Every year in our journey through the Bible and the Mass, the kids learn about All the Arks. Like everything else in our Salvation History curriculum, I cover them as they come up in the Bible. But the theme of Arks teaches a useful Catholic lesson that can be covered in a single class period like this:
Prelude: the Garden of Eden.
Per Genesis 2 and 3, Eden isn’t the whole of the Earth, but a distinct, separate place:
“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.”
[I draw a quick picture of God, Adam, Eve, the Tree, and the Snake; and show them contained within the Garden.]
God dwelled in Eden in some physical way with Adam and Eve:
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
So even though Eden is not an ark, it prefigures arks:
a. God is present in Eden in a way that he is not present outside of Eden. In more general terms, what’s inside of Eden is better than what’s outside of Eden.
b. Eden is relatively small, and holds precious things inside: God’s Stuff. That is, the Tree of Life; and Adam and Eve before they sinned.
c. It’s protective.
1. Noah’s Ark
“God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.”
[I draw the Ark with people and animals sticking their heads out.]
Right off I ask the kids what an ark is. Someone will say a boat, which is the starting point for looking at what an ark is, because it’s not always a boat. In the case of Noah’s ark and Moses’ ark, the Hebrew word is tebah. Tebahis only used in these two cases, but no-one is sure of its meaning. To keep it simple in class, I say tebah means container. And if the container floats, then it must be a boat. Then we discuss the Ark’s ‘arkiness’. It contains God’s Stuff, precious things, i.e., Noah’s family and the animals; things are better inside the Ark than outside; it protects; and it separates the relatively good inside from the sinful outside.
2. Moses’ Ark
Exodus 2 says “1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And when she could hide him no longer she took for him an ark (Hebrew- tebah) made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river’s brink. 4 And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. 5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. 6 When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying.”
The kids will jump all over this Ark because they already know about Noah’s Ark: baby Moses is precious; he’s God’s Stuff; he’s better than what’s outside of the Ark; he’s protected. The Ark floats so it must be…a boat, yes, but in general an ark is just a container.
3. The Ark of the Covenant
Before getting to this Ark, the kids have to know about Moses and the Israelites’ exiting Egypt, and becoming nomads for 40 years. Being nomads, they live in tents. So if God is going to dwell among his people again, he needs a tent, too; what in Latin is called a tabernaculum, a little house:
“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”
[I draw the outline of a big tent, just walls and roof. Then as I continue to read, inside the tent I draw the ark; the rings and poles; the seat; and the cherubim and their wings.]
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. 12 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”
Now we learn the contents of the Ark: a pot of Manna, Aaron’s staff, and the Commandments. The kids once again can explain the arkiness: only God’s Stuff goes inside; the Stuff is protected; it’s better than what’s outside the Ark; it’s separated from the sinful stuff outside. If your kids don’t know about the contents already, you’ll have to give them some background before you start on the scripture bits above. We learn a new Hebrew word arown, which means chest, and the word always used to denote the Ark of the Covenant. I point out it’s another word for container, kind of like tebah. (You can skip the Hebrew if you want to.)
Time permitting, I’ll draw how Solomon’s Temple placed the Ark in a cube-shaped Holy of Holies, a box-in-a-box concept of sorts.
4. The Ark of the New Covenant
[I draw Mary and Gabriel]
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, * the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. …And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
[I add a dot to Mary’s tummy.]
Through guided discussion/ Q&A the kids sort out:
The dot is Jesus. Jesus is contained in Mary’s tummy. He will dwell in Mary for 9 months. [I show Jesus growing bigger inside Mary.] Jesus is way precious, more valuable than just God’s Stuff- Jesus is God Himself. If Mary is containing Jesus then we might refer to her as an Ark, the Ark of the New Covenant. Because Jesus has no sin, and lives in Mary, connects to her through his belly-button, Mary has no sin either. She and Jesus are separate from the rest of the world in that way.
5. The Tabernacle
[I draw the east end of a church interior, basically an altar, some candles, and a big crucifix.]
I get the kids to quickly tell me Jesus’ story in stages: Jesus was born, became an adult, founded his church, died for our sins, resurrected, and went to heaven. But Mary’s not the last Ark, nowadays we have one in every church. If the kids can’t guess what it is, I re-read this bit of Exodus: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” They then can connect the tabernacle, the little house in that Exodus passage, to the tabernacle in the Church. [I add the tabernacle to the picture, and always show it as a little house with a gable-roof.] We see how they are related, and also how like Mary, the tabernacle isn’t just a container for God’s stuff, but a little house for Jesus to dwell in. It’s close to how God and Adam and Eve dwelled in Eden together, but Jesus doesn’t talk or walk around in the afternoon like God did in Eden. If a child asks why we don’t call the Tabernacle an Ark, I remind them a house is a container that people live in. So Jesus’ container is called a tabernaculum, Latin for little house, or tent, like the one God dwelled in among the nomadic Israelites.
6. The New Jerusalem
But remember as we say at Mass, the Church is a pilgrim church, which means it’s on a journey. At the Second Coming, we will have reached our destination, and we won’t have the Church anymore. In the Book of Revelation, St. John says: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.”
So what sort of place will this be, where a few billion of us (one hopes) will dwell with God? Let’s see: “And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal…The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man’s measure, that is, an angels. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass.”
Kids don’t know what a stadion is. Now I draw and talk, “Let’s see how big this New Jerusalem is…a stadion is is about 1/10 of a mile long, so it’s about one thousand two hundred miles long…and this dot is a person…and “its length and breadth and height are equal” like so…and the kids figure out as I draw that the New Jerusalem is a huge cube. Why, it’s just a big container, a huge…Ark! So at the end of our long journey from Eden, we’ll live with God in a big Ark, where all of us can fit. We won’t be separated from God ever again.
Then we do a quick review of all the Arks. If the board is big enough I don’t have to erase, so I can point to all of them. And I remind the children to always think of all the Arks whenever they think of one of them.
8-minute audio here.