So Chapel, what is it? Why are you here? What are we going to do? I heard these questions from a few of you during opening weeks, and I have to say… you’ve got good questions! Let’s talk about that.
So maybe you knew this and maybe you didn’t, but Holderness is associated with the Episcopal Church, we are a member of the National Association of Episcopal Schools. So I, your chaplain, am an Episcopal priest. And one of out of many characteristics of being an Episcopal school is that we gather in community, in a space called worship. Okay so blah blah blah, that all sounds like an essay exam. Right, like that’s what you would write down if we had a pop quiz if this was Ms. Van’s class. So let’s get real for a minute.
Here’s what Chapel can be if you let it:
A space to slow down. Who feels like they’ve been going 100 miles/minute for the past 2 weeks? Me. Chapel is the time to slow down. It’s designed to cultivate peace and personal reflection, you don’t have to perform anything, you don’t have to be anything, you’re not being graded, all you have to do is show up and be present. That’s all I will ask of you.
Secondly, this is a space for us. As far as I’m concerned what makes a chapel good are two things: 1) it reflects the character of the school – so why we’re here today, Holderness is an outdoorsy place and here we are in the outdoors – and 2) it reflects the voices of the community. This is not my chapel, this is certainly not my table, this is not my agenda. This space is for all of us, it’s a community space. A saying that’s used a lot in the Episcopal Church is “Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.” And I want that to be so true of our chapel, it’s all of us together.
So here’s something you might be thinking:
I’m not an Episcopalian (maybe this is the first time you have heard that word) , or I actually have a lot of doubts if God exists, or I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t exist, or I practice another faith tradition, or no faith tradition, what is this space going to do for me?
My answer is, I’m glad you’re here. If you have questions about if God exists, pull up a chair because I have them too. But this space isn’t intended to make you believe anything, or to convert you. It’s intended to be a space to help you ask the deep questions - why are we here? Why should I care about being a good person? Who am I meant to be in the world? This chapel time is designed to help us wonder those questions together. And likely, we will all have more questions than answers - that’s a good thing.
And secondly, I have no idea what this space is going to do for each of you. I don’t have an end of year goal or final exam I want you to ace. But I do hope that you’ll try on some of what we talk about. We’re going to talk about some things in the Christian Church, we’re going to learn about the Christian Calendar – wait, what, Christians have a calendar, yes, we do. We’re going to experience some spiritual things, we’re going to hear some stories, and some things that don’t traditionally fit into a “religion” category. Whatever we do, I hope that you try it on. I hope that you are courageous enough to give something unfamiliar or something you have traditionally viewed without value, a listening ear. Maybe it will hit you somewhere in your heart, maybe it won’t, but you’ll never know unless you give it a try.
So let’s start practicing now.
First, that Christian calendar thing, yes it does exist and tomorrow Christians will acknowledge something called the Feast of the Holy Cross. A feast day in the calendar is a day when we celebrate a particular person or a thing and we mark it with a Feast - it’s kinda like having a sit down dinner named after you, or maybe more like when the church remembers your birthday. The Feast Day of the Holy Cross might be kind of important to us at Holderness because there is a building on our campus that has Holy Cross somewhere in its name …. ?? Where? Yes! The Chapel is named after the Holy Cross.
So the cross, what is it? Why is it holy? Here’s what one looks like (this is one of my favorites, it's from Mexico) . Maybe you’ve seen it on Church signs or on necklaces or on tattoos. The cross symbolizes the Christians of the story in the Bible when Jesus (who we believe to be God in human form, perfect love in human form) was killed on a cross, another word for that is crucified. Up until now, Jesus had been spending his time healing the sick, performing miracles, and ultimately he was spreading the message of radical love and acceptance to everyone. At the age of 33, Jesus was sold out to the authorities by one of his best friends, Judas, and when they got ahold of him they mocked him, and whipped him, and made him drag his cross naked up a hill in front of everyone, and then hung him on it in front of his mother and best friends to die a slow and painful death. So not a good day in the life of Jesus right, actually probably the worst day. So why would people like this symbol that has been used basically to torture people? Right, kinda weird to hang a torture method around your neck. But the story doesn’t end there.
So Jesus dies, and his friends (the women mostly) take Jesus’ body and they put it in a tomb and perform the burial rites for him. And then 3 days later, they go back to the tomb and it’s opened up and he’s not in there. And then he starts appearing in front of them in all different forms, but very human and very real, not like a ghost. And at first they don’t believe him, because you know the whole cross thing was pretty fresh in their minds, but then they come to see that Jesus was truly divine, so divine that he could rise from the dead, and that even the hard wood of the cross could not stop his message that Love was the Way. Love was the final word.
So we put this symbol at the very center of our faith. Why? Because we believe that the darkest hour is never the final hour. It might look like the end, it might feel like the end, we might think that there is nothing worse, nothing could ever make this okay, and then somehow it is transformed. Not that the pain and suffering just magically disappear, but that it morphs into something much bigger than ourselves. Ultimately, the story of the cross is all about transformation. It is about taking something so ugly and so hard and saying that this isn’t the end of the story. That ultimately love and light prevail and turn something our pain into something beautiful.
So here you are at Holderness and I wonder, where might you be transformed this year? I’ve never gone through a year at Holderness, but I can imagine that there are going to be points where you might want to quit, where you might think this is the worst thing that could happen, when you experience grief, pain, anger, disappointment, loneliness...
Maybe you’ve always been an athlete and you don’t want to be an athlete any more. Maybe you don’t get into your top college, or your top 3 colleges. Or maybe you didn’t make varsity. Maybe you get turned down for a date.
There’s probably 305 more examples out there, I don’t know what it is for you, but you do, or you will. And when you have those moments, you can join us in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and have the courage to believe that it’s not the end of your story and maybe it’s going to be transformed into something beautiful and we want to be there with you when it is.