Our tea kettle had stood mute since Ash Wednesday, its cheery hum hushed as if in contemplation of the season. When my daughters decided to give up drinks other than water during the 40 days of Lent last year, I am not sure if they quite realized it would mean parting with the most cherished moment of their day, afternoon tea.
For some time, it had been on my mind to surprise them with a special “Lenten tea.” Naturally, water replaced our usual hot refreshment, but the children were delighted to see the china set summoned from its sabbatical to grace our table once more. Plain water issuing from our lovely teapot served as a subtle reminder of the intrinsic beauty of sacrifice offered with love.
Our Lenten reading was taken from the Gospel of St. Mark, with each offering on the menu representing a fragment of the underlying story. The Gospel was so full of vivid imagery, I decided to prepare two separate teas for Lent. We read Chapter 14 on the first day and Chapter 15 the next. Listening to the Gospel story, the significance of each item on the table became clear to the children, creating a memory so vivid that they have already asked to repeat the tradition this year. Needless to say, I am only too happy to oblige.
This first menu, based primarily on Chapter 14, would even work well for Palm Sunday or Holy Thursday:
Lenten tea menu: Palm on the Road, Costly Oil, 30 Pieces of Silver, Unleavened Bread, Mount of Olives, The Cock Crows Twice, Gethsemane Figs, Judas’ Kiss, Clouds of Heaven, St. Peter’s Tears.
Recipes and suggestions
1. Palm on the Road (Mk. 11:1-11): Although this tea was created with Chapter 14 in mind, I could not resist starting off with the story of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ reception in Jerusalem. To create “Palm on the Road,” you will need canned heart of palm from the grocery store. Serve spread on a platter with toothpicks. Heart of palm has a delicate flavor children usually like.
2. Costly Oil (Mk. 14: 3-9): Flavored olive oil, homemade or store bought, preferably in an attractive bottle, works well to represent the expensive oil offered to Jesus so lovingly by the woman in Bethany. It is an appetizing accompaniment to the “Unleavened Bread.”
3. 30 Pieces of Silver (Mk. 14: 10-11; Mt. 26: 14-16): Any round savory suitable for teatime would suffice, but I served sliced Munster cheese cut into 30 circles with a biscuit cutter. The detail of the number 30 is not mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, so I have included an additional reference to the book of Matthew for the menu.
4. Unleavened Bread (Mk. 14: 12-22): Warmed pitas cut into wedges are perfect for dipping in flavored oil. This serves the dual purpose of representing the moment of the Last Supper in which Jesus identifies His betrayer, saying, “It is one of the 12, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” Mt. 14:20.
5. The Mount of Olives (Mk. 14: 26): This is perhaps the simplest item to prepare. Pile assorted olives on a plate to create the perfect “Mount of Olives.”
6. The Cock Crows Twice (Mk. 14: 27-31): My sympathy always goes out to St. Peter during this part of the story. He loves Jesus and sincerely believes he will not fail Him — what anguish he must have suffered to hear the rooster’s crow. If you are not serving this tea on a Friday, simple chicken tea sandwiches could symbolize this aspect of the Gospel story and make a perfect addition to a luncheon tea.
7. Gethsemane Figs (Mk. 14: 32-42): Dried or fresh figs are an appealing accompaniment to the other items on the table, or, if you do not mind sweets during Lent, provide a tray of Fig Newtons.
8. Judas’ Kiss (Mk. 14: 43-50): My children usually give up candy for Lent, but a single Hershey’s Kiss would work so well that I cannot help suggesting it. If you would prefer to avoid sugary treats this time of year, a bright red strawberry could serve as a “kiss” instead.
9. The Clouds of Heaven (Mk. 14: 62): Fresh whipped cream would compliment the strawberries or the Hershey’s Kiss. (Plain yogurt could replace whipped cream and be served with the strawberries if you are avoiding added sugars during Lent.)
10. St. Peter’s Tears (Mk. 14: 66-72): This may be unexpected, but I suggest offering each child a few peppermint Tic-Tacs to represent St. Peter’s tears of regret. It will punctuate the meal and help them to remember a pivotal moment and the final lines of Chapter 14.
Last year, as a finishing touch, I set the table with a purple cloth and palm cross centerpiece, writing the biblical passages on attractive colored notepaper alongside each dish. These signs and symbols helped the children understand and remember the story, encouraging them to drink in the Gospel long after the last cup and saucer were cleared away.
This tea would work as well in a classroom as it does in the home, and I hope God will bless you and the children in your life this holy season.