a shoebox to look garden-like. A stick wedged at an angle provided a place for the chrysalis to hang from, and sure enough, one day our friend began to change. Covered with clear cellophane, the shoebox sat on the baker’s rack in our kitchen. For weeks, nothing happened. I was sure we had a dud. I even stopped bringing Peter’s attention to it, but I hadn’t the heart to throw it out. And then one day, we came home to to what we thought might be a small earthquake. (We lived in Southern California; it wasn’t unlikely.) Peter quickly realized it was just the baker’s rack that was shaking. The chrysalis had finally burst and our butterfly was beating its wings against the cellophane! We ran outside and released it. You can well imagine our surprise and joy! It was Easter all over again.
If you are able, start a butterfly garden, growing what butterflies need to flourish. Today, though, make some butterflies to decorate your windows, so that everyone who walks by will see signs of new life.
We are Easter people, and it’s our work and our privilege to point out and create signs of new life. Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed.
Through Jesus, God’s love claimed victory over death, and opened for us the gate of new life forever. Lead us, risen Christ, into the mystery of Easter and fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can join you in building your kingdom of justice and love.
Holy Saturday is a time of waiting. Good Friday has come and gone, and Easter has not yet arrived. There is quiet, and sadness, and a sense of strangeness that suits the present moment. Today, Jesus is between earth and heaven. You can almost hear the earth breathe.
It would be good to go for a walk early. Find some stones to put in your pocket. You’ll need them later. Look for signs of spring. You will find them. Aslan is on the move.
In our Brooklyn neighborhood we can walk to Prospect Park and still keep the required distance from others, but that’s another reason to go early. We can walk to the corner near the hospital, too, and pray for all those within.
When you arrive home, fish the stones from your pocket, wash them, dry them, and stack them, one on another, with a prayer for each stone. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob ran away in fear and spent the night in the desert. He took a stone and put it under his head for a pillow, and dreamed of angels moving up and down a ladder. When he woke, he said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He anointed the stone with oil and left it there as a reminder.
God was in that place.
The women who stood at the foot of the cross on Friday waited at home on Saturday, the Sabbath, in quiet and sadness and strangeness. Did they know God was in that place?
In Celtic spirituality, there is a term for places where heaven and earth touch, where the veil between them is so thin it becomes translucent. Minister and poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
‘Thin places’, the Celts call this space, Both seen and unseen, Where the door between the world And the next is cracked open for a moment And the light is not all on the other side. God shaped space. Holy.”
On this day, Thursday in Holy Week, we remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, which may or may not have been a Passover meal. Only John’s gospel, however, tells how, after dinner, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, guys who wore sandals on unpaved dirt roads all the time, whose feet must have been filthy. This was a servant’s work, and Jesus gave his friends a new commandment (“mandatum” in Latin):
Love one another as I have loved you.
For this reason we churchy people do a strange thing: we wash one another’s feet. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I know lots of people who get pedicures first. It’s humbling and touching, too.
This year, we won’t be doing this in our churches, but it’s simple enough to do at home. If you want to include those living alone or who might otherwise have difficulty with the physical aspect of washing feet, you could do this on Zoom and ask them to be the readers. Singing on Zoom works best when all but one person who will serve as the song leader are muted.
A Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing Service for Households
Ideally, this service takes place after the evening meal, and bed or quiet activity follows. If there are enough readers, please divide the parts into three as indicated. Have a basin of warm water and clean towels ready. Light a candle before you begin.
Reader: On the first Day of Passover, Jesus’s disciples said to him,
Peter: Where do you want us to go and get ready for the Passover meal?
Reader: So, Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying to them,
Jesus: When you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks, “Do you have a guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. It is there you are to prepare.
Reader: As it grew dark, Jesus arrived with the twelve. During supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Peter, who said to him,
Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Jesus: You don’t understand what I am doing now, but you will understand later.
Reader: After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, Jesus said to them,
Jesus: Do you know what I have done to you? You call me “Teacher” and Lord, and you are right, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
The washing of feet takes place now. An adult could first wash the feet of a child. Together, you might sing or listen to the Taizé chant, Ubi Caritas.
Jesus: I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Prayers and thanksgivings may be offered now, for ourselves and others. Conclude with the following prayer:
Reader: Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 139)
Extinguish the candle. End the evening quietly.
Another idea for Maundy Thursday is to bake bread and exchange loaves with friends and neighbors. For a mostly hands-off recipe, you can even start this one the day before– it’s very simple and impressive. Another easy and delicious recipe does require kneading, but a stand mixer can take care of that for you. Write out the above prayer (“Lord Jesus, stay with us…”) to give with the bread. While many of us are not worshipping in person now, it helps to be reminded that our dinner tables are altars, too, and Jesus is present at both. Anna Ostenso Moore’s lively picture book, We Gather at this Table, with vibrant illustrations by Peter Kreuger, makes the connection between the bread that’s broken at church and the bread that’s shared at home.
Yes, it’s really hard to talk about the crucifixion with children. Adults have enough trouble with it. Please don’t skip over the hard parts, though. We do know how the story ends. We call Good Friday ‘good’ because we are an Easter people. Even in the name we give it, we do not look at this day alone for the terrible thing that happened, that Jesus died on the cross. We look all the way to Sunday, when Jesus rose again. We pause on Friday to remember that Jesus, whom we love, died on a dark day when soldiers shamed him, nearly all his friends left his side, and he wasn’t even sure that God was with him. We tell the story of what happened that day because it is vital for our children to hear: Jesus was afraid, he suffered, he died . . . and God turned his fear, his suffering, and his dying into hope, wholeness, and new life.
We tell this story—our Christian story—over and over again because it tells us the truth: not that there is no darkness, but that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”Remembering that gives us comfort and makes us bold, helps us encourage others and find goodness in the most difficult of days. We are Easter people because we have been to the cross and the grave and we know the promise God makes to us in Jesus: God’s power and grace can transform anything; God’s love is stronger than the cross, stronger than death itself.
You might bring some sweetness to this bitter day in a traditional way, by baking hot cross buns, a custom that dates to Saxon times. My husband makes this recipe.
Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life. —John 19:30
When Jesus died that day on the cross
all creation together sighed, “This is a great loss.”
I continue to learn from the wisdom of others who are in this work of articulating good theology for everyone, especially children and families. My friend Presbyterian minister and author Traci Smith writes compellingly about children and atonement theology here, and in this post she and another friend, author and theologian Laura Alary, have a deep conversation about Lent, Holy Week and Easter.
*All my Holy Week and Easter posts are gathered here*