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At the Cross

Intergenerational Art for Lent

A few weeks before Lent, a team from our church got together to discuss how we could use art in our sanctuary to help us reflect more deeply on Jesus’ sacrifice. We have a history of displaying in our sanctuary and our gathering space various pieces of art that is created by teams of adults incorporating the work of children and teens in our congregation. It was our hope that we could once again come up with an art project that would include contributions from children and teens but not be childish.

What follows is a description of the journey we took from brainstorming and design to the final project, with the adjustments required along the way.

As one of our church’s members sat in the sanctuary, she found her attention drawn to the fourteen beautiful stained glass windows created by John VandenBerg in 1958. These windows add light and brightness to our sanctuary—a feature that we really enjoy but one that was in contrast to what we were trying to do with Lenten art. She suggested that we cover or hide the stained glass to dampen the light. As we discussed this idea with other church members, it became clear that completely covering the windows would not be received well by some in our congregation. We decided to cover six of the windows with semi-transparent “screens” that would cover the stained glass but still let the light come in.

Basic Construction

To make these screens we first needed to find large frames about 39 inches (100 cm) square—the size of our stained glass windows. Purchasing stretcher bars that size was too costly. A local hotel liquidator sells old frames cheap, but they didn’t have enough and their frames were the wrong size. So a church member made the frames from 1 x 2-inch (2.5 x 5 cm) furring strips (available at home improvement stores) spray-painted black.

We then experimented with silver and black window screening and discovered that the silver screening did little to dampen the light. One layer of black screen material also was too transparent and didn’t give the coverage we wanted, so we stapled two layers of black screening to the black frames. To our surprise, the two layers worked together to create a moiré pattern that added an interesting texture.

Adding Crosses

Next we created large crosses on each screen using netting, fabric, tulle, and burlap stapled to the back of the wood frames.

The vertical beam of the cross was created from several layers. As a base, we added four layers of black netting about 8 inches (20 cm) wide to all of the screens. On three screens we also added a reddish/brown print fabric, red burlap ribbon, and black tulle to remind us of Jesus’ blood. On the remaining three screens we added beige burlap ribbon, light brown print fabric, and violet tulle, to remind us of the wood of the cross and the season of Lent.

Black burlap ribbon was added to make a consistent horizontal beam on all six of the crosses.

When we had completed the large cross on one of the screens, we brought it into the sanctuary and placed it in front of the stained glass window. To our dismay, it didn’t work! The light coming through the window was so strong that you couldn’t even see the large cross on the screen. We needed to find a different place to hang our screens.

We tried a variety of places in the sanctuary including the choir loft, the back windows, the foyer, and the front wall, but concluded that the side walls between the windows worked best. The frame size fit the walls well and repeated the square shape of the stained glass windows. Since they no longer served as “screens” we started to refer to them as “panels.”

Embellishing the Panels

Because each panel focused on a different aspect of Lent, we added a different visual reminder of the crucifixion to each one. Last year our church held an intergenerational event that focused on the stations of the cross (for more information on intergenerational events, visit wecurriculum.org). We used those ideas as a jumping-off point for the theme of each of the six panels:

  • On the first panel we added green vine garland to represent the garden of Gethsemane.
  • For the second panel some of the children and teens in our congregation wrote prayers on pieces of brown felt. We had parts of Psalm 22 available and some chose to rewrite those words. Others wrote their own simple prayers like “I love God.” or “I lied to my mom. Forgive me.” or “Don’t be far from me.”
  • For the third panel we supplied nails and wire so kids and teens could wire two nails together to make a number of small crosses, which we attached to the panel with more wire
  • For the fourth panel we purchased chocolate coins to represent the coins that paid for Jesus’ betrayal and asked the children to carefully help us remove the chocolate from the gold and silver wrappers. (That part went quickly.) The children put the coin wrappers on 8-inch (20-cm) squares of black netting. By bringing the corners of the netting together and tying them with multicolored yarn, we made coin bags, which we attached to the panels with wire.
  • For the fifth panel it was suggested that we incorporate words. Instead of using the words that Jesus said on the cross, which was our first thought, we wanted the panel to represent us. We chose to use the words that the people said when Jesus was on the cross. We printed those words in white crayon on the screen.
  • On panel 6 we asked an adult to paint a rooster with oil pastels.

We hung the finished panels on the walls with 3M Command™ strips, which held the panels’ weight without damaging the walls.

Materials

  • Black spray paint
  • 1 x 2 x 8-inch (2.5 x 5 x 20 cm) furring strips, two per panel
  • 48 x 84-inch (1.2 x 2 m) charcoal-colored fiberglass screen (1 for each frame)
  • Four yards black netting—cut into 32 x 44-inch (81 x 111 cm) pieces
  • Fabric strips, 4 x 44 inches (10 x 110 cm) in a red/brown print and a multi-shade brown print
  • Burlap ribbon 6 inches (15 cm) wide in red, natural, and black
  • Two and one-half yards (2.3 m) violet and black tulle, cut into 27 x 44-inch (69 x 111 cm) pieces
  • Hardcut masonry nails, size 8D (approx. 2.5 inches or 6.5 cm)
  • Brown felt
  • Permanent markers that write on brown felt
  • 32-, 28- and 20-weight wire in black, red, and deep purple (from the jewelry aisle of a craft store)
  • Three yards (3 m) of multi-colored yarn
  • Chocolate coins wrapped in gold and silver foil
  • Artificial vine garland
  • White crayon
  • Oil pastels
  • Staple gun and staples
  • 3M Command™ strips for hanging the panels

Panel Descriptions

The response to these panels was so positive that we were asked to offer a Sanctuary Artwalk after a Sunday morning worship service.

The following descriptions were posted by each panel and printed in a bulletin handout.

“The Garden” (Panel 1)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, and artificial greenery

Description: The garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove. According to Matthew 26 it was there that Christ was left alone to pray. Alone. He asked his disciples to pray with him but they were worn out and too tired. Have you ever been too tired to pray? Woken up disgusted with yourself for failing again? The dictionary defines the olive as “a bitter fruit with a hard, small pit.” I wonder if that was the feeling of the kiss Judas gave to Jesus in the garden.

Artists: Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson, Amy Luce

“Judas Hole” (Panel 2)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, cotton ribbon, and gold foil

Description: Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15). How much is that? Scholars guess that it would be around four months’ wages, or close to $13,000 today. Little is known about the circumstances that led to Judas’s decision. It would be easy to dismiss his decision as something only a rotten person could do. But what truth are we to learn about ourselves? Matthew points out that after Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse (Matt. 27:3). Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg calls our attention to another connection with the thirty pieces of silver. It was the price of a slave. Were not all of us condemned to die until Jesus paid our price?

Artists: Children of 14th Street, Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson

“Royalty” (Panel 3)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, and nails

Description: The crown here is created from large, dirty nails wired together. The smudges rubbed off onto our fingers as we created this piece. Hardly fitting for a King. Yet isn’t that what our sins do? Don’t they leave their stain everywhere and filter into the very crevices of our lives? It is not until we fasten the nails into Christ that we are secure.

Artists: Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson, Amy Luce

“Small Crosses” (Panel 4)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, and felt

Description: This screen displays many crosses. There are small ones, like prayers silently spoken each day: “Lord, I am sorry for lying.” “I didn’t mean that.” “I could have said that differently.” The larger cross that covers all of our sins shapes each one of us. What would your own cross read?

Artists: Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson, Amy Luce

“Crucifying Words” (Panel 5)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, crayon, and nails

Description: In this piece the viewer is encouraged to read and think about the words the crowd shouted at Jesus while he was crucified. We have all experienced being a part of a crowd and getting caught up with the chants and jeers. Think of the last sporting event you attended. By bringing to mind the attitudes and words spoken at the cross, Christ places each one of us there. We too have spoken words that cut, jeer, or nail Christ to the cross. Did Christ not say, “In as much as you have done it unto them, you have done it unto me?”

Artists: Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson, Amy Luce

“Scattered Sheep” (Panel 6)

Materials: Screen, netting, burlap, fabric, tulle, wire, cotton ribbon, oil pastels

Description: In this screen the rooster is overtaken by the cross. The reds fight with each other to create tension and drama. In Zechariah 13:7 it was prophesied, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter said, “I never will deny you!” The third time he was asked, “Aren’t you one of them?” he swore, “I don’t know the man!” (Matt. 26:74). Like Peter, Christ knows us so well that even our failings are predictable. Take them to the cross.

Artists: Laura Keeley, Amy Peterson, Amy Luce