- Head of School's Blog
Head of School Joy McGrath ’92 gave these remarks at the final Sunday chapel service of the school year, held at Old St. Anne’s Church in Middletown.
Good morning! It is hard to believe that we were all here over eight months ago and I was in this pulpit talking to you about lost sheep—how we will all be lost at some point during the year, and how we will all be found by each other through the power of grace and love.
Just like I found the entire VI Form in my house when I woke up on Friday morning.
But I digress. We follow a cycle of the lectionary calendar in our services, and this year we have traversed Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Jesus has died and risen again. Now, next week is Pentecost, and so today’s scriptures tell the story of what happens just before Pentecost, when Jesus is “taken up” into the heavens and the apostles prepare for what comes next. They will be sent out into regions of the Roman Empire to spread the good news of the Gospel.
You may wonder what Pentecost is. But I think the lessons of Pentecost and in today’s scriptures relate to all of us right now in this moment before we take off for every corner of the globe. Pentecost, which means “the fiftieth day,” refers to a feast of seven weeks known as the Feast of Weeks—in the Old Testament, before Jesus is on the scene. It was an agricultural holiday that related to the harvesting of first fruits. Now, today’s reading is from the New Testament, which uses the same term—Pentecost—to note the fiftieth day after Easter when the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus’ followers shortly after his resurrection and ascension.
In the reading today from Acts (1:6-14), before Jesus ascends, the last thing he says is, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Right now, we are in that same condition, on the brink of a departure following a transformative year. Especially for our seniors, whose departure date is close at hand.
In a few short days, your families will retrieve you or you will board airplanes and trains and head “to the ends of the earth,” as St. Luke the Evangelist wrote in Acts. In that reading, these angels, these “men in white robes,” come before the Holy Spirit, and ask the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?” clearly with the subtext that they should not be doing that. Have you ever seen something so amazing that you felt rooted to the very ground, unable to move your feet? And yet, “Why are you standing around?” the angels asked.
So, the New Testament writers adopted the name of a much older observance related to the very first crops of early summer, the Feast of Weeks, to describe this moment: Pentecost—time to get moving. This got me thinking about first fruits. Strawberries are in season here in Delaware right now, usually the first literal fruits of the season. I have a lot of memories of picking strawberries on my grandfather’s farm when I was little. Kids are a lot closer to the ground, and as my grandparents aged, it seemed that what we called “stoop labor” like berry-picking, was assigned to the small children.
Growing up, my family unit included two sets of grandparents. Especially in the summers, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They were hard workers, farm people. They were not people who stood around, and they certainly did not expect their grandchildren to stand around. In fact, when I read about the “people in white robes” who say to Jesus’ followers, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” I immediately thought of my grandmother. Don’t just stand there, make yourself useful, was her mantra.
“Why are you standing around?”
Like the disciples, we have been living in community here at St. Andrew’s, and now it is time for us to scatter and contribute what we can to our own corners of the world: our families, our hometowns, our community institutions, and places of worship. It’s not a time to be standing around.
You can take a break from school and still approach your summer with direction and intention. We say at the end of each service that, “the worship has ended, let the service begin”; at the end of each year, we should say the same.
My summers were not what you would call relaxing. We worked in the steamy weather and the hot kitchen; that was just what we did. After dinner was cooked, eaten, and all the dishes were washed and put away, I read a book before bedtime. I worked at my job, at church, and sometimes I would even have to dress up in a giant foam rubber watermelon suit as the character “Walter Melon” and go to farmers’ markets in sweltering heat with my dad. And yes, there is photographic documentation of this. And no, I will not give it to you. But: There was not a lot of standing around.
Some of you may spend your summers in a similar fashion. It is good to work, to produce, to learn, to help. It is actually a kind of rest. You learn to organize yourself, complete projects, think about others, contribute to the common good. Face outward and not inward. Maybe you learn to distinguish big from little. Sometimes at school, we get distracted by little things: this test, that game. But we are really here for the big things: friendships, breakthroughs, service, making something new. By focusing on the big things, we build friendships, families, communities. Young people are such an important part of that.
Believe it or not, when you are at home, your simple presence inspires your older relatives, neighbors, and younger children. You bring energy, creativity, and willing hearts and hands and feet to whatever is going on around you. You can be part of something bigger than yourself. Go and look for that something bigger, as the apostles did.
Pentecost is the time of the sending out of the message of love into the world. This season—strawberry season, the start of the summer—is also the time of sending all of you out into the world. You are the inspiration, you are the new energy, you bring the spirit and the love. So, when you get home, pay attention and chip in. Share your gifts and your loving spirit with those around you.
We have had a wondrous year at St. Andrew’s this year because of each of you. You have done some pretty hard things, and done them well, together. You have kept it simple, you have asked for help, you have loved each other. You have practiced and practiced and practiced. You have made mistakes, and forgiven each other, and that has made your friendships stronger. You have accomplished things together that you never could have done by yourselves. You have grown and changed and learned so much. You have new questions about the world, and new ways of thinking about how you inhabit it. You have been part of something larger than yourselves.
I am very proud of you. And, although I will miss you terribly over the summer, I hope you will take this spirit of attention, engagement, and love and bring it home. The angels said, “Why are you standing around?”
So don’t just stand there, Saints, it’s time to get moving.
- All School News
- Joy Blog