5th Sunday in Lent
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle
(Written for 8-11)
Comment: The subtitle of this book is The Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust. It’s a book based on, and the telling of, a true story. The Grand Mosque became a safe space for Jews in Paris during the Holocaust because of the rector, Si Benghabrit. Rather than allowing Jews to face arrest, deportation, and possibly death, the members of the Mosque risked their own lives to help save the lives of others. The Mosque became not just a place of worship, but a community center and a place of refuge, allowing temporary shelter and hiding for persons in peril of all ages. The book has beautiful illustrations, and is quite a long story for presenting in worship or even an education setting, but given that the story is one to be shared, using pictures and summarizing the story are highly suggested. The story begins with this quote from both Islamic and Jewish traditions: “Save one life, and it’s as if you’ve saved all of humanity.” This story ties in nicely to both our current political climate, and also the Ezekiel passage for Lent. Ezekiel’s vision shared here is for a people who have lost hope and heart – very much like those in need of the Grand Mosque during Nazi occupation. Ezekiel shares that God promises to restore the people and that they will live again: “I will put my spirit in you and you’ll live.” Both Mosque and Ezekiel 37 are resurrection stories for persons who have wandered, are displaced, and desire to return home. Benghabrit and the Berbers offered salvation and hope to a people who had lost heart.
The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool
(Written for ages 5-8)
Comment: A little boy is gifted with the ability to spin clouds into thread to make beautiful cloth. Having learned from his mother, he also followed her instruction of “enough is enough and not a stitch more. While wearing his golden, white and crimson scarf in town, the king notices it and demands the boy stitch him a longer version. Then, the king demands more and more clothing for himself and his family…and soon the clouds disappear, changing the world around him and impacting daily life. Eventually the clouds are returned to the sky and all returns to normal. This story, especially with its potent illustrations by Alison Jay, teach us about the beauty of our world and the courage needed to protect it. Paul’s message is of life and death and what life in the Spirit means versus death through flesh. In Feasting on the Word, Amy Plantinga Pauw reminds us that “life in the spirit is communal life.” Life in the Spirit calls us to attention and consideration of how we use our bodily life. What do we do with our material resources? Do we demand more elaborate clothing like the king? How do we use our physical energies? Are we working to restore creation like the Princess? How do we care for our neighbors and our planet? Should we follow the mantra “enough is enough and not a stitch more”? Looking at Paul’s message through the lens of The Cloud Spinner might help children (and adults alike) come to a better understanding that the denying of self allows room for discerning God’s intent for us in caring for others. Pauw states “the Spirit dwelling in the community [to bind] believers to God and to each other in loving [caring] union” and because verse 11 reminds us of God’s Spirit living in us which encourages us to not be focused on our self-desires, but on the life of others and how our actions have greater impact beyond just our individual selves.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
(Written for ages 3-6)
Comment: The well-known story of the raising of Lazarus is a story about loss, death, being recalled from death to life, and emergence into new life. As much as it is a story about how Jesus loved Lazarus, it’s a story from John about yet another sign of Christ pointing toward something beyond himself – in this case, death to life, the one who affords it, and how others respond. Through raising Lazarus, Jesus points to the one, God, who makes it possible, and also illustrates for all to see that he is “one” with God. Jesus’s signs are for us to see and to help us understand the presence and promises of God in our midst, here and now. Jesus becomes the “sign-maker” who points us to God, allowing us to see his “oneness” and understand that which we cannot understand without seeing, touching, feeling, or hearing. Included in the story are Thomas’ confession of who God is, as well as notation of those who came to believe through experiencing the signs, wonders, and marvels. This story also requires us to confront our faith, and how well we believe without seeing. In our book, Flora comes upon a beautiful flamingo and desires to be as graceful in her movements and being. A wordless book with hidden pictures under flaps to help tell the story, this story can navigate just about any way the teacher and or child (adult) wants the story to go. Flora learns from the teacher (flamingo) just as we learn from the teacher (Jesus) who is ultimately pointing to God. When the teacher engages and invites the student into participation, the two create a beautiful dance and a friendship. Flora’s story helps us see Jesus as the sign-maker” who points us to God. The signs are for us to see and come to understand, but they also attest to God’s glory, which then invokes our faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, creating a beautiful relationship and ultimately a beautiful dance.
We welcome back Rev. Katie Barrett Todd, Associate University Minister at Nebraska Wesleyan Univeristy in Lincoln, NE. She also leads worship at Dunbar Presbyterian Church, Dunbar, NE.