“Holy Week is a time of Holy Waiting. We know we have something precious and beautiful, but we cannot yet see the completed picture. And so we must wait.”
Holy Week at Home
Many of us long to make Holy Week (the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) more meaningful for our families. We want more than waiting to put on our fancy new clothes, gorging on candy, and stressing about creating the perfect Pinterest-worthy tablescape. But where do we start? And how do we make time in what is already a busy week? Here are a few ideas for families of all sizes and ages to connect to the Triduum with a just a few minutes each evening. If you find that three nights of activities are too many, don’t worry! Pick the one activity that resonates the most with you and start there.
Maundy Thursday: We Prepare
Stripping of the Table: all ages, 15-20 minutes
Stripping of the altar (removing all ornaments, linens, candles, plants, flowers, etc.) is an ancient custom of the Church. Congregations mark the way Christ’s life was stripped from him by stripping the altar of all signs of life and beauty during a special service This almost-bare worship space reminds us of the bareness of life without the hope of Christ that we have through His resurrection.
- This beautiful and powerful ceremony can also be practiced in the home, as our homes are also places of worship. Materials needed: Bible or Prayer Book, storage box or bin, dark cloth, cleaning supplies.
- Read Psalm 22 together (or just the first two verses, if attention spans are short).
- Explain the ancient custom of stripping and washing the altar, what it symbolizes, and how your family will now do a similar stripping in your home – focusing on icons and symbols of your faith.
- Send your family through the house to gather all icons and religious symbols that can be easily moved (crosses, statues, candles, prayer beads, etc.). Ask everyone to work silently as a sign of respect for the task. Pack these items away in the storage bins.
- Use the dark cloth to drape any other items that are too large or permanent to pack away (wall art, door wreaths, Easter Tree and so forth.)
- Finally, remove all items from your dining or kitchen table and together wash the table thoroughly.
- Leave the table bare until Easter morning.
- After all the icons have been packed away or covered, and the table has been washed, take a moment to notice how your home looks and feels. Help kids make the connection between a home without these beautiful and meaningful items and a life without Christ.
- Saturday night, after everyone is in bed, do your best to unpack and uncover all of the religious items, so that when the family wakes up on Easter morning there will be more than just Easter baskets to celebrate!
Family Footwashing: all ages, 15-20 minutes
Jesus washed the feet of his friends as an act of love, service, and preparation. Take turns washing one another’s feet as an act of love and service, in preparation for the journey you will take from Maundy Thursday to Easter morning. See more are here.
Good Friday: We Enter In
Technology Darkness: all ages, 12-24 hours
Good Friday church services often end in total darkness, leaving worshipers to imagine their lives in the wake of the dark hours after Christ’s crucifixion. While functioning as a family in total darkness might not be practical, there is a way to practice living in darkness: go dark with your technology.
- “Unplug” from noon on Good Friday until noon on Holy Saturday.
- Turn off (and put away!) all cell phones, tablets, game consoles, televisions, radios and computers for twenty-four hours.
- Reflect together on how disjointed, disconnected, lost, anxious, helpless or frustrated each family member feels without their devices. On that first Good Friday, many lives were turned upside down by Christ’s death: Mary, Martha, James, John, Peter, Andrew, just to name a few…For these people and the other followers of Christ, Good Friday was more than just sad. It was a day of feeling anxious, lost, disconnected, frustrated, and helpless.
- Ask questions: How different would our worlds be if the Story of God had stopped on Good Friday? What would life be like if grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness were not available to us?
Make a Paschal Candle: all ages, 15-30 minutes
In churches, a new Paschal Candle is lit either at the Great Easter Vigil or on Easter morning. It represents Christ and the light that his resurrection brings to the world. Traditionally, the candle is lit and place in a prominent place near the altar, where it remains lit from Easter until the end of the Easter season. The candle is then moved away from the altar and is lit again on baptisms and at funerals as a resurrection symbol.
On Good Friday, while your kids are unplugged, gather everyone together to make a family Paschal candle. You can follow these directions to create a traditional version or use this idea from my book to make an easier, less formal candle.
- Set this candle in a place of prominence in your home, such as the kitchen table, where it will be noticed and remembered daily.
- Light the candle first on Easter Day, and then during meals, special events, and times of prayer. The lighting of the candle can become part of the evening dinner routine, by asking family members to take turns lighting it.
- This is a tactile way to remind ourselves to seek Christ daily. To help your children understand the significance, you can repeat the words, “Come Jesus, come” as you light the candle.
This act of inviting Christ into your home solidifies the idea that we do welcome Him, and He joins us, even in the most simple of daily activities, such as breakfast or dinner.
Holy Saturday: We Wait
Wax Crayon Eggs: ages 3 -10, 30 minutes to 1 hour
In my family we all love to dye Easter eggs, even the grown-ups. We’ve tried many different techniques, but the one that requires the most faith, despite its simplicity, is the wax crayon method. Even as you decorate your eggs, you can’t see what the finished design will look like.
Holy Saturday is like wax crayon eggs. It is a day of waiting. We know we have something precious and beautiful, but we cannot yet see what the completed picture is. And so we must wait, as Mary waited, and the disciples waited. Materials needed: At least 1 dozen boiled eggs, Easter-Egg dye kits, wax or white crayons
- Use a pale-colored wax crayon and draw or write on your egg. The only evidence that you have done anything will be bits of wax clumped on your egg’s smooth surface.
- Dye your egg according to package directions.
- Wait. Wait some more. (If you are at my Maw’s house, you will probably get up, get another cup of coffee and go stare into the soup pot, willing dinner to cook a little faster.) Eventually, enough time passes to go back to your egg dye.
- Pull your egg out of the dye. Those invisible wax images are now clearly white, surrounded by brilliant egg dye. There is a the flower you drew, imperfect but lovely. There is the name you wrote, a little wobbly but still your name.
Holy Saturday brings us – at last – to the glorious rekindling of the Light of the World and the Paschal Candle. Careful activities during this holy pause have prepared us to share Christ’s Light with one another and the world! Alleluia, indeed!
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, nest-fluffer, novice farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together. She is also the Minister to Children, Youth, and Families at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas. Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons on a little farm in Shady Grove, Arkansas. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life For more information on Jerusalem’s Faith @ Home workshops or to read about faith-filled daily living, visit her blog.