a sermon preached on Resurrection Sunday 2019 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God wants our minds and our hearts. He wants our bodies and our souls. We see from Genesis to Revelation that there is not one square inch of the man, or his life, over which Christ does not cry “Mine!” This has been true since our first breath, and it will be true until our last breath, and beyond. God did not become man so that we would simply live upright and moral lives; God became man so that everything about man would be subject to his light and power. This is the story of Christ’s resurrection, the truth we proclaim at Easter: there is nothing in the human experience, throughout any civilization, including death, which Christ does not rise above and claim as his own. It is not enough to give him our faith but not our finances. It is not enough to give him our Easter morning but not our summer evening. There are two options with everything in our lives: either they are given to Christ and made alive in Christ, or we subject them to the grave of our own desires where they waste as a rotting corpse.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Colossians 3:1-4
Given this is my first Easter as a priest, I have decided that each Easter, as long as God would have me in this role, I want to consider how the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes our understanding of a particular human endeavor or idea. That is to say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is massive. It is important. Christ’s resurrection is one of those religious claims that, if false, ought to be among the chief objects of great ridicule. But if it is true, it changes everything. Just as there is nothing on this earth the rising sun does not influence day in and day out, so there is nothing the risen Son of God does not inform, day in and day out. So, each Easter, starting today, I’d like to explore how the truth of Christ’s resurrection ought to inform our understanding of, let’s say, education, or art, or architecture, or science, or our bodies, or war, or politics, or medicine. Today, I have titled this first sermon “Education and the Resurrection.”
Before you think that this is a sermon just for teachers or principals, I’d like you to consider that education is something in which all people engage. Education is not simply going to a school, sitting in a classroom, learning, and getting credits toward some kind of diploma or degree. Education is one of a human’s greatest and most natural pursuits. Education is wonder. It is curiosity. It is the pursuit of answers to questions, no matter how big or small. It is leading and being led to the truth about any subject whatsoever. Education is person formation. A teacher can be a parent, a boss, a friend, a book, a building, or the natural world. In this way, man is always being educated. There are three important lessons the resurrection of Christ has to teach us concerning education.
First, the resurrection of Christ is the ideal of education. To understand what the resurrection and education have to do with one another, we only need to look at the word education. Education comes from the Latin word educere, which means to lead, draw out, take out, raise up, or erect. Let that sink in for a moment.
Some philosophers in history will say that education is where we draw out of the child what is naturally in there from birth. In one sense, this may be true. Each person is born with natural abilities, natural endowments, even a natural and good image of God in their person. At the same time, however, the Christian doctrine of sin warns us against drawing from what is in the human heart and the human mind. We may very well draw something out of a child through education, but because that child is fallen and depraved, what we draw out may be something which is harmful, dangerous and full of death and decay.
But there is an alternate understanding of this drawing out, which St. Thomas Aquinas depicts in his prayer before study:
“A Prayer Before Study” adopted from Thomas Aquinas
O God, Creator of all that is, from the treasures of Your wisdom, You have arrayed the universe with marvelous order, and now govern with skill and might. You are the true fount of light and wisdom.
Pour forth a ray of your brightness into the darkened places of our minds; Disperse from our souls of the two fold darkness into which we were born: sin and ignorance. Grant to each of us deftness of hand, keenness of mind, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence in speech.
May you guide the beginning of our work, direct its progress, and bring it to completion. You who bring all that is good to its proper end, now prosper the work of our hands, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
What we see here is not that education is drawing something out of the person so much as it is drawing the person out of something, namely the “two-fold darkness into which we were born: sin and ignorance.” In this way, education is nothing more than our longing for the resurrection. It is our longing to be led out of the cold and dark grave of our fallen humanity, Adam’s sepulcher.
What is the greatest moment in history of a person being led out of something? A prison? A hard situation? Great ignorance? Great danger? Even Lazarus, who was led out of the grave by Christ, was not led out of something as miraculous as Christ’s resurrection. No mouth of a lion or slavery in Egypt was as dark as the grave which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. Education is our great pursuit to find Easter each day; it is our hope that the resurrection indeed was true and will be true of us. Each time a person learns something, each time a person is led out of the dark tomb of their sin or ignorance, there is something of a daily Easter happening in their heart and mind and soul. These moments we call “education” are but scattered rays of that first great Easter morning, when God bursts forth from the greatest darkness, the greatest weight of sin, the greatest death in human history, into glorious light. If we want to understand what education is, we must understand that the resurrection of Christ is the ideal of all educational pursuits.
Second, as it was with the resurrection, only the power of God can make education effectual. This is one of the great claims which makes Christ’s resurrection so miraculous. What else could have made this happen? What else, but the power of God, could have brought this miracle into being. Jesus, the mocked king of the Jews, was pierced and brought off the cross to ensure he was dead. Guards were placed around the tomb, to ensure a hoax didn’t take place. None of these could stop the mighty power of God. And so it was the mighty power of God which brought forth Christ’s resurrection.
This then causes us to ask the same question of education. If education is a desire to be led out, to be, in a sense daily resurrected, moment by moment resurrected, then by what or whose power does that resurrection happen? It is only by the power of God that education becomes a great good, a great and joyful bursting forth of our humanity into divine light. The common educator knows this better than perhaps she realizes: what is it, even while employing all the latest methods and gadgets, which causes a truth to flame into a child’s mind? What causes the penny to drop? What determines when it will drop? It is only the loving power and favor of God which causes a truth to be identified in a person’s mind, whether about science or art or biology or religion. This is why learning is such a sacred and even sacramental endeavor. It is only the power and grace of God in the great economy of education which has any transactional merit. So it was with Christ’s miraculous resurrection, and so it is with education.
Third, but for the resurrection, education would be either futile and irrelevant or of great harm. The final point to be made on this topic is less metaphorical than the previous two. It is one thing to say that education is a kind of deep pursuit of the resurrection and only happens by the power of God. It is quite another to say that but for the historical resurrection, education is either futile and irrelevant or of great harm. That is to say, unless the resurrection happened, all learning and all of life is of no worth at all. Flannery O’Connor, in her popular story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” puts some of the truest words in the mouth of a vile man:
“ ‘Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,’ he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.”
This is indeed the great claim of the Christ’s resurrection: because of it, because by it Jesus proved to be God, all things matter, and so we must ‘set our minds on things that are above,’ and we must set all things on this earth in a heavenward path. If Christ’s resurrection did not happen, then there is “no pleasure but meanness.’ Killing a man would be no different than giving him a cup of water, except that the first would provide us with much more earthly pleasure. And so education, as expansive as it is, falls either under this great liberation, slavery to Christ, or great condemnation, slavery to nihilism. But thanks be to God that his story is one of freedom in Christ. We are free to educate and to learn. Not because the local government gives us permission. Not because the state government writes it into law. Not because the federal government requires the same. Not because our human will has overcome the opposite. Not because my personal liberties make it the case. No, none of these. We are free to educate and learn because Jesus rose from the dead. Without this, not only does education and learning become irrelevant, education and learning would be a great harm.
We then come to this table, a table which is one of the greatest and most effectual classrooms in human history. At this table are all the symbols and lessons a man needs to learn the greatest truth he seeks, the greatest truth every textbook, poem, syllabus, and school tries to tell: that we are fed by, sustained with, and made for God’s power and love, which he exhibited historically and clearly in Christ’s resurrection. This is an Easter table because it is God’s table. It is a table foretold in Genesis. It is a table foretold in every Passover Israel observed. It is a table foretold in Advent and Christmas, when Christ was born in a food trough. It is table instituted at the Last Supper. It is a table anticipated on Calvary. At this table is foretold the resurrected, living, and returning body of Christ. Come then, and learn from your God, dear Christian. Come then to this table, and be educated this day and every day thereafter, that God has conquered all things so that you would be brought to the marriage supper of the resurrected and sacrificial Lamb.
To close our time, please hear a poem by George Herbert, titled “Easter”
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
I got me flowers to straw thy way:
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.