Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, but “rocks” figure into Jesus’ last days on earth in a big way.
The following is a recollection of my “Rocks of Holy Week” presentation. I originally wrote it as a single sermon for a church where I served, and later presented in another of my churches as a series of Lenten Children’s Sermons. (This explain some of the divergent ideas in each rock story below). I hope it inspires your teaching. ~Neil MacQueen
For the children’s sermon, I kept a pile of various rocks on the floor in front of the communion table (where the kids sat). I played with those rocks each Sunday, having the kids help me assemble what I was talking about as I described that Sunday’s “rock story.”
This could also be an “art workshop” lesson or “Lenten Stations” display that kids or families could make and present. You’re welcome to fill in the gaps and add insights. As I wrote this post, more memories of what I said and did kept coming back, so I’ve added some of those comments/ideas for you to whip into your own version of the “Famous Rocks of Holy Week.” ~Neil
1. Palm Sunday is Good News for Rocky People, dense people, hard people, annoying pebbles, people who don’t want to listen (because rocks have no ears), or are afraid to talk about Jesus (because rocks have no mouths), or are keeping their mouth shut about Jesús (God may use you yet) and those whose faith feels like a big clunkers. Palm Sunday is Good News for people who feel like their mouths are full of rocks when they try to share their faith or say their prayers. The shocking but Good News from Jesus himself on Palm Sunday is that God can do amazing things with rocks!!! God can make your stones, whatever kind of stones you have, SING. Rocks like us are not beyond hope! Now some people may not look like the greatest believer or palm-waver right now, they may appear to be a big dead rock, but when God is inside of you, even a rock can sing. And what do the rocks sing on Palm Sunday? (holding rock like a seashell up to ear, have everyone do that) if you listen real close, even the rocks are shouting “Hosanna Hey!” today, “God Save Us!” and “Here Comes the King!” (I then gave each student a “pocket” rock with eyes and a smile shouting the word “Hosanna.”)
2. Jesus in “the Temple Built on the Rock.”
The stone Jerusalem Temple Jesus that taught in during his last week and cleared out the money-changers from, was built on a BIG ROCK. The rock under the Temple was known as Mt Moriah, also known as David’s threshing floor, also the location of Abraham’s altar. Today, there’s a temple called the “Dome of the Rock” there and there really is a rock under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount where the Jewish Temple once stood. You’d think rocks this big would last forever, but no mountain or stone ever does. The Romans tore down the stone Jewish Temple a few years after Jesus was gone. They built another stone Temple over that, and now that’s gone. Even the rock under the Dome of the Rock -which the Dome was intended to protect- has been chipped away. Jesus said, “tear down this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” And upon a new kind of rock –upon this new foundation, a new idea– he built his church. Our foundation isn’t a place or pile of rocks, or even a really nice building like we have around us. We are built on Jesus and the promise of salvation; those are our rocks. (As I described all these rocks and temples, I assembled rocks and temples out of rocks, and tore them down, chipped at them, then wiped them out. I then gave each student a bag of sand -explaining that these were once rocks worn to pieces by time. Inside the bag was also a small wooden cross representing the thing that never wears out or goes away: the love of God and presence of Jesus in our lives.) Pictured: The rock under the Dome of the Rock where the Temple once stood.
3. Gethsemane’s rocky garden. Gethsemane means “place of the press” in Aramaic, the place where they crushed olives with big stones to make olive oil. (As I told this story, I had the kids help me press some olives between some big stones.) Jesus prayed there on his last night before his arrest -asking God to change his mind about what Jesus could see was coming, that is, his death. You might say Jesus was being fully pressed, between a rock and a hard place just like those olives. And when he felt pressed, Jesus prayed. Do you do that when you’re in trouble? Have you ever prayed, “let me get out of this?” or “don’t let this happen!” That’s what Jesus did. Do you know what God’s answer was? It was something like, “Do not be afraid. I am with you.” And really, that’s the best answer we can hear: that no matter what happens, God will not leave us.
There’s another rock in the Garden, the one that artists frequently paint Jesus praying on. (I mimicked this pose on a rock). The funny thing is that the Bible doesn’t mention Jesus praying on a rock, but that’s how we see him in our mind’s eye, leaning, crying on a rock.
Have you ever been a rock for someone like that? Been someone they can lean on when they are sad or afraid? Being a rock for someone else is one of the ways we honor Jesus and show his love. Here’s a rock to help you remember to be a rock for someone. On one side, draw a tear, on the other, a heart, and put it in your pocket or give it to someone you know is sad.
4. The Rock of Calvary, Golgotha, the rocky outcropping where Jesus was crucified, is also known as Calvary hill. Now if you go to Jerusalem, you can see what’s left of Golgotha 2000 years later. It’s inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They have a big case around it to keep people from trying to chip a piece of it as a souvenir! And in that rock, there’s a slot where the cross was placed, the slot which the soldiers slid the cross into to hold the cross up in the air.
Now you might think that being the Rock of Golgotha, the rock where Jesus died, is not a good thing; but remember, he forgave our sins from that rock, so maybe the Rock of Golgotha is the most important rock there ever was!
Sometimes being a rock for Jesus means holding up Jesus to other people –showing them the love and forgiveness that God has for us –even when we try to reject him and get rid of him. When you tell the story of Jesus’ death and forgiveness, you are being the Rock of Golgotha. (I stacked some rocks and wedged a cross into them as I gave this talk. At the end, I gave each kid a flat rock with a simple wooden cross glued to it that a volunteer had prepared in advance. We used clay around the base of the wood and gorilla glue to get a good connection.)
Picture of the remains of Golgotha inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
5. The Rocky Tomb It is the purpose of some rocks to form walls and surround things, to hide things from view. It was the purpose of a rock tomb in Jesus’ day to hide dead bodies from view (and smell), and let them naturally decay. After a year or so, the bones would be moved into stone boxes inside the tomb called ossuaries. When they brought Jesus into the tomb, they laid his body on a bench of stone, sealed the door with a stone, and then three days later, they found Jesus’ grave clothes sitting on that stone bench and he was gone.
(I had some rough rocks, and a couple of really cool looking rocks, including a GEODE that had crystals in it which I showed at the end.)
Do we know exactly what happened in there? No. If only those walls and that bench could talk! There are things we don’t understand and are hard to believe sometimes, like how did a dead body come back to life? These things are like rocks in our faith, big boulders of doubt. HARD to understand. Sometimes it’s okay to have rocks in your faith, to be a little dense. To wait and watch and surround and embrace things that you don’t fully understand. Rocks are good at waiting– waiting for God to turn our unbelief into amazing faith. To transform ordinary people like us into beautiful rocks of faith. (showing the geode and polish rocks).
(I gave each student a polished rock that I had purchased in quantity.)
6. The Stone that Got Out of the Way. (The kids helped me assemble the empty tomb with the rocks I had, then The rock that sealed Jesus’ tomb? It may have been round or square. Matthew says it took an earthquake (rattle of rocks!) to frighten away the soldiers. An angel sat on Matthew’s rock as if to say, “ha!” But if I were that rock, I would have gladly moved when I heard what God was trying to do. God: I want to raise Jesus from the dead! Me: Okay, let me get out of the way!
Stones are great at covering things up, sealing things away, letting us know there are no shenanigans going on. Stones can also just be in the way, like our stone-hard attitude about coming to church (“I’m a rock, I don’t wanna go to church.”) Or being a person whose faith is harsh and unloving, kind of heavy like a boulder, instead of joyful.
Stones are often used as witnesses, too –they can be set up to mark that something important happened! Abraham and Jacob set up special stones in Israel to commemorate their encounters with God. We piled up the white stones of the Washington Monument to remind people of George Washington. Where are the “monuments” for Jesus???? We are the rock monuments for Jesus. You are Jesus’ stone witness, standing strong and pointing out that God did an amazing thing. (I had round rocks for each kid with a tomb outline and smiley face rock painted on them.)
7. The Stone Road to Emmaus
Okay, so the Emmaus story says nothing about a stone, but have you ever had a pebble in your shoe? Even a small one can be irritating. It makes you stop. Jesus comes along side and makes us stop. “Were not our hearts burning as he shared the scriptures with us?” the two said after he had left them. Sometimes, God gets our attention in astonishing ways, and sometimes the way to do something, the way to go, has already been laid down (I said as I layed out a layer of gravel like a road.) It just needs disciples ready and eager to do God’s will. Now the Romans were terrific road builders, and they used crushed stone. Made the roads much easier to march their soldier and pull their supply carts on. These same roads of stone were used by the early Christians to travel across the region and spread the news about Christ’s resurrection. So it looks just like stone, just like gravel. But sometimes, the gravel, the not-so-pretty stuff that someone else put in place. Everybody wants to buy cool stuff, but somebody has to buy the church chairs, the toilet paper, pay the electric bill, and buy the coper paper…..things that are like gravel, but are EXACTLY what you need to follow God’s plan. So here’s to the gravel! And here’s to the people who laid down gravel for us travel on to spread the news. (I gave each of them a piece of gravel from the road we built.)
8. Ascension from the rocky top of the Mount of Olives. Rocks may not be good for a lot of fancy things, but when you pile them up they are really good at showing off something magnificent. Jesus standing atop the Mount of Olives before he goes into heaven, for example, or Moses on top of rocky Mt Sinai receiving the stone tablet commandments from God. (As I talked about this, we created a tall pile of rocks.)
Have you ever been to the top of a mountain? The feeling and sight can make you feel….well, like closer to God. And the mountaintop can also be seen for miles around by lots of people. Piles of Rocks are good at reminding people to look at something important.
Now, is one rock a very high pile? No. How about two? How about a lot of rocks? Yeah, the more rocks that work together to lift up God’s story, the more people will see it. You might even say that the Church, all of us and all these adults, are really just a great pile of rocks lifting up Jesus to the world.
But here’s a secret for you: You can also be “a pile of one.” Every day you can lift up God’s love to the world by being forgiving and compassionate. And every day, you can invite Jesus to stand on top of YOU by lifting him up in your prayers. Jesus loves rocks. And rocks like us can love Jesus. (I gave each student a pointy rock and invited them to draw a cross on the top corner.)
OTHER PRESENTATION IDEAS
Presenting as a drama?
Each “rock” could come forward in the spotlight, either in a rock costume or carrying a rock. Rock costume you say? Easy!! Grey garbage bags, a sack made out of butcher paper, a large piece of cardboard with some errant spray paint markings on it. Presentation and lighting are a must to accentuate the “play” aspects.
Could also be a “rock garden” project or Lenten Stations of Rocks:
Kids assemble and paint various types of rocks to tell the rocks’ stories to others who pass by and read. You could invite people to video it with their smartphones and share. Teams of students/families could make and present each rock, telling a story from the rocks point of view.
Things I Wish We Had Done
I always wanted to have a rock tumbler tumbling in the Sunday School room so the kids could see how “life in Christ wears off the rough edges and doubts and turns us into a new creation.” Would tumble those and pass them out or use them for a rock art project.
Text Copyright Neil MacQueen. May be copied for non-profit teaching purposes. May not be copied to ad-supported websites.