A joyful celebrationPublished 7:11pm Saturday, March 30, 2013
A group of eager youngsters sat restlessly while puppeteer Jim Jayes worked his magic on Saturday. Inevitably, many of them were awaiting the Easter egg hunt to follow.
It was the 14th-straight year Jayes hosted a puppet show at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin during Easter week. The show itself may have not had a direct Easter message, but like the Easter egg hunt, it kept kids engaged long enough to slip in another message: the actual story of Easter.
“I think what we hope is that, not just the children, but the whole family will find joy on Easter because Easter is a joyful celebration of God’s triumph over death,” said Susan Li, Westminster’s interim senior pastor.
Mike Olmstead, associate pastor of family ministry, like he has done every year, pulled the children aside long enough to tell them the story. More than any other holiday, pastors, youth ministers and church groups pour their time into Easter week to teach upcoming Christians, and reiterate to longtime followers, their religion’s most important message.
Across town, at Austin’s Faith Evangelical Free Church, leaders used more visuals and hands-on techniques to show youngsters how Jesus suffered and died on the cross for their sins. Like other churches, it used a popular journey to the cross format in which kids interacted with characters at each scene through Christ’s suffering and resurrection.
Among that activity, Faith Evangelical also used drama, art and crafts to convey the message.
“We want to make it known that this is important, and it’s worth celebrating,” said Kristy Rooney, children’s ministry coordinator. “And we want them to understand what Christ has done for them and how they can respond to that.”
So with more than just books and lectures, faith leaders set out to make that happen.
“We really want to use other elements to make them understand, Rooney added, “get the message across in another way than what they’ve heard before, make their faith their own.”
Perhaps more than anywhere, the Easter story is taught in religious schools.
Students at Pacelli Catholic Schools study Easter more than just at this time of the year. Still, teachers and staff focus their efforts on the story of Christ’s final days and resurrection leading up to Easter week.
“What they’ve been working on is preparing their souls,” said middle school religion teacher Tom Price. “They’ve been preparing on acknowledging their sins.”
Price had his students figure out which of the 10 Commandments apply closest to them at this time in their lives. Furthermore, students have completed their own studies of choice, along with picking something to give up during lent, whether it be television, text messaging or other conveniences. They’ve shown maturity.
“The middle school students at Pacelli, they show a reverence that I’ve never seen in middle school students before,” Price added.
All grades at Pacelli also participated in stations of the cross, in which groups were led by plaques where they listen to the description of what happened and then pray.
Over at Christ Episcopal Church, the Rev. Catherine Lemons led her congregation through that same process on Friday, a process that has been used in Jerusalem for many years. Though these followers were all adults, the message was important enough to fully absorb again.
Lemons referred to the ritual people in used in Jerusalem every Friday, when they walked down the road Jesus did and stop at 14 locations of significant events. Lemons uses the John L. Peterson model, based on his book. Her members, like those at Pacelli, will stop at each plaque on the wall, hear the story and pray.
“It’s a way to walk in Jesus’ footsteps that last day of his life,” Lemons said. “So each station commemorates a special point in time in that day.”
Those weren’t the only adults reabsorbing the Easter story over the week. Members of Holy Cross gathered with members of St. John’s Lutheran in Austin on Maundy Thursday, when they even learned some new things at their traditional seder meal. The meal commemorates Passover and the Last Supper with what Jesus was having with his disciples in the Upper Room. Furthermore, each food item symbolizes something from Passover, such as lamb symbolizing the sacrificial lamb, or unleavened bread, signifying the unbaked dough the Hebrews carried out of Egypt.
Yet this Easter was a milestone for others, too. One community finally found the resources to fully recognize Easter like it has wanted to for several years. A congregation of Anyuak Ethiopians at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church held its first Easter service on Sunday after joining Our Savior’s four years ago.
Pastor Nygare Gilo set up the service for Anyuak from all over the region, planned a holy communion and even scheduled a baptism.
“We are not there just to use their building,” Gilo said. “We are one. We are working together as one.”
Of course, plenty of other churches are celebrating in their own way, like Queen of Angels, which is typically the one time of year it holds it’s bilingual service, in English and Spanish.
Regardless of church or ritual, the different activities all serve the same purpose.
“Easter, we concentrate on being as close to Christ as we can,” Price said. “The rituals are a big part of that.”