Jesus Jenga – A Passover to Easter Story-Game

Jesus Jenga

Planning activities for our life group always provides many opportunities for creativity- we have a family life group, with a mean of young boys between 9 and 13 years old and only a few other “outliers” on the age spectrum. The best activities are in short spurts with lots of physical activity and interaction.

Last night, we played a game which I, at least, enjoyed a lot (and it didn’t seem like my kids were just humouring me when they said they had had fun!). Having bounced the basic idea off a colleague, she suggested I write the game up for other people to be able to use for this weekend. Thankfully, I had actually written a short “script” (because I tend to get a little excited and intense around stories involving Jesus and I might have left a clutch of boys wondering what had happened to them 4 hours later if I didn’t stick to a plan!).

It is not a complete, water-tight theological work and definitely would need to be adapted according to age groups with more or less detail, discussion, participation, etc, but it was fun and I think it might be fun for others in helping kids reflect on this weekend, and so I offer it. We also didn’t follow it word for word (at all!), but skipped around and responded to what was coming from the kids. But it may help for a sense of overall flow. It would be really fun to hear how others would do it, what you would improve on, and what “lists” you came up with in your group (you’ll see what I mean). Here goes:

You will need:

  • Some Jenga blocks (or, if you don’t have access to those, any things you can “stack” – tin cans, blocks, maybe cards, if you are good at building with them!)
  • Colour one of the Jenga blocks in so it stands out (this is going to represent God/Jesus)
  • A table and some space
Exercise 1: Get the kids to build a human pyramid (we had to imagine it because it was pouring with rain outside). Help them reflect on what people at the different levels of the pyramid feel. Is it fun for the people at the bottom? How would they feel if they were always carrying this weight? How does the person on the top feel? Is it fun, is it scary? What would the person at the top feel if the bottom became unstable? Scared, angry, anxious?
Exercise 2: Get the kids to stand in a line behind each other. Then get the line to “bend” so they are now standing in a circle, each facing the back of the person in front of them. They must move in really tightly to each other and then, all the same time, sit on the lap of the person behind them. (This is fun when it works: everyone ends up sitting and bearing each others’ weight, without anyone bearing it all…it is also fun when it doesn’t work, but may not make the point for the rest of the game!). Ask the kids how they feel: who feels like they’re carrying all the weight? Who feels like they’re heavier than everyone else? Who waited to see if others sat before they did? Did it feel risky?
(The idea is that the kids like the circle better than the pyramid…this may or may not happen!! Good luck!)
The Story: Now sitting around the table, set up a Jenga stack while you explain to the kids that the story begins in Egypt long ago – where the Hebrew people were slaves in a land full of pyramids: some of the pyramids were constructed out of brick and clay, some of them were in big piles of THINGS which people hoarded – money, goods, land. The more things they had, the more important they felt. some of them were in big piles of people – people who stepped all over other people to get their way and build their power. Some people were more important and others were less. The brick and clay pyramids were built by thousands and thousands of these “less important people” – mostly slaves. some of the pyramids were built on lies about who could speak to God, who God loved (or “the gods”). The people who had less things, were poor, or sick or slaves – anyone who was at the bottom of the people pile – believed they were less important to God, and even that God had put them at the bottom of the pyramid. Everyone believed the ones at the top of the pile were closer to the gods. And the spiritual rulers told everyone that this is how the gods wanted it. And the army made sure that everyone knew this was how it would stay! There was brokenness between people, between the people and God and even within themselves. And God felt very far away… (Introduce the “Jesus block” and put it far away from the bottom of the pyramid…)
As you move into the next part of the story, dismantle the tower (not piece by piece yet – just take it down really quickly) and place the pieces in a circle, with the Jesus piece in the middle as the concept is introduced. Continue to make little piles and dismantle them according to the flow of the story (you’ll see)… God then freed the Hebrew people – took them out of the pyramid land and into the desert, where God taught them about how to love each other and live together well. God hated pyramids – relationships, stuff, structures and beliefs which made some people feel more important, some feel less, gave some people more things and took away everything from others and made people in general believe that God was far away, and was only looking after the people who were at the top of the pile. God said: “NO! – you will be my people and I will be your God. I will live with you and I will show you how to live together.” And God guided the people with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – they couldn’t collect big piles of things because, as soon as they could start, they were on the move again. And God gave them food every day – and whenever they tried to collect it and build piles with it – it would go ROTTEN! And people learned to live with enough. And God taught the people about sabbath, and rest and celebrating each other, and stepping away from their dreams of big piles of stuff and people and power. Even the animals and land would rest every seventh day and every seventh year. And God taught the people new laws: laws which would make sure that when some people were in trouble, no one built pyramids on them, but everyone shared what they had. If people got into trouble and piles started to form because of debt, or drought or death or other trouble, there were laws which would make sure things wouldn’t stay that way: Widows, orphans, the foreigner and the poor would be cared for All debt would be cancelled every 7 years so no one became a slave of money or and no one could build people piles on them And if any piles of people or land or money did build up, every 50th year, ALL piles would be wiped out: land would be redistributed, debt would disappear and, if people had had to work for others as servants or slaves in troubled times, everyone…yes, EVERYONE, would be set free. The people would love each other, love God and know they were each and all loved by God. And people would know that God was always with them.
(Now you start building up the Jenga pile again, as you carry on the story. Keep the “Jesus piece” out of the pile for now ) But people didn’t listen to God. Even though they had hated being at the bottom of the pyramid, they still wanted to build pyramids on top of other people, and even over themselves. They looked at the piles other countries built up and decided they wanted piles too. They set up Kings over themselves, they neglected the laws and built pyramids on other people. And other countries around them would see a pile starting and think, “What a lovely pile to build on” and armies would come and attack them, capture them, take them away as slaves and build pyramids on them. (Remember to keep building the jenga pile as you show nations on top of Israel and Judah) As this went on, the people started to dream about a King who would come and save them from all these pyramids above them. And, even though prophets talked about how people were treating each other and told them they couldn’t build pyramids on people, the people still hoped the King would come and would sit at the top of a pyramid and put them at the top too. And there was brokenness between people, between the people and God and even within themselves. And God felt very far away… By the time Jesus was about to born, Judah was a land full of pyramids. And the spiritual rulers said this is how God wanted it. And the strong people and armies made sure people knew this was how it was going to stay. (By now you have a proper pile, ready to start deconstructing)
At this point, you can explain some of who would be on the bottom of the pile, and who would be on the top of the pile but, more importantly, get the kids to come up with the list and “structure” themselves. Here is a list of some groups of people you might want to include, but it doesn’t have to huge – you can also explain things later as you go along Slaves Women Gentiles People who were sick, lame, blind, deaf Farmers Merchants Romans Priests Pharisees Tax Collectors Children Foreigners Samaritans People with leprosy (these could be outside of the entire “system”)
And God seemed very far away. Even the temple had courtyards and walls and curtains which divided people from God. And then an angel came to a young girl and told her that she would give birth to the long awaited King…and His name would be “Emmanuel” – God with us! What GOOD NEWS already!! And although the people had hoped and expected that the King would be born at the top of the pile, there were a few surprises in store…. (Now take the “Jesus piece” and insert it into the pile. Ask the kids where Jesus would have fitted in to the pile. It is probably important to note that Jesus wasn’t at the very bottom of the pile – if He had been a woman, He would not have been allowed to learn, let alone teach others; had he had a disability, people would have considered Him punished by God and not listened to his words, etc. So he had to be a few layers up in the pile, but watch what He does with His position)
(From now on, we are going to list a whole lot of ways Jesus began dismantling this pyramid world. I will try and put each person or category into bold so it is clear. As each one is mentioned – and as the kids remember stories of their own – take a jenga piece out of the pile and start putting them into a circle to depict a new community. Watch how the pile begins to wobble.) The new King was not born in a palace, but in a stable, in a strange town And the angels celebrated the news of His birth with shepherds in the fields And foreigners came to bring Him gifts And He lived as a refugee in Egypt (!) for the first few years of His life And then He grew up and he started telling people about another Kingdom – a Kingdom that was different to the one filled with pyramids and people who built piles of people. And He said He had come to proclaim: good news to the poor freedom for the prisoners recovery of sight for the blind And to set the oppressed free and And to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (the Jubilee! The year of freedom from all debt and slavery and the restoration of the land to the people) (You could maybe even thump the bottom of the table here and make the whole pile wobble! I always think of the Jubilee like this!) And He told stories about this Kingdom and he said the Kingdom was a like: A shepherd looking for a sheep A woman looking for a coin A farmer sowing seed A fisherman catching fish A merchant buying land And there were stories where the SAMARITANS were the good guys! And He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors And He spoke to women (even Samaritan and Syrophoenician women!) And He healed the blind, the lame and touched those with leprosy (and then healed them!) And He healed little girls And He drove out demons, setting people free And He told the people that God prefered the widow’s two coins to the Pharisee’s bags of gold, and told the Pharisees they were vipers and hypocrites! (Because who was it who had been teaching people about human pyramids and those closer to and further away from God?) And just when people thought He was ANTI those on the top: He healed a the servant of a Roman Centurion (and commended the Roman’s faith!) and He invited Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, to come down And He told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, that he could be born again (remember to keep taking the pieces out of the jenga pile and placing them in the new community) He preached to those in the towns and villages, and to those in the city. (you can gesture to the bottom and top of the pile respectively) EVERYONE was welcome in this Kingdom
(Show all the time how pieces come out of the pyramid, and how it is getting wobbly and very dangerous for those on the top! I kind of think, if the pile could handle it, that each of Jesus’ statements coming up and just before this should be matched with a big “thump” under the table, but only if the pile can still hold!) And if this didn’t cause the pile to wobble enough: He said, “Call no one Father – except your Father in Heaven” (at a time when Caesar had declared himself Father to all) (and He said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”!!!) and He told people they had all been created in the image of God (when only Caesar himself could claim that fame) and He said “Give your coins to Caesar, but give yourSELVES to God” And, when His disciples asked if they could have positions of power in the Kingdom, He said, “You have seen how other people like to build pyramids on top of each other, but it’s not like that in the Kingdom.” And He said “If you want to be great in the Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all”
And the people near the top said, “We need to kill him” And He said, “Don’t fear those who can kill you – rather fear the One who decides what becomes of you after death” And they arrested Him and beat Him And He said, “I could call down an army of angels, but I choose not to” And He said, “If my Kingdom were like yours, my men would be fighting with swords — but my Kingdom is not like that.”   And they nailed Him to a cross And He said, “Father, forgive them” (And God said, “Of course. That is what We do.”)   And He poured Himself out And He died.
Now, at this point, I run out of a prepared script. Our story ended with the Jesus piece disappearing right down under the table, to the depths of the bottom of the pyramid and then total mayhem as the theme from “Rocky” began, with the beat being thumped out on the table (and by the Jesus piece under the table) and boys begging to be the one who could explode the rest of the pyramid…and the explosion was epic!

I think that was the best ending to the story and the game and I may have ruined it a little by trying to sum up exactly what this all meant! (especially now that each boy wanted a turn to explode a pyramid!). But, depending on the age of the group you’re doing this with, you can discuss how Jesus overthrew and broke the power of sin and death, that satan could no longer keep people trapped in spiritual, relational, economic, political pyramids, how a new Kingdom was inaugurated and “stamped” with God’s authority (Jesus was resurrected – it was God saying, “YES! To everything He said.”) and that people could be welcomed into this new way of living, loving, and belonging.

You could also (again, depending on the group!) discuss what sort of pyramids we see in the world around us today and who would fit where in these structures. And then discuss what it means to be Jesus-followers and do the things He did and say the things He said, and dismantle pyramids and pour ourselves out for others, and live in this new community.

Let us know how it goes!

Have a precious time this weekend celebrating this incredible gift with your families and friends and those on the margins of your world, and the strangers in your midst!

Christ is risen indeed!

Written by Wendy Lewin

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