By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

I went through the Stations of the Cross with a group of early elementary children last Friday morning. I was substitute teaching at a Catholic School. At each station, we responded and “adored” Christ on bowed knee.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

I had planned a Palm Sunday lesson for later in the day for my second graders, but it seemed more purposeful to unpackage this statement. It was so full of meaning and I was anxious to know if they knew any of it or if they knew only what to do and say.

I’ve been part of a subculture that doubts repetitive rote dialogue, common prayers, and smells and bells. But I had not been a robotic participant as we’d walked to each visual and listened to a portion of the passion narrative. No, I had remembered and felt things. I had stated truths that were sometimes hard to believe and warranted claiming again and again. And I wondered how a child experienced such.

So I wrote the phrase on the chalkboard and we talked.

I like talking with children. Some people like talking to children. I think that those people miss too much stuff. Good stuff.

We began with a simplified Socratic method. “Let’s read this,” I said, and we did.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Then I asked, “Is this true?”

Wikipedia currently defines the Socratic method as a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

Can second graders think critically? Evidently so.

“Who is this you in the statement?” I began. A chorus replied, “JESUS.” Check.

“What does redeem mean?” I continued. A few hands were raised. I acknowledged the students one by one and wrote their answers on the board, not leaving out any words or phrases that they suggested, because this was brainstorming.

Saved. Fixed. Clearing.

“Tell me more about that word clearing,” I coached a bit.

“Well, you know like …” The student’s hand was moving across the air in front of him as he searched for what he meant. I watched what that hand seemed to be doing.

“Clearing, like maybe clearing something away?”

‘Yeah. That’s it,” my second grade boy said. “Like clearing away.”

I was ready to move on. “What needs clearing away?” I continue. I point to the words clearing away and to the rest of the brainstorming list, too.

What in this world needs cleared away? What needs fixing? What needs saving? What does it need saved from?

There was a bit of excitement in the room by then. The light bulbs were coming on.

Storms. Disbelief. Wrong stuff. Sin. Evil.

Now some folks would have shied away from that first word that was hollered out, STORMS. But I just asked, “What kind of storms?” And this girl just replied, quick as a wink, “WEATHER STORMS.” And I wrote that answer down on that blackboard because I happen to think that the world needs saving from weather storms. Don’t you? I also think that our interpretation of the saving power of the cross is way too limited.

“Tell me when this first disbelief and wrong stuff started,” I said and stopped. Silence is ok. Don’t be afraid of it.

And this is where there was, I admit, a bit of guiding. We found our way to Genesis 3 and we rehearsed some events that showed disbelief on the man and woman’s part. We decided that the serpent was evil. We remembered that a consequence was death and I asked them then about the whole Palm Sunday celebration that would be coming on Sunday for most of them.

Jesus was going to Jerusalem and the people began treating him like a king. Why?

“Because he was teaching the people not to disbelieve in God,” someone said. And I quite liked that she had gone back to that word on the chalkboard, disbelief.

“Hmmmm…he was. He was teaching. He was also doing other things…”

A boy jumped almost out of his chair. “Healing. He was healing.”

“What’s the biggest miracle healing that you think Jesus did?” I asked. The class was silent again. Slowly they began to list the things that Christ had done. Blind could see. Deaf could hear. Lame could walk. Food could be multiplied.

“Anything greater?” I added.


It was a whisper. And all of a sudden, I think that sixteen second graders got the correlations of evil bringing disbelief and death and a cross bringing a saving, a fixing, and a clearing away of all that.

If it hadn’t been raining, then we’d have gone out for recess.

Because we were done. That was enough for the day.

We praise and adore you, O Christ. For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

And as they say in second grade, ALL OF IT. AMEN.


I admit it. I went to another Stations of the Cross that night at another location. This time I had a little less disbelief and a little more conviction when I answered each time. THANKS SECOND GRADE!



Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

Mark 8:31-38


ENVIRONMENT AID: Jesus knew the future and he was ready to prepare his friends for it. Consider setting up a business boardroom. Use a chalkboard or dry erase board or laptop/screen for brainstorming/note taking. You might designate students to be CEO, CFO, President, Chairman of the Board, VP of Human Resources, etc. Choose a goal for your group dependent on the age range of your students. You might have a goal of world peace and be the President’s cabinet. You might be a league of Super Heroes trying to defeat an enemy. You might be the CDC trying to eradicate a certain disease or a humanitarian organization trying to feed the world’s hungry.     

  • On your board, write “GOAL: _____________”
  • Brainstorm possible plans to achieve the goal.

As they enter, say:

We’ve got a huge goal to talk about today. Come on in and get straight to work planning …

LOOKING AT THE WORD: Have each student open the bible to the text for the day. Read it aloud. Then ask, the journalist’s  questions

  • Who is in our story today?
  • Where are we? When does this take place? What has just happened?
  • What happens? What is the conflict or problem in our story today? Is there more than one conflict?
  • How does Jesus solve the problem?
  • How do the characters react?


I wonder when Jesus knew about or understood the Father’s full plan for him?

I wonder what God’s goal was …

I wonder if Jesus knew how Peter would react?

I wonder how the disciples felt about this cross and resurrection? Were they shocked, confused, disappointed, afraid  …

I wonder how I might have felt if I’d heard Jesus say that he would die and rise again …

I wonder how it felt to have Jesus say, “Get behind me Satan” …

I wonder how it felt to hear Jesus say “Take up your cross … follow me … lose your life to save it?”

I wonder what my cross is … If Jesus’ cross was the Father’s plan for him, then what is the Father’s plan for me?


Do you have a list of God’s attributes and/or names displayed in your classroom? If not, then considering starting one this week. You may want to highlight


If you have used the Children’s Catechism Q/As for prior memory work, then refer to these –




If you have charted how Jesus shows himself to be both MAN and GOD as you read through Mark, then add phrases or events from today’s passage.


CREATIVE RESPONSE: Many worship services end with a charge and blessing to go back out into the world. Go back to the “drawing board” and erase what you had written at the beginning of class. Your goal now is


Jesus’ words in our text today seem pointed, direct, and challenging. Take up our cross? Lose our life to find it? The charge to love and serve the world may feel overwhelming. If we take them in the full light of scripture, then we must also receive his encouragement. Consider playing a song like one of these before brainstorming how your group may love and serve the world.

Or, if you have not “buried your alleluia” for Lent – try this one!

Jesus on the Cross

(written 2010)

It’s a normal late afternoon at the McGehee house. I’m lying on the couch, “watching” television with Ian. Truth be told, I have no idea what four year old “Caillou” is experiencing on the screen. Like our usual afternoon TV time, I’m daydreaming.

This table is directly at the end of my line of sight and after some random thought I see it.

Holy Family

Yep. It’s the often used Children’s Church mini “altar,” with the Holy Family, the cross and the candle. They are our picture of Jesus.

One day I walked through our house and saw this –

Jesus on the Cross

“What’s Joseph doing here?” I hollered out.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Four year old footsteps came quickly.

“That’s not Joseph,” Ian says, “That’s Jesus. Jesus on the cross.”

I chuckled.

“No. That’s Joseph, “ I said and put him back with Mary and baby.

Funny. It happened over and over. Days would pass and then once again I’d see Joseph up on the cross. First I put him back in place as soon as I caught the change. But after awhile, sometimes I’d leave him there.

It was a beautiful picture.

Doesn’t Jesus look like he’s won the battle standing on that cross? Doesn’t it just look like a picture of Genesis 3 – “He will crush his head.”?

But this afternoon I looked at those altar symbols and got what Ian was saying all along. To him, this was Jesus “on the cross.”

I like powerful Jesus. There’s a truth to that picture.

But that is not “Jesus on the cross.”

It’s time for that phrase to be interpreted for Ian this Easter season.

It is a harsh picture – wood, nails, blood.

But it is truth. And, it is beautiful.

There are many children at Apostles. I don’t know what Easter truth each is ready to hear. But this Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will walk through several Stations of the Cross during Children’s Church.

We will certainly

  • touch wood
  • hear nails hammered
  • see a torn robe

We will take home a handkerchief reminder of sweat and tears.

Children 4 years through 5th grade are invited this week. Please decide before worship service whether your child will attend or stay with you. Rod will invite them to come forward during the gospel anthem. We will stay for the gospel reading and then leave. They will return to you after the sermon, before baptisms.