The children were eager this morning to be photographed with their pink and green pails under the window in our bright Sunday School room. Natalie, age six, stood on one side of the planting tray, her head tilted like an elfin faerie, and Luisa, age four, stood on the other, devoutly serious.
Earlier we learned about the saints and sang the hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God…” First we gathered in a circle and invited Our Heavenly Father to join us by praying, Our Father, who art in Heaven.… Next we sang our thanksgiving song and shared our snack. Then came the story-lesson, and we learned about Joan of Arc, how she was a shepherdess on the green who listened to God speaking to her, and led an army and saved France from the enemy. After all, as the hymn says, One was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green. They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping to be one too.
Today was also our planting day, and just as the story of listening to God had been planted in our ears and hearts, we planted sunflower seeds in pails of soil. But they needed sun, light from the skies. We contemplated the tall windows and how to place the pails on the tilting sills. We would have to build a structure for our seeds to reach the light. We placed a chair under the windows, still too low. Then I spied the cardboard building blocks and we built a tower on top of the chair. It reached high enough. The tray of pails was placed carefully on the top of the blocks. When the sun comes slanting through the glass in the coming days, the seeds will feel the light and sprout, escaping the dark. They will be born again, emerging from their loamy cocoon, green stems growing tall.
This reaching for the light, this moving outside ourselves to something greater and more wondrous is an innate human longing. We long for God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17).
The saints understood and named this longing. They recognized the voice, heard the melody, obeyed the commands. They knew the light of love, the vision of eternity. They knew Christ.
In Sunday School we say the Nicene Creed, for it states what we believe about who we are and who we are meant to be. It is the creed we say in our grown-up service, and Sunday School is largely about preparing for the day when the children grow up, become adults in the Church. On that day they will re-affirm, confirm, their Baptismal vows with their own Confirmation vows. And as we learn the Nicene Creed, we come to know our God of love, our God who became one of us, to bring us home to him.
As we said together the first lines of the Creed, I understood suddenly that the words made me reach for concepts up, up, and away, stretching high. These are grand theological statements, formulated to quell fourth-century heresy and settle unsettled doctrine. And so, there in that Sunday School room, sitting on tiny chairs, we pondered and stretched our minds and hearts to fully understand the mystery of the Incarnation (God in flesh), the Trinity (God in three persons), and Love (God is Love).
When one of my assistants asked what “begotten” meant, I paused, reaching for the light that would fully explain what great theologians have pondered for thousands of years. I gazed at the words again.
“I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made…”
“Good question,” I said, stalling. Then I realized the answer was in the next phrase. “Our Lord Jesus Christ was one substance with the Father. He was and is the Logos, the Word, the expression of God the Father, expression in human flesh. So Christ was fully human and fully God.” I think my young assistant understood, at least as well as any of us understand this miraculous mystery of love. “The Son is the only way we can truly know the Father, the God of all creation, heaven and earth, the Lord of all.”
Little Luisa asked, “God made everything?” She opened her palms matter-of-factly.
“He did,” I said.
“Even houses?” her older sister said seriously.
“What are houses made of?” I asked, tossing the question back.
“Where did the wood come from?”
Natalie grinned. “Trees! God made the trees!”
I nodded. “And who built the house with the wood?”
“And who made the people?”
“God!” Natalie shouted.
Luisa had grown thoughtful. “God does all the work.”
I laughed. “He does indeed. Through you and me. But we have to say yes first. It’s our choice.”
As we sang I sing a song of the saints of God, faithful and brave and true, I realized the saints were those, like Mary our Mother, who said yes to God. They longed for him, just as our sunflower seeds longed for the sun coming through the window.
And now, the colors of the morning, the music and joy of our dance together in the Sunday School room, return to me like jeweled sunlight. For we stepped outside ourselves. We touched grace. We reached for the light and were warmed by the sun. Our hearts, like those seeds in the soil, embedded in the darkness of our human flesh, flowered.
In a sense we had climbed those cardboard blocks stacked on the chair under the window sill. They were like the Body of Christ, the Church, providing a way to reach for the sun, to touch the Son, to touch God.
I focused on the children standing in the light, framing their pails. I tapped the button on my camera. The panes of the window formed a cross above them, and a green leafy tree shimmered beyond.
It was good to touch God on this blessed Sunday morning.