Worship Workshop : Holy Week- The LEGO Version
Holy Week is not exactly the kid-friendliest part of the Bible. And yet, if we skip over it and go straight to Easter, what are we celebrating? What is Jesus rising from? My favorite kids Bible is the Deep Blue Bible Story Book. It seems to be the most thorough and have the best kid-friendly language for class read-alongs and discussion time. Both early readers and older elementary kids tend to benefit from the length of the stories and can still hang with me for discussion of the stories before they are ready to leap into the game/craft/activity for the day. And yet, I was DEEPLY disappointed when I realized that the crucifixion was missing from all four Gospels in this Bible. When I questioned the publisher, they mentioned that this particular Bible was meant for preschoolers and the cross was not really appropriate for that age group. Now, I am the last one to scare children or anyone of any age into faith. But, something seems wrong to me about skipping the cross. As much as we try to manufacture a bubble strong enough, death is a part of life. The best gift we can give even our preschoolers is hope in the resurrection.
And so…this family event is an attempt to tell the story of Holy Week is a kid-friendly way. At least it attempts to deliver the stories and timeline of Holy Week in a way that is manageable and interactive for the faith of childhood. It also provides connections between the stories of Holy Week in a way that might only be better by seeing these places with one’s own eyes.
Now, truth be told, if you don’t have a TON of LEGOS and base plates, this could be an expensive endeavor. My church runs a camp during the summer and has LEGO bins for each cabin. So, I am very blessed with many, many LEGOS. But, if you’re looking for a reason to invest in LEGOS, I’ve found that they’re one of the best ways to tell many Bible stories and I use them again and again for this event and many other lessons. So, if you don’t have enough, hit up the older kids in your youth group and see if anyone is willing to part with some or search out some yard sales or ebay and see what you can find. There are also some generic lego type bricks and base plates that work just fine with regular LEGOS and are a bit cheaper. Or, perhaps a family with a bunch of LEGOS could manage each build so that they can participate and still go home with their bounty of bricks.
So… this is how the event is done.
First, get a canvas painter’s tarp and draw out the city of Old Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. The bigger the better so that you can have space to sit in between the builds without knocking down your city. There is a great simple map in the front of Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours that Changed the World. Or, find one online that you like which depicts the buildings you want the kids to build. Draw it out with chalk first and then permanent marker. I’ve used mine again and again and it still seems to be holding up. I have told the kids to take their shoes off while they are on the map. Works well to remind them Jerusalem is holy ground anyway…
Next, collect enough LEGOS, DUPLOS, and baseplates to build your city. We use the LEGOS and baseplates to create the buildings of Jerusalem. The DUPLOS (preschool size LEGOS) are used to create the walls and gates of the city. This is a great project for the families with little ones to work on while older kids work on the buildings.
Put the bricks into containers per build team along with a baseplate big enough for the building/scene they are creating. This will allow the teams to spread out at tables while they build and safely move their building/scene to the tarp when it is complete.
I allow the preschool families only to build directly on the tarp with the DUPLOS. Then, all when the walls are complete and the buildings are done, I place the buildings on the tarp and tell the story of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with all the families gathered just off the tarp.
Depending on the number of participants in your group, decide which buildings you want the families to build. Or, use this a project to work on throughout Lent and build the city over time.
I googled images of the buildings that were there in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus (Second Temple Period) and found images from several angles to show the children. Better yet, if you have any friends going to Jerusalem, ask them to take pictures of the model of the Old City at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Some buildings are easier to find than others and some take a little creative license. Most of the places in the story look different today with churches/temples build on these holy places. And, of course, there is a difference of opinion by scholars as to what these buildings looked like and exactly where they were. So, while it might not be exactly historically correct, the kids will leave with a deeper understanding of the story which, in my opinion, is the point of it all.
Print the pictures and a simple description of the buildings and put them on clipboards for each build team and hand them out to families/teams which 1. Have an adult per team 2. Make sense for the age/ability of the builders. The pictures will give the teams a sense of what the buildings look like. They won’t give exact instructions. But, that’s okay. The idea is the children will get the sense of the story.
Herod’s Temple: For this build, we use four large base plates and white LEGOS which can be purchased separately. Gather your best builders and work to build this special building. This is the biggest build on the map. So, choose your builders wisely and remind them they’ll have to work together to move the Temple to the map. The white LEGOS are not necessary. But, it makes this very special building seem even more special. This is the place where Jesus went on Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week.
The Upper Room: For this build, I used an image from Daily Life at the Time of Jesus by Miriam Feinberg. This image shows what a wealthy city house might have looked like. This is the place where Jesus ate the Passover meal with the disciples. This building can include a low three part table as would have been the custom of the day. The above book is actually a great resource and has a lot of great information about life in the time of Jesus. And, truth be told, the Last Supper in this image is a kit I bought for my son a few years ago which we CAREFULLY placed inside the build. This kit is usually around on Amazon.
Garden of Gethsemane: Use a green base plate and plants and tree LEGOS if you have them. I used a picture of the modern-day garden at the Gethsemane site to build this scene. It may not be exactly the same. But, it has trees which date back to the time of Jesus. This is the place where Jesus went to pray after he ate with the disciples.
House of Caiaphas: This is the home of the high priest where Jesus was taken for trial after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. As St. Peter of Galicantu Church is build on this spot, the original building is not there. But, I found a drawing of what the building looked like on bible-history.com This building required one base plate.
Antonia Fortress: This is the place where Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate for blasphemy. Use one gray base plate for this building and consider investing in some LEGO knights which double as prison guards.
Calvary: This build is a good one for younger elementary builders. This is the site where Jesus was crucified and is also called Golgotha- place of the skull. For this build, have the children build the three crosses and perhaps a skull on one green base plate. As tradition places this event at the current site of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, any children’s Bible image of the three crosses will do.
The Garden Tomb: We know from scripture that the place where the body of Jesus was laid was in a tomb outside the city walls. There is debate about where this is exactly. But, as I was intrigued by current place of the Garden Tomb outside Jerusalem, I place it outside the city walls north of the Temple. This build requires one green base plate and can also be built easily by some of the younger builders.
The above buildings basically tell the story of Holy Week. But, if you need other buildings for more teams, consider building:
The Pool of Bethesda: This is the site of healing of the lame man in John 5 located to the north of the Temple. Use one blue base plate for the water.
The Pool of Siloam: This is the site of the healing of the blind man in John 9. It is located to the far south of the Temple. Use one or two blue baseplates.
Herod’s Palace: This is the home of Herod located to the north of the palace of Caiaphas. It requires two gray baseplates.
I have used this activity in various forms. But, my favorite is a family event we do prior to our Ash Wednesday service. We call it The Lego Lent Event and it is always well attended. We do our best to finish on time so that everyone can get over to the service for ashes. After a simple meal of pizza and salad, families have an hour to build the city. Of course, there’s a special treat in honor of Ash Wednesday as well. I hand out clipboards and LEGO bins to the families with older children and assign the families with younger kids to the city walls. I love the way families end up mixing together as an older child might get adopted by another family for the evening while their family works on another project. Good community building- pun intended! The building builders build off the tarp while the wall builders each get assigned a different part of the wall. The hardest part is getting the parents to focus on the build instead of talking. Once in the evening, I usually do an “ALL HANDS ON DECK” to get focused so that we can build the city in time. When the walls are built, everyone is invited to stay off the tarp so that the buildings can be delivered and put in place. Though it is always a race to the finish, we always seem to complete the city! And with everyone gathered around, I tell the story of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday as I point out where and when the events took place.
So, that’s it! Not easy. Not cheap. But, a super amazing and impressive way to tell the story of the most important week of our faith.
I hope it is a blessing to you. If you build this project at your church or with your family, please let me know!
Blessings upon your Lenten season and your adventures in children’s ministry.