The liturgies of spring are celebrations that quiet and inspire us. Lent is solemn and sad, purple and Alleluia-free. The Alleluias burst out at Easter in long winding chants or choral shouts with full orchestra. Liturgical music, art and atmosphere each spring are richly heavy with full-voiced pipe organs, blasting trumpets, scented oil, and air thick with incense and flower perfume. What is a child to make of it all?
Of course, children are awed by the majesty, pulled into the mystery and stilled and quieted by the solemnity of Lent and Easter when we invite them to all of this and celebrate it well. Yet, children—more than we adults—are people of action. In their world, a chair can become a spaceship; a box can become a castle or a car; and a stiff plastic doll can live up to the name “action figure.”
Children and all you Lenten pilgrims, meet your Gospel companions of spring: the Apostles. In the Scriptures we will meet some of the apostles nearly every Sunday of Lent and Easter and during all the liturgies of the Triduum as well. While you are hearing stories about Jesus this spring, follow the movements of his apostles. What are they doing and saying this time? Which apostles are with Jesus today? What is he telling them? What is he asking them to do? Follow their energy trail, but please notice that these actions figures are not superheroes! However, they are Christian heroes —we can safely take them as role models and strive to be as heroic as they were.
Judas and Darth Vader
The un-hero, of course, is Judas Iscariot. His darkness and stealth and his violent end rival any evil of Darth Vader! We follow Judas to a sad and bitter death. It didn’t seem to occur to him that Jesus might forgive him or that he could go on being an Apostle. The chief apostolic action figure, on the other hand, is Peter. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss that signaled his enemies, but was that any worse than Peter who denied he even knew Jesus?
We follow Peter through a winding, exciting roller coaster of actions and emotions. We find him with James and John dazzled by Jesus transfigured. Those same three fall asleep when faced with Jesus needing their support. Peter is the one who cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant when Jesus is arrested, but that bravery is followed by three denials when confronted that he was with Jesus. Like Judas, Peter realized the evil he had done, and he went out and cried bitterly. However, unlike Judas, he stayed with the others. He was there when the women came running to report that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Peter and John raced there to see, and though John arrived first, he stepped back to let Peter, the acknowledged leader, enter the empty tomb first. It was restless Peter, several days later, who decided to go fishing, and when they spotted someone on the shore, it was Peter who jumped into the water to splash into shore ahead of the boat when he recognized it was Jesus.
Thomas, John and Mary
We have other apostolic action figures. Thomas is restless enough to be absent the first time Jesus appeared in the Upper Room. His angry skepticism at the apostles’ report, and his abject humility when Jesus returns to confront him make him an action hero we can understand. John is called the “beloved disciple,” but his actions are as human as any of us. Follow his energy trail and you will find yourself leaning on Jesus during the Last Supper, fighting and losing a battle with sleep in the garden, and receiving Mary as your Mother at the foot of the cross.
If you have any of the apostles or other Gospel persons entrapped in any kind of unimaginative “bubble wrap” during Lent and Easter, let them out and let your students play with their words and stories to breathe life into these Gospel action figures. Follow their energy trails. They are role models for our journeys of faith today.
Peg Bowman is a freelance speaker and writer of catechetical books and videos; she serves as a volunteer catechist and musician for children’s liturgies, and lives in Woodstock, Illinois.
- Helping Children Connect Lent to Easter
- Whose Experience Is It Anyway?
- Keep It Simple . . . The Way Jesus Did
- Children and the Easter Symbols of Fire, Wind and Water
- The Summer Gospels
- Celebrating the Pauline Year: Paul tells us who we are as Christians
- Children and the Triduum
- Internet Resources for Ministers who Work and Pray with Children (Part 3 of 3)
- Saints and Feasts of the Spring Season