Wilderness blessings — Weekly Christian ed lesson

Last week, a friend who knows I’m a church educator asked me if I was ready for Lent. I gave the same answer I give every time we’re headed into a new liturgical season: “No!” Of course, she was asking if I was prepared to teach our congregation’s young disciples about Lent, not if I was spiritually prepared for Lent. But the answer was still the same.

As we head into the first Sunday of Lent, it is apt that the lectionary offers us Luke’s account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. We all come into this season of preparation needing to wrestle with feelings and experiences. As adults, we know these wilderness moments are part of our faith journeys. This text provides us with an opportunity to share this aspect of our faith with our children. In this lesson, children will explore Luke 4:1-13 noticing the tests Jesus undergoes as well as his responses. They will then examine their own lives throughout the wilderness period they are still in – the pandemic – looking for the ways they have been tested, how they have responded and what blessings they can take forward.

Starting off

Begin your time with the children by handing out copies of paper mazes for them to complete. You can find a variety of mazes at varying difficulty levels here. Be sure you choose mazes that you think will slightly challenge the children. After they have completed the mazes, ask them what it felt like to complete the mazes. Were they easy or difficult? Why? What did they do when they reached a difficult part of the maze?

Prepare to read aloud Luke 4:1-13. Explain that the events in this reading follow Jesus’ baptism. (You may want to spend a few minutes recounting Jesus’ baptism or asking the children to share what they remember about that story). The story will tell about 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. In the Old Testament, we also hear a story about people wandering in the wilderness. The Israelites, after being freed from servitude in Egypt, wandered for 40 years until they reached the land God promised would be their home forever. During those years, they struggled to trust God and one another. Encourage the children to keep this idea in mind as they listen to the story.

In addition, explain that the reading talks about a devil who tests Jesus while he is in the wilderness. Ask the children to share what their perceptions of a devil. What does this word make them think of? What images do they see when they hear the word “devil”? Note that the devil in this story is not an evil or anti-Jesus figure. Rather, it is a creature who tests Jesus. The devil offers these tests so Jesus can discover himself.

Exploring the passage

Read aloud Luke 4:1-13. If you’re working with younger children, you may want to offer a reading from a children’s Bible. Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible has a wonderful child-friendly re-telling of the story that “translates” the scripture references Jesus quotes into language children can easily understand.

After you have read the story, ask the children to recount the three tests that the devil offers Jesus while he is in the wilderness. Make note of these on a piece of chart paper or a whiteboard. You may want to write them in a column down the right-hand side of the paper, so you can pair each with Jesus’ response later in the discussion. Once you have recorded their responses, ask the children to wonder why the devil might have chosen each of these tests. What was each test attempting to teach Jesus?

Next, ask the children to share how Jesus responds to each of the tests. What does he do or say when presented with each situation? Write their responses on the whiteboard or chart paper next to the corresponding tests. Then ask the children to wonder what each of Jesus’ reactions shows us about him.

Finish your discussion by sharing with the children that the next story in Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus beginning his public ministry. Before his time in the wilderness, Jesus was not teaching or healing people. It isn’t until after he is baptized by John the Baptist and he spends these days being tested by the devil that he begins doing all of the things we associate with Jesus! Ask the children to wonder about how each of these tests might have prepared Jesus to begin preaching, teaching, and healing.

Relating the passage to our lives

Conclude your time together by helping the children connect Jesus’ wilderness experience to their own lives. Share that there are times in our lives when it feels like we are in a wilderness-like place. We aren’t actually in the wild, hiking or camping. Rather we are going through a time where our lives change dramatically, and we have to go through challenges we might not have gone through before. These “tests” can help us understand ourselves better, just like Jesus’ experience prepared him for his earthly ministry. In fact, we are in one of those periods right now. The pandemic is kind of like the wilderness. We’ve all had to live differently and have faced many challenges. Some of those challenges have taught us things that we can take forward.

Prepare the children for the activity you are about to do together. Gather the materials you’ll need: enough index cards for each child to receive three cards, markers or crayons, a single hole punch, and enough pieces of yarn cut into 5-inch lengths for each child to receive three pieces. Hand each child three index cards and crayons or markers. Ask each to write or draw a picture of a challenge that they experienced during the pandemic. Then, have each write or draw how they responded to that challenge on a second card. Encourage them to think of the lesson or blessing that they drew from the experience. For instance, if a child wrote I couldn’t have friends over to my house as a challenge, the blessing they experienced could be I got to spend more time with my family or I learned creative ways to spend time with my friends like using Zoom or Facetime. Finally, on the last index card, ask each child to write or draw how they will take the blessing/lesson forward in their lives. How can this lesson continue to bless their lives and the lives of others?

Once the children have completed their index cards, have them punch one hole at the center top of each card and one at the center bottom. Then give them each three pieces of yarn. The end of one piece of yarn should go through the bottom hole of the card depicting the challenge. It should be knotted at the end so that it does not come out of the hole. The other end of the yarn should be threaded through the hole at the top of the lesson/blessing card. It should also be knotted so that it doesn’t come out of the hole. Do the same with the second piece of the yarn, connecting the bottom hole of the lesson/blessing card to the top hole of the going forward card. Finally, thread the last piece of yarn through the hole at the top of the challenge card. Make a loop and tie the ends of the yarn together. The loop will be used to hang the three adjoined cards on the wall.

Have each child hang up her card “chain.” Offer a prayer over all of the challenges, lessons/blessings, and opportunities to move forward shared by the group.