I wrote the following article for Focus on the Family magazine. It appeared about ten years ago. Since today is Ash Wednesday, which is the day my family begins this celebration method, I thought it would be a good time to post this. I have edited it slightly since the version that was printed in the magazine.
Feel free to post this on your blogs, Facebook, Myspace, etc.
A Season of Fun in the Son
As I gazed at our small mountain of brightly decorated eggs, familiar questions probed my mind. “What am I doing? Is this really necessary?”
“We’re celebrating Easter,” I reminded myself yet again, but as I tried to think of a way to wed these multi-colored symbols to the historical event, I remained unconvinced.
“Eggs?” I asked out loud. “New life?” Again, I was doubtful. I looked at my young son, James, who was beaming at the pretty baubles, and I wondered if our traditional ritual could ever get the message across to him. Will he remember that the resurrection holiday is more than just fun and treats? How can I teach the relevant spiritual truths and still keep the activities fun?
After several days of meditating on the dilemma, I formulated a plan. Next Easter would be different, and I knew just how to pull it off, a way to refocus our resurrection holiday.
My new celebration idea takes a bit of effort to set up the first year, but with a little basic wordworking skill most people should be able to handle it. The key steps are to fashion a small cross, mount it on a flat wooden base, and embed cup hooks in the beams. (See "Nuts and Bolts" and photos below for details.)
Each hook on the cross represents a member of your family. When someone memorizes the verse on a card, put the card on that person’s hook. He can then start working on another verse. Remind your family that you are doing this to commemorate Christ’s death on the cross. Since Jesus is the Word of God, we are putting God’s word on the cross, committing it to memory and to our hearts and reminding ourselves that we were the reason He died.
On Good Friday, remove the cards from the cross and place them in a box. We enjoy putting the box by the fireplace and stationing toy soldiers around it, pretending that they are the guards from the Bible story. On Easter morning, the children wake up to find the box empty and the soldiers knocked over. Remind your family that they will now be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus by raising God’s word from their minds. Then, one by one, each member of the family quotes a memory verse while an adult looks at his card to check for accuracy. For the younger children, we usually give a word or two to coax them through their recitations.
When the family member successfully quotes the verse, return the card to him, and on the back he will find the clue or message you added over the weekend. We have found that the younger children enjoy getting a simple clue or riddle that will reveal the location of a hidden prize, replacing the fun of the traditional Easter egg hunt with the excitement of a treasure expedition.
For example, for the very youngest children we have used, “Where do the clothes get dry?” and they know to find something in the dryer, perhaps some wrapped candy or a book. For the older participants we have created puzzles of varying difficulty, sometimes incorporating a chain of clues that leads to an outdoor excursion throughout the yard. We have even buried well-wrapped gifts underground.
After a lengthy series of brainteasers led two young teenagers through hedges, over fences, and from tree to tree, they finally discovered where “X marks the spot” and uncovered their treasure, a Star Wars Lego set. As you can see, the types of clues or prizes is limited only by your imagination.
The process may sound like a lot of work, and without a good plan, it can be a chore for both parents and children. During the memorization period, as the cards are added to the cross, begin a list of places to hide prizes and start making up the clues. If you fall behind and have to do everything on the night before Easter, you will find the game more frustrating than fun. Keep up with the new cards on a day-by-day basis, making sure to portray the celebration, not as tedious agony, but as a time for fun.
To help our children enjoy the game, we do not force memory drills, and we make up songs for the little ones and sing along with them frequently. When they learn that the amount of rewards is directly proportional to their effort, they usually play along cheerfully.
That first Easter with the new game began a tradition for us, and we learned how to modify the fun as our family grew and changed. Each season, about forty days before Easter (to coincide with Lent), we start putting verses on the little cards. For the smaller children we use short, simple verses such as “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Even a two-year-old can memorize “Jesus wept.” As they get older we tend to include principles for growth, finding a wealth of wisdom in the Proverbs, such as chapter 20, verse 11, “Even a child is known by his actions by whether his conduct is pure and right.” We allow them to choose their own verses unless it is obvious they are choosing shorter ones just to make it easy.
The oldest children are able to appreciate a wider variety, so we select from the historical and prophetic books as well as from the epistles. Whatever their ages, they all look forward to the event and work with each other to memorize their verses. The catchy tunes we make up to match the words sound almost like jingles from TV commercials, so they gladly sing them throughout the day without having to be prodded.
When Easter finally arrives, everyone’s excitement grows, and the gifts we exchange remind us of the treasures that Christ gave to us. Without the cross and his resurrection power, we would never have eternal life nor the blessings of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This game helps us to remember his indescribable love.
More than twenty years have come and gone since I allowed a mountain of eggs to question my thinking, and we’ve never regretted leaving the eggs and bunnies behind. We traded a tired tradition for forty days of fun, and we find ourselves walking closer to God at the end of every resurrection morning.
Instructions: The Nuts and Bolts
You don’t have to be a skilled carpenter to set up this cross, but you will need a few simple tools and supplies:
1 x 2 x 12 inch wood (oak)
1 x 2 x 9 inch wood (oak)
5 x 5 x ½ inch wood (oak or plywood)
a one-inch wood screw
one cup hook for each member of your family
jigsaw or coping saw
Use the one-inch by two-inch oak boards for the cross. (The upright should be about twelve inches long, and crossbar about nine inches.) To join them, cut notches into the pieces at the points where the two will intersect into a cross, and glue them together at the joint.
Use the square piece of wood for the base. Drive the wood screw through the underside of the base at the center. Now screw it into the bottom of the cross upright until the head is flush with the base and the pieces are tightly joined. You may have to drill a hole into each piece first, especially if you use a hard wood. Sand the edges of each piece.
Now you’re ready to attach the cup hooks. When you twist the hooks into the cross, make sure each one points upward after it’s firmly placed. We use the following positions: The father’s hook goes where Jesus’ head was, the mother’s at the heart, and the children’s at the hands and feet. The other side of the cross may be used if you run out of room.
The verse cards measure 3 1/2 inches by 2 inches, but if you don’t want to cut them out yourself, many print shops sell blank business cards, which will work perfectly. Punch a hole in the top center of the card, and write the name of a family member on the front. Then write the text and the reference of the memory verse, reserving the back of the card for the clue or message. Start with one card for each person, adding another as each verse is memorized.
Now you’re ready to hang the verses on the cross and celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection in a new and meaningful way.