Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter and Meals

            The Rev. Dan Warren has often commented that the sound of dishes rattles through the New Testament. Jesus was forever sharing meals with people. Undoubtedly his most famous meal is the Last Supper, when he took bread and wine and sanctified them as his own body and blood.
            Recall for a moment that Last Supper.  Think of the intimacy of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and then his gift of the Eucharist -- and then also remember that this was the last meal of a condemned man.  He tells the disciples up front, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” -- I want to eat with you, my friends, before I die.
            Hearing this, I think of the families I used to visit when I was a pediatric hospice chaplain.  How often the children would ask parents to take them out to a favorite restaurant!  Gathering with the family around a table away from the medical paraphernalia of a terminal illness was their deepest desire.  Like Jesus, they knew they would die, condemned by their disease or their condition.  Yet, also like Jesus, they understood shared meals as a celebration of life, as a kind of sacred bonding.
            I love the post-resurrection story of Jesus cooking breakfast on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  When I think of these children, I like to imagine not a grand banquet, but Jesus waiting for them on the other shore, cooking their favorite breakfast.
            My prayer for all of us this season is that we find time to share a special family meal, to celebrate well, to rattle our own dishes and give great good thanks for this life, and the life to come.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Easter Family Liturgy

Holy Week offers an astonishing array of human experience: celebration and shared meals, betrayal and loneliness, suffering and death, grief and guilt, sacred mystery, awe and wonder and joy beyond our capacity to explain. It’s the heart of our salvation history, the Christian journey through death to new life. I hope you and your children are able to take part in some of the services that follow Jesus through his Passion.

What I’ve chosen to offer here out of all this array are suggestions for sharing a simple celebratory “Festal Meal” for Easter, incorporating some of my earlier suggestions for the season.

First, prepare the table. An Easter table should have a profusion of flowers as a centerpiece. If you are lucky enough to have flowers already growing in your yard, invite the children to help pick some. Here in Maine, a recent snowstorm means we’ll be having a “white Easter” so no flowers of our own, but even the local grocery store offers rows and rows of colorful flowers, so you can take the children on a special trip to choose their favorites.

As a way of marking where everyone will sit at the table, use the decorated containers of wheat grass (from February16, 2013 post), topped with a colored egg (February 23). 
Put bells at each person’s place, and have a candle for an adult to light at the start of the meal.

If you have time to make hot cross buns (March 8), there’s a special time at the start of the meal to eat them, but any bread, rolls, biscuits, or other grain-based option would also be a fine accompaniment to singing “Now the Green Blade Rises” as part of the short family liturgy (see below).

Once you’ve prepared the table, it’s time to prepare the children by teaching them the appropriate responses and gestures that go with the prayers (see the meal itself);

·       Teach them when they respond, ”God was with them,” to stretch out their arms, palms up

·       Teach them when they respond, “God is with us,” to hug themselves by crossing their arms and putting their hands on opposite shoulders.

·       After each blessing, teach them to respond: “Amen.”

And if you haven’t yet taught them “Now the Green Blade Riseth” (February 16), consider doing so now, even if there’s only time to learn one verse. The children could then teach any grown-ups who haven’t yet learned it. If your children are old enough to read, you could even print out copies of the lyrics for everyone.

Feel free to simplify the liturgy as feels right for your family, even down to using just the blessings at the end. Any small good thing we do at home to nurture our children’s faith blesses them, and us.

Festal Meal Liturgy for Easter

An adult should light the candle and say: The Light of Christ.

Everyone:  Thanks be to God.

Adult:  Even when Jesus died on the cross and his disciples ran away because they were scared,

Children (with arms outstretched, palms up, demonstrated by an adult):  God was with them.

Adult:  Even when we are sad or scared,

Children (with arms crossed, hands on opposite shoulders as though hugging themselves, demonstrated by an adult): God is with us.

Adult:  When the women found the empty tomb on Easter morning and knew Jesus was alive,

Children (arms outstretched):  God was with them.

Adult: Whenever we are surprised by joy,

Children (arms crossed):  God is with us.

At this time, the adults should lead the children in ringing their bells to acknowledge and celebrate  Jesus’ Resurrection by making a joyful noise. Then all should join in singing “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” accompanied, if available, by tambourines and/or drum, or just the bellss. Afterwards would be an appropriate time to share the hot cross buns, reminding the children how the plain bread of sorrow became the sweet bread of Easter, or how grain is what’s used to make bread.  After a suitable amount of time for eating buns, an adult should ring a bell to recall the children to the liturgy.

Adult: As we share this Easter meal together,

Children (arms crossed):  God is with us.           

Adult:   And now may God the Creator bless us.

Children:  Amen.

Adult:  May God the Risen Son be our companion.

Children:  Amen.

Adult:  May God the Holy Spirit dwell within us.

Children:  Amen.

Everyone:  Thanks be to God!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Life, Death, and Easter

image from

Telling the Christmas story is easy: the birth of a baby in a stable surrounded by animals is a story filled with light and joy.

Death is harder. Even death followed by Resurrection. Crucifixion was a torturous death to begin with, and we live in a culture that doesn’t do well in talking about any kind of death. But our Lord's death and Resurrection are foundations of our faith, so along with growing wheat grass and decorating eggs and making hot cross buns, you might consider another way of sharing the Easter story with your children. Below are a few suggestions of books for children that either tell the Easter story, or that deal with the difficult subject of death. 

Books about Easter:

The Easter Story, Brian Wildsmith

“Brian Wildsmith's own passion for the story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection is unmistakable in his glorious, metallic-gold-hued illustrations, which tell the story more vividly than words ever could. In fact, to his credit, Wildsmith adapts the story of Jesus's last days in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible, allowing young readers to glean the substance from the paintings, symbolism, and, most likely, discussion with grownups who may be reading along. The donkey's-eye-view of the events allows a slightly different perspective from the standard, without being overly intrusive as a literary device. Lush jewel tones capture the richness of the narrative, and mesh in a strangely beautiful way with the simple paintings of Jesus, the angels, Mary Magdalene, and others in the biblical cast of characters. The Easter Story will make a gorgeous addition to any Easter basket. (Ages 5 and older)” Review

The Legend of the Three Trees – Picture Book, Anne McCafferty

"Vivid visual imagery brings this classic legend to life. Told simply, in language even the youngest family members will understand, the story beings with three young trees who dream - as children do - of doing big deeds.
When the woodcutters come, the trees each find that the reality of their existence doesn't match their dreams… and yet… This touching story contains a simple lesson about God's Plan for every life, told in a way that will touch hearts."  (Age Range: 3 - 7 years) Book Description on

Books about the death of pets:

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney Judith Viorst

"Because the life cycle of animals is so short, it's usually the first death a child experiences. Fortunately, there are good children's books to help in many difficult situations. This book works better than any other book on the subject. It is the story of a small boy who is trying to understand and recover from his cat's death. The author is honest and authentic in her approach." Barnes & Noble Editorial Review, Children's Literature - Susie Wilde

Sammy in the Sky Barbara Walsh and Jamie Wyeth

“The title of Walsh's debut and the use of the past tense make it clear that Sammy, "the best hound dog in the whole world," is not going to make it: "Daddy found a bump on Sammy's neck; it was as big as a baseball." Wyeth's (Cabbages and Kings) watercolors capture Sammy's floppy ears, patient expression, and sloppy kisses for his overall-wearing mistress; readers will love him, too, and they'll find his impending death just as difficult as his owners do. The girl's mother tells her what to expect: "When he leaves, his body will be like an empty shell, but his spirit will be everywhere.... All the good things about Sammy, like his love for you, will be yours to keep forever." The family travels through their grief together: "You're still the best hound dog in the whole wide world," the girl shouts to a Sammy-shaped cloud as they gather months later on the beach to celebrate his life. As a model of good mourning, it's a fruitful resource; as an account of loss, it goes to the pit of the stomach." (Ages 4–7) Publishers Weekly review

Books about loss / death:

Waterbugs and Dragonflies Doris Stickney

"How can we answer the many questions young children have about death? Looking for a meaningful way to explain the death of a five-year-old friend to neighborhood children, Stickney adapted a graceful fable about a water bug that changed into a dragonfly. First published as a book in 1982, it has become The Pilgrim Press's bestselling book, Water Bugs and Dragonflies." Book Description on

The Invisible String Patrice Karst

"Specifically written to address children's fear of being apart from the ones they love, The Invisible String delivers a particularly compelling message in today's uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, whether through anger, or distance or even death, love is the unending connection that binds us all, and, by extension, ultimately binds every person on the planet to everyone else. Parents and children everywhere who are looking for reassurance and reaffirmation of the transcendent power of love, to bind, connect and comfort us through those inevitable times when life challenges us." (Ages 3 and up).  Book Description on

Friday, March 8, 2013

Light, Water, and Hot Cross Buns: more Easter preparation for families

Some random background notes on Easter
            Easter is the joyful celebration of Christ’s breaking the bonds of death and appearing to his friends and followers in bodily form. Easter Day is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon on or after the spring equinox; the Easter season extends through the next seven weeks.
             The word “Easter” refers to the east, to the rising sun.  Pagan converts who had worshipped a sun god saw in the nightly death and daily rebirth of the sun a representation of Jesus’ death and resurrection; consequently, not only the name but many of our Easter customs incorporate these older practices.
             The gospel accounts of the resurrection indicate that the experience was confusing and frightening at first for Jesus’ friends.  Because Jesus returns to his followers in bodily form, he is familiar and dear to them, but because he is risen from the dead, he is also profoundly “other”. Easter celebrates an event beyond our understanding, a demonstration of God’s love for humanity that defies all expectation.

The Light of Christ
            An old European belief said that the sun itself literally dances for joy on Easter morning; anyone who sees the sun dancing at dawn that day will have good luck all year.  This belief led to the practice of going to high places early on Easter to witness dawn. In the United States, dawn comes first to Cadillac Mountain in Maine, and every Easter people gather there to watch the sun rise out of the North Atlantic. 
            Back when women didn’t have the leisure to join the watchers but were expected to be home preparing the morning meal, they would put a pan of water or a mirror on the windowsill to catch the first dancing rays of the sun.
            In pre-Christian Europe, pagans used to burn bonfires in the spring to honor the sun god.  Such practices were outlawed during the early years of conversion, but St. Patrick Christianized the idea by blessing a new fire at Easter. In Patrick’s time, people would bring sticks to light in the new fire, and then take the burning sticks home to light their own lamps and fires.  In our own time, people light candles from a newly stuck fire at the Easter Vigil and then use the candles to light the dark church during the first part of the service.

Holy Water
            As Holy Saturday moves toward Easter, this is referred to as the Passover of Jesus since this is when he passed from death to life.  The ancient name for Easter was Pasch, derived from the Hebrew word for Passover. The blessing of water for baptism during the Easter Vigil includes overt reference to the first Passover: the survival of the Israelites as death passed over their homes, and their subsequent escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea.
            Throughout ancient Europe, pagans revered the waters of spring that seemed to melt the ice on streams and ponds. People would splash each other with spring waters for health and good luck.  (Some European farmers still sprinkle their animals with water drawn during the Easter season.)  Christian priests adapted this custom by blessing local streams and ponds on Easter Day.  Just as people took home fire from the newly blessed Easter fire, so they took home water gathered on Easter and saved it all year to use for its healing quality.           

Making Hot Cross Buns
             Originally these were very plain buns with a cross made out of dough across the top; they were eaten on Good Friday.  Now the buns are sometimes filled with fruits and nuts, then topped with a cross made of frosting.  They are often eaten throughout Lent, as well as on Easter.
As you make these buns with the children, tell them how the bread of sorrow became the sweet bread of celebration.  While you’re working, if you know the old street vendor’s “Hot Cross Buns” call, teach it to them. You can find a version at:
            To make hot cross buns, use your favorite basic sweet bread recipe, or go online to find one. You can also use frozen bread dough, defrosted. Whatever dough you use, while you are kneading, you can add either candied fruit or dried apricots and raisins, steamed soft and (for the apricots) cut into small pieces; you can include chopped walnuts, too, if the children like nuts, and flavor the dough with a teaspoon of allspice or cinnamon.  Dough made with four cups of flour will make about 20 buns. After the dough has gone through one rising, punch it down and have the children shape it into smooth balls,.  Set them two inches apart on a greased baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass or mug. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Let the buns rise until double in bulk, brush with a wash made of an egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of milk or cream, then bake for about 12 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks and -- after they are cool -- draw a cross on each bun using a simple confectioners sugar frosting (a cup of powdered sugar, a tablespoon of cold milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).  Note: if you try to put the frosting crosses on while the buns are still hot, the frosting will melt and slide off.  Let them cool.