In the days leading up to Easter weekend, the gymnasium at Timothy Christian School in Williamsburg was transformed into a sacred space that welcomed community members to experience walking through a replica of the tabernacle.
Before opening its doors to the community, students and staff gathered in the tabernacle for a dedication ceremony declaring it as a holy place dedicated to God. As part of the ceremony Grade 1 and 2 students brought a container of water from a special place to them and filled the basin and Grade 5 students placed unleavened bread they made on the table of showbread.
That evening (March 28th) and the following morning community members came to experience the tabernacle at the school’s Celebration of Learning events that centred on the question, “Where do you see Jesus in the tabernacle?”
When guests arrived, there was time to visit students in their classrooms to view and discuss their work or tour the tabernacle with Grade 8 students positioned as guides at various points.
About 40 minutes into the event, eight students lined the hallway and played trumpet calls to let guests know it was time to enter the tabernacle for a program. One of the tabernacle’s outer court walls was drawn up and chairs were placed so guests could view the students on stage.
There was a sense of reverence as the worship opened and all 71 students participated. They took turns sharing insight from their research and encouraged everyone to join into worship songs that included some students on harp, trumpets and ukuleles.
Pastor Joe Groeneveld from the Christian Reformed Church in Williamsburg shared a message about the meaning of the tabernacle and its story of redemption. Guests were welcome to stay afterwards and continue their tours, enjoy refreshments and take home a piece of wood with a twine cross on it.
The idea to build a tabernacle formed last year when Pastor James Tripp, who teaches Bible to the Grade 7 and 8 students, completed a small-scale tabernacle with his students. He brought his vision to the staff to create a larger one in the gym, and through discussion it became the school’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) activity.
This year, the staff decided to host a worship experience in conjunction with Easter with the driving question, “Where do you see Jesus in the tabernacle?” Students were challenged to draw parallels from the Old Testament dwelling used by Israelites to be closer to God and Jesus in the New Testament.
“It’s all been very surprising because we didn’t know what it was going to be like, we’ve never done something like this,” said principal Heidi Blokland.
Teachers decided on the focus areas for the various grades. Kindergarten students looked at sheep and how Jesus is our shepherd. Grade 1 and 2 classes learned about water in the Bible and each created a lap book and Lego build illustrating a story.
Grade 3-5 students considered bread and its use in the Bible, with younger students looking at bread stories in the Bible in a literal sense and Grade 4 and 5 students looking at the symbolism of bread.
Senior students participated in many aspects including helping to build and decorate the tabernacle as well as researching and writing about an Old Testament furnishing and its connection to Jesus. Their research will be compiled into a book.
Grade 7 and 8 students also looked at worship and dug into Numbers 10, which talks about making trumpets out of hammered silver to call the Israelites for worship or for a practical reminder. Students could choose to learn the trumpet or harp, which the school rented for the month, or make a music video.
“It’s been neat to see the enthusiasm and the excitement about the students and having the new instruments,” said music teacher Katrina Geertsema.
As students started to dive into their research the depth and variety of perspectives made for exciting learning. From mathematics to literature to music, this scripture-based project was brought into many subjects. The project provided ways to look at Bible stories from a different angle.
Cathy Dentz, who has two children attending the school, told the OACS News Service she loved seeing the children so engaged in their projects. In the kindergarten room students used a story board with sheep cutouts on popsicle sticks to share the parable of the lost sheep.
“It was so exciting to see them talk about the numbers, talk about the parable, and explain the parable in their own words with their popsicle sticks,” Mrs. Dentz said. “You could tell they had really internalized what they had learned.”
There was a lot of extra learning that is unanticipated, Grade 7/8 teacher Marlene Luchies said—noting this is often the case with a PBL activity. The Grade 7 students, for example, researched an Old Testament character and looked at where is the Jesus story in that person’s life. This was an abstract and difficult process for the students, and they had to learn how to do research, find credible sources, how to organize information and source it.
“Students are taking this and it’s becoming part of their core, they are not forgetting this,” Mrs. Luchies said. “The way even younger students are able to communicate and understand the bigger picture here has been amazing.”
The school resourced various materials to symbolize different areas of the tabernacle, such as apple tree stakes for posts, brown paper for the courtyard walls and a gazebo tent for the Holy of Holies.
Visitors were encouraged to tour the tabernacle. Grade 8 students were positioned at different furniture pieces to explain the Old Testament significance and the connection they made to seeing Jesus (you can experience this through the video link at the bottom of this story). A former parent at the school is a woodworker who made many of the furnishings, and students worked to paint and decorate them.
“This group of students really are taking their faith very seriously and you can hear that in how they speak to you about it,” Mrs. Luchies said. “You can hear they really understand the correlation between the Old Testament and into the New Testament.”
Starting at the gate, Laura described the gate’s history and how the furniture inside the tabernacle was laid out in the shape of a cross. She shared how Israelites travelled to the tabernacle and went through many steps to ask for forgiveness of sins, and in the New Testament Jesus died for us and is our way to heaven.
Inside the courtyard, Kaylin described the bronze laver where the Israelites would wash their hands and feet, sharing that the washing foretells how Jesus would wash away our sins.
The tabernacle’s holy place was represented with a tent with four cloths hanging down symbolizing the different layers on the ceiling of fine twined linen, goat hair, ram skins dyed red and badger skins. Sienna stood inside the holy place at the table of showbread with 12 loaves of unleavened bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel. She shared how only priests could come into the holy place, but when Jesus came he provided a way for everyone to have a relationship with God.
Noah shared the school’s version of the menorah and its parallels to Jesus coming into a dark world and lighting it up. Past the veil, Naomi stood in the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant where only the high priest would have entered. She made the connection of the cross tearing the veil, with everyone being able to go directly to God and Jesus with requests.
When visitors entered the Holy of Holies, many were emotional. “Someone at one point hugged me and told me they were so overwhelmed by what had happened to them and it meant something to them,” said Naomi. “I realized this is important to people, and it touched them.”
The project also brought the tabernacle to life, she said. “Living a Christian life, you often forget how much Jesus has done for you and this is a new reminder that Jesus has done this for me,” Naomi said.
Laura said it was challenging to draw the connection between the Old and New Testaments but that made it more meaningful. She enjoyed giving the tours and seeing people’s reactions to hear something for the first time.
“This was an experience for me, too, I learned from it and there’s so much more I could tell people,” Laura said.
Mr. Tripp saw the project’s value through the takeaways students experienced. “This is not just a school assignment, this is a life-giving project and I think that’s where the change happens. It goes from a textbook—I’ve got to learn it—to this changes people’s lives,” he said.
As people were leaving the event, many were emotionally moved and some expressed that it was something that they needed to continue thinking about.
“One person said to me, ‘Its not everyday you are confronted by what grace looks like,’” Mr. Tripp said. “This is a real experience and to me that’s what will keep students growing in their faith,” he said. “Kids will never forget leading other people through the tabernacle.”
The tabernacle also impacted teachers such as Mrs. Luchies, who said the project made her Easter “completely different” this year, seeing it in a new light.
A cross on a wall asked people to post with a sticky note where they saw Jesus in the tabernacle, and among the responses were: When you experience the Tabernacle you see Jesus, I see Jesus in the children’s music, and I see Jesus in the veil torn in two.
The success of the event came from being intentional about focusing on God. At the beginning of the week teachers talked with their students about the tabernacle project and what made it sacred and special, and the desire to create a place where they could experience God.
“It has been an educationally driven project, but the focus has always been this is about Jesus, this is about God’s story and this is what the focus is for our presentation,” Mrs. Luchies said.
As people left the rural school into their Easter weekend the tabernacle experience shared new ways to look at our relationship with God and Jesus. Hearing the insights from students made it more meaningful.
Mrs. Blokland appreciated how much learning took place. “It has been excellent,” she said. “It just felt holy.”
Click here to view a video showing a tour of the tabernacle.