It can be hard to focus on the darkness of Lent in the Good Shepherd atrium. We do what we can: before Ash Wednesday, we buried our Alleluias in the garden; now we drape our prayer table in purple cloth; without much prompting, our children know that we are now waiting and preparing for the celebration of Easter. But that fact more likely than not will lead mostly to excited interjections from our children on bunnies and eggs and candy. I can’t really blame them.
By this point in the year, we have come to treat Jesus as our friend, our ever-present Good Shepherd, the one who knows us and calls us by name. We talk about him constantly; we sing about him even more. We light candles as a reminder of his invitation each week to come to the altar and share in the feast he has prepared for us.
Now, suddenly, we’re talking about his death? That seems like the wrong ending to the story, as if we’ve been hiding the most important detail. More than once in past years, as we’ve been gathered around our atrium’s prayer table, I’ve inadvertently shocked a child by referring to Christ’s death on the cross: “What do you mean he died?!” When this has happened, although I fumble to proclaim the resurrection in the next breath, I can tell it’s left a shadow, because, exuberant and life-filled as they are, our 4, 5 and 6-year olds are coming to awareness that death is –in every other case except this one- final.
I can’t explain how we must go through the soul-searching of Lent to get to the happy event of Jesus’s resurrection. Truth is, I don’t always understand this myself. So, instead of talking more about what we don’t know, we look for clues in a story we do know: Jesus’s last days before the cross. The city of Jerusalem is our backdrop.
Always present in the atrium, our model of the city is a way to reinforce that Jesus was a living, breathing person who walked with us while he was here. And this year we’ve been building our own pop-up version, using bigger blocks to make the walls (“They’re very high”), smaller blocks to mark the landmarks (the Temple, Herod’s Palace, House of Caiaphas, the Cenacle), and blue stones to make the water sources (Siloam and sheep’s pools). Outside the city itself, we imagine the Mount of Olives and build the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went here to pray after the Last Supper”).
This past Sunday, during a particularly quiet and meditative morning, we made the tomb. Four pairs of small hands softened and molded stiff clay to make a cave. (“The tomb is the place where they laid his body.”) We combined our colors to look like rocks. We decided to make a cross to go on top. We closed the opening with a stone and thought about how dark it was inside. At this point, I began to worry we were straying too close to morbid, that it might be time to change the subject or lighten the mood with song. But then one child pointed to the cave and reminded us that this story doesn’t end with death: “In there, it’s like the people who walked in darkness. Then they saw a great light.”
Would you like to see our Jerusalem? Please stop by anytime after our atrium hour during Lent or let us know if you’d like to come in and help build.