Let’s start with a prayer:
We give you all thanks and praise, O God,
for yours is the power of life
that even death cannot hold back.
You created the world
and breathed your Spirit into our bodies of earth,
forming for yourself a people with whom to celebrate life.
In Jesus Christ, your child,
you have sent to us one who is both life and resurrection.
Sharing our grief in the face of death,
he prised open the grip of the grave
and called us forth into the fullness of life and peace.
[Read more at Laughing Bird – a great Australian liturgical resources site.]
The story of Jesus bringing Lazarus to life after four days in the grave is important (it’s the climax and centre of John’s Gospel, pointing the way to Easter), moving (Jesus cries, and he’s not the only one) and busy (a long and complex story with lots of characters and references to things before and after).
It’s a brilliant text to get your teeth into and a good one to use to help kids develop skills in reading the Bible. The main thing in this post is a detailed plan of how to do a ‘lectio divina’ reading of this story.
But first, here’s this week’s Quick Guide with a bunch of different resources to help your household. As always, I’d love your input in the comments with extra links, tips and resources to share around, and stories of what’s going on in your house.
Quick Guide to Week 5
- Bible reading: John 11:1-45 (or until verse 53)
This is the longest single story in John until the events of Easter, and the climax of John’s revelation of who Jesus is.
If you’d like to know any more about it, browse through the resources at TextWeek.com, or head straight to Pulpit Fiction (yep, really) for a podcast and accompanying written notes on this passage.
- Candle lighting and sentences:
Once a day, light the first five candles:
1. the first candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is wise,’ then
2. the second candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus and the prophets make us brave,’ then
3. the third candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better,’ then
4. the fourth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one.’ then
5. the fifth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is in charge of life (and death).’
The brackets are optional depending on your family stage and your approach to talking about death.
- Spiritual Practice: Either:
1. Confession of Faith. Who do you say Jesus is?
2. Lectio Divina, an ancient Bible-reading prayer practice (full plan below)
- Prayer: ‘Thank you, Jesus, for being in charge of life (and death).’
Longer version for older kids: ‘Thank you, God, for sending Jesus to show us how to live, and letting him be in charge of life and death. Help me to trust Jesus with my life.’
- Artworks to look at together: There are lots of characters and scenes in this week’s reading. Some detailed paintings to look at include these ones. Chat together about who each of the people is and what they are thinking and feeling in the painting.
- Poems: David Constantine wrote a pair of sonnets, Lazarus to Christ and Christ to Lazarus. They made me cry! The poems are below.
- Art and craft: Make and decorate necklace-labels (a big piece of card, with string attached to hang around the neck) for each of the people in the story: ‘Jesus’ ‘Martha’ ‘Thomas the Twin’. Use them to act out the story.
- Hospitality: This is a moving story of love, loss and grief. Reread verses 31-34. Here are two ways to offer hospitality to those in distress:
1. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul told Christians to ‘mourn with those who mourn.’ It is an act of deep, radical hospitality to cry with someone who is crying, or let them cry in your comforting presence. Is there someone in your circle who needs a shoulder to cry on? Invite them for dinner and let them know you are available to listen if they need to talk about something hard. Before you do so, sharpen up your listening skills with this guide.
2. If that’s a bit hard-core for you at the moment, here’s a list of useful ways to show support and hospitality to people who are struggling. Pick something to do this week – and ask any kids you are doing Lent with which one they could do.
- Movies: There are lots of movies for adults with themes of resurrection. Any ideas for kids? Pop your suggestions in the comments below, please!
Freeze tag/Stuck-in-the-mud: whenever anyone gets caught, they have to freeze (stop moving). One special person can go and unfreeze them – a bit like Jesus…)
Simon Says: one person is in charge of everyone’s movements in this game. Chat afterwards about how much this is like Jesus being in charge of our lives and how it is different.
- Reading for adults: Gordon Atkinson (aka Real Live Preacher) wrote this raw account of spiritual burnout. It’s a key source, for me, of the idea I expand on below, that what Jesus calls us to is not ‘faith’ but ‘faithfulness’. Read more here.
Browse the list at TextWeek if you’d like some background on the Bible reading.
(Adapted) Lectio Divina with Kids
The ‘lectio divina’ is a Benedictine Bible reading prayer discipline that is traditionally done together in a group. Kids and teenagers often find it appealing and helpful, so I reckon this could be a great family activity to try this week.
If you’d like more background on how adults have traditionally practised it, start with Wikipedia!
We’re going to launch straight into an adaptation aimed at doing this in a home or church setting. It’s more active and less contemplative than the traditional version. Feel free to do something in between these extremes – whatever suits you.
You could do this over a whole week, with one or two steps each day, or you could do it all in one long session with older kids. I will be leading our church through the whole process on Sunday morning, so I do think it will work to do it all in one go.
1. Read + Listen
Ask God’s Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Bible text.
Read through the text together in whatever way helps you listen. Some ideas:
– have a pencil or crayon in your hand as you listen to someone read, and draw or doodle or underline as you listen.
– follow the text with your own eyes as someone else reads
– take turns reading a few verses each
– close your eyes to concentrate and picture the scene.
2. Read + Observe
Read through the text together again, and practise being a journalist. Talk together, and make lists about the who, where and when.
List all the people who are mentioned or active in the story (there are lots in this one!)
List all the places that the action happens (again, there are lots here.)
What’s the timeline? Listen for all the times John mentions how long something takes or when it happens.
3. Read + Act it out
Now that you know the characters, the settings and the scenes, act it out together.
Make name-tags or signs to hang around people’s necks to show who is playing whom.
Designate different rooms in the house or different parts of the room as the different settings (Bethany, the priests’ council, etc)
As simply or elaborately as you want, now act the story out. A simple version is for someone to read the text while the characters move around to illustrate what’s happening. A more elaborate version is to use the text as a script, and have each character speak their own lines. You could even do this step on another night if you want to have time to organise costumes and props or learn lines.
4. Chat about How and Why
Now that you’ve done some thorough observing, it’s time to try and make sense of what you’ve noticed.
Key questions to ask each other (and the text!):
Why did each person do what they did?
What effects did each person’s actions have on what happened next?
What was John trying to show us in telling the story this way?
What did John want us to know about Jesus?
Ask the Holy Spirit to keep drawing your attention to things in this story as the week goes on.
As I said, we’re doing exactly this tomorrow at church. I’ll be keen to hear how it goes for any of you! Please do leave a comment below.
I’ll let David Constantine have the last words, with these two sonnets:
Lazarus to Christ, David Constantine
You are forgetting. I was indeed dead,
Not comatose, nor sleeping, and could no more
Wish for resurrection than what we are before
Can wish for birth. I had already slid
Four days down when you hauled me back into the air.
Now they come to watch me break bread
And drink the wine, even the tactful plead
With dumb faces to be told something, and, dear,
Even you, who wept for me and of whom it is said
You know all things, what I mutter in nightmare
I believe you lie awake to overhear.
You too are curious, you too make me afraid.
Of my own cold heart. However I wash,
I cannot get the foist out of my flesh.
Christ to Lazarus, David Constantine
They followed me when we came there, and I knew very well
They were already leaving me. Not one
Among your mourners had any stomach to go on,
And when we moved the stone and we could smell
Death in his lair they slid off me like a cloud
And left me shining cold on the open grave,
Crying for you and heaving until Death gave
And you were troubled in your mottled shroud.
They hid their eyes, they begged me to let you stay,
But I was adamant, my friend. For soon
By a loving far fiercer than any moon
It will be done to me too, on the third day.
I hauled you out because I wanted to.
I never wept for anyone but you.
[Published in the 1983 collection, Watching for Dolphins.]
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And I’d love to hear how it’s all going! Please pop a comment below if you are finding Lent to be a useful time for you or your household. Let’s encourage each other (and me, especially! )