Ever since my children were little, we have kept the tradition of making an Easter Mountain during Holy Week, an idea I took from Noel Piper’s Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions. We make a large lump of salt dough, prick it with toothpicks, hollow out a hole for a stick cross, press a big rock into its side for the tomb, and bake it in the oven at a low temperature for a very long time. Throughout the week, we gather around the table and retell the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection using the polymer clay people my daughter made when she was nine.
But this year I don’t know if we will do it—despite the video that came up in my Facebook Memories showing three little blonde-headed babies (6,4, and 3) yelling, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” in garbled voices, the youngest boy in Spider-Man pajamas waving his arms in the air like he is about blast off, the biggest smile imaginable on his chubby, baby face. My experience over the past few years has proven that my children (now 14, 12, and 11) aren’t as enthusiastic about making an Easter Mountain. It seems cheesy—and because preteens don’t do cheesy, eye-rolling, complaining, and comments like, “Why do we have to do this again? We already know this stuff,” ensue.
And that’s not how I want my children to respond to the power of the Cross and Resurrection. I want them to contemplate the work of Christ. I want them to be changed by it.
I want them to rejoice like they did when they were little.
So why did I insist we do it the past few years although I knew I would meet their resistance? I did it because I didn’t want to give up opportunity to disciple my children. In that book I read all those years ago, Noel Piper defined tradition as “a planned habit with significance” that hands down a “worldview from one generation to another” as it teaches us to “[lay] up God’s words in our hearts.” That’s what I wanted. I didn’t remember this line: “As soon as it starts to be treated as silly, it’s time to set it aside.”
When I asked my daughter if she wanted to do the Easter Mountain this year, she said no, but then she added, “Well, it depends on what we are going to replace it with.” Who knows what kind of torture she thought I had in mind? Hour-long Bible studies every night after dinner? Fasting from all electrical devices that charm us with their lights and sounds? Some other option that’s more painful than moving tiny figures around a dough mountain?
The reality is we are all tempted to approach Lent, Holy Week, and the Resurrection in ways similar to how my family has approached our Easter Mountain tradition. Some of us lose sight of Jesus because we get caught up in doing the same things we have always done. Others of us get distracted by planning and executing activities that we believe will aid in discipling others. And others of us are willing to try something new as long as it doesn’t cost us more than what we’ve done in the past.
But what we really need to do is remember the why behind celebrating Holy Week. The Son of Man was lifted up so that He might be glorified (John 12:27-33), and we should want to see that glory as tangibly as Martha did when she watched Lazarus walk out the tomb, “his feet and hands bound in linen strips,” “his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:39-44). The death and resurrection of Jesus is not merely an abstraction from which we draw our theology. It is incarnational.
Although an Easter Mountain may not always be an age-appropriate tradition, that video of my children says something about how we were made to worship. We were made to engage God through our imaginations and physical bodies. We were made to have an emotional and spiritual relationship with the concrete realities of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We were made to taste and smell and hear it, to visualize and feel it.
As our friend Rich Plass from CrossPoint Ministries says, “It takes a life devoted to the contemplative reading of Scripture to absorb the images of being in Christ deeply into the soul.”
Therefore, I propose we use our holy imaginations as we read Scripture, sing songs, partake in communion, and fast and feast this Holy Week. It is not just the images of us as children of a good Father, sheep in the Shepherd’s fold, or servants under a true King that have the power to change us.
I believe the Holy Spirit can transform us as we imagine the disciples savoring the fiery flavor of the Passover bread and the sweet sour of the wine at the Last Supper, Simon the Cyrene carrying a splintering cross up a rocky incline, a centurion feeling the ground quake beneath his sandaled feet, Jesus washing our crimson-stained sins as white as snow with blood that spilled from His pieced body, Mary hearing the radiating voice of the angel as he announced a risen Savior.
Perhaps God has designed our imaginations as a way for us to behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, for the Spirit to transform from one image of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Perhaps God has given us imaginations so that we can better sense His abiding presence with us.
How will you and your community use your imaginations this Holy Week as you remember and celebrate our Savior?
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