In my church we have the annual Blessing of the Backpacks. Everyone who has anything to do with education will be asked to come forward for a special blessing.
I want to say a special word of thanks right now for all adults involved in education. You are my heroes. Maybe it’s because I have so many members of my family working in the school system, but I’ve come to appreciate just how much teachers do for their students before they even walk in the door. Their classrooms and offices are cleaned and reorganized to create an atmosphere of welcome. And if the money allocated by the district isn’t enough to make that happen – and it never is – the teachers dig into their own pockets time and time again to make sure they have what they need for a fresh start for the school year.
And then there is the adventure to be had for the coming year. You never know what magic and opportunities will be unleashed by the students and situations that come to you.
One of my sisters is an art teacher in South Carolina. One summer she spent her free time painting murals of whales in the school cafeteria as a gift to the school. That gift sparked a schoolwide interest in the whales, and they all banded together to have a particular species of whale named South Carolina’s marine mammal. Against all odds, the children of Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter, S.C., succeeded in that goal all because a teacher wanted to give her children something new, something fresh, something beautiful.
Does all of this begin to remind you of something else, of someone else? This is where the new school year and Christianity intersect, because the very business of Christianity is fresh starts. Our symbol of fresh starts is the cross of Jesus Christ and it is in the person of Jesus we find our new beginning.
Maybe you’ve made a series of wrong turns and don’t feel that you are capable of doing anything right again. You think new beginnings are best left to children and the start of the school year, not for grown-ups, and not for you. Well, think again.
No matter how old we get, there is a part of us that deep down inside believes that life is a test or a series of tests, and we’re flunking. On top of that, we know that one day there will be a final exam. How can we ever hope to do well on the final when we’ve scored so poorly on the tests? But, you see, Jesus is our Teacher, the one who took the final for us.
A couple of years ago I took piano lessons. I was the oldest student and I felt pretty lame taking up piano again after a long absence. I did one piece so badly my teacher placed her hands on mine trying to beat the rhythm in me.
It would have been so much easier if she had been able to slip her hands into mine like a glove to show me the proper way to play. But she couldn’t; she had to work from the outside in. That’s not how Jesus teaches. Jesus works from within as our teacher. “Don’t play that note – it’s wrong,” Jesus says. “If you play that chord you will be in a minor key. This one will sound better.”
When people say Jesus changes lives, this is the kind of thing they are trying to describe. Jesus not just a teacher, but a Savior – one who can work from the inside out. Because we have free will, we can continue to play wrong notes or compose tunes in a minor key. We can see today not as a day of blessings and fresh starts, but as another day to be endured. That’s our choice, but that is not what Christ chooses for us.
On Sunday we will have the Blessing of the Backpacks and pray that each backpack will be stuffed with blessings for new life – the blessings of hope, courage, love, compassion, right choice and more things than I can ask or imagine. If you aren’t in school, I don’t want you feel left out of such blessings. Hold out your hands and let Jesus our teacher come inside and give you the fresh start you long for.
THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.