Amanda came up the aisle of the church during announcements and took the pew directly behind mine. I had just then taken a seat in the front row, welcoming the few minutes to sit down before going back up on the stage for the last few songs before the sermon. It was a great morning so far, and I was "in the groove", enjoying the worship immensely, an inordinate sense of joy having settled upon me after a particularly momentous week on my spiritual growth chart.
Amanda's face was the picture of anxiety as I turned to answer her poke from behind.
"There's no teacher for your class," she said questioningly. She paused for a second and then said "Could you?"
It wasn't that hard to pull myself away from singing on the worship team. I love singing, especially on the worship team, but I couldn't help but respond to the angst on Amanada's face, even though this week it wasn't my turn to teach.
"Sure," I said. She smiled and handed me the lesson book with a look that was somewhere between pure gratitude and sheer relief.
I took the book, but knew there was no time to take the lesson out of there. I began to cast about the deepest pools of my mind and memory for an idea of what to do once I got down to the classroom. "Twas all in vain. I had all of about a minute from the front of the church, across the foyer, down the stairs and then to the opposite end of the basement to the last Sunday School room on the left to plan a lesson. Surprise, I didn't make it. My mind was blank. I walked into that room cold.
When "my" girls erupted into cheers as I crossed the threshold, I tried to enjoy their enthusiasm for my being hijacked out of church on their behalf, but I still had no idea what we were going to do. I started probing for ideas.
"What's new, everyone? How was your week?" The chatty banter began immediately as each of the four fresh-faced 9 and 10 year-old girls shared what was going on in their lives. By the time the last of the girls had their turn, I was still coming up empty. "So much for looking for something in the past," I thought to myself, "what about the future?"
"What's coming up this week?" I asked the girls. Their faces stared at me blankly. "Do you have a day off on Friday by any chance?"
Suddenly the lights went on as they remembered and cried out nearly in unison, "Good Friday! Easter!"
"Maybe we can do something for Easter," I offered and thought desperately about what I might be able to scavenge out of the craft cupboard. But what?
Suddenly I knew what we were doing. "Get your jackets on," I said. "We're going outside."
It was difficult to rein them, and help them to remember that there was a church service going on upstairs. They sprang out of that classroom and up the stairs like four wild young fillies let out to pasture after a long winter in the barn. I grabbed a pair of kitchen sheers on our way by the church kitchen and somehow managed to gather the girls close enough to listen to the reason for our trip outside.
"We're going to gather thorns," I told them.
"Thorns?" They said it in unison.
I knew there was a large number of hawthorn bushes growing along the railway track up the bank that runs behind the church and that was where we headed. We cut off a branch for each girl to carry and headed back to the classroom. There were thorns aplenty and the girls were impressed by their sharpness and length.
One of the girls noticed some bits of twine lying on the ground as we made our way back to the door of the church and we picked them up amid my admonitions to "clean the mud off your shoes before we go inside!"
By the time we were back in the classroom, the girls had guessed we would be making a crown of thorns. I pricked the back of my hand and a couple of fingers at least half a dozen times in the making of it. It was a little lopsided, but when we were done, it didn't look half bad. At least they'd get the idea.
I tried it first to make sure it would cause no damage and then I allowed each girl to take a turn at placing the crown oh-so-carefully and gently on their own heads - not enough to pierce their skin, but enough to feel the sharpness of the thorns. I explained to them that Jesus would likely have had his crown of thorns rammed down upon his head and then he was beaten about the head with a stick.
"That would make it bleed!" cried Lindsay. (She always seems to know exactly what you're driving at.)
"Yup," I said. "Can you just imagine how much that would hurt?"
"That would really hurt," said Eden, brown eyes melting with sympathy.
"The Bible says that he suffered more than any man," I told them, and explained what I could of what his suffering might have been like. "The worst part was that his father had to turn his back on him," I offered. We decided to look into the Scriptures together.
I read from Matthew. I read slowly, and between each phrase, I looked up to see faces fiercely attentive, deeply moved, and catching every word of scripture as I read...
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium andWe talked a lot about what Jesus went through. And we talked about why. I could see something on their fresh young faces that I had never seen before. The Holy Spirit was touching their hearts and changing the meaning of "Good Friday" for them forever...
gathered the whole Roman cohort around him. They stripped Him and put a
scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they
put it on his head; and a reed in his right hand; and they knelt down before Him
and mocked Him saying, "Hail, King of the Jews". They spat on Him, and
took the reed, and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked
Him they took the scarlet robe off Him and put his own garments back on Him, and
led Him away to crucify Him... " Matthew 27:27-31
It wasn't just them he was speaking to. The heart of one old broken-down Sunday School teacher was being touched afresh too.
It seems so inadequate, but - Jesus, thank you.