Children, as do all of us, have a hard time imagining God’s power. The nearest dynamic equivalent is their favorite superhero. So every now and then they begin a game of trying to describe how powerful God is. As mini-philosophers they even have justification for what they think.
“God is like Zeus, only real. He can throw the thunderbolts He makes.”
“Naw. That’s not it. He’s like Spidey. He can go wherever He wants to.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about! God has to be strong. He rolled the stone from the grave away. He’s like Superman. Maybe even Hulk.”
Finally they ask me. “Who’s right, Deaconess? Who wins?”
“Hmmmm… well,” I ponder the question slowly. “God is only as strong as a dead man.”
They all stared at me like I’ve got half my brain tied behind my back. I do, but they don’t know that yet.
“Say what?” asked the oldest, Jacob.
I repeated, “God is only as strong as a dead man.”
“I know it!” he suddenly cried. “I know the answer! It’s Jesus on the cross. She means Jesus on the cross. Deaconess is talking about Jesus dead on the cross!” By now T-1 was slumped completely over his desk, finger pointing at the crucifix hanging over the whiteboard at the front of the room. In his excitement he wanted to get as close as possible to the object of his answer.
“That’s right. Jesus dead is stronger than any Superhero you can name. Why?”
That had them stumped- but not for long.
“Because when He died He killed death,” said Jacob.
“How is that so?” I asked.
“I get it!” shouted Matt, the Third Grader. “When He said ‘It is finished.’”
“OK, Smarties… so now here’s the next part. When are you a part of all this?”
Matt and Jacob and waved me off. This was a piece of cake. It was time to get back to their Math sheets and let the
T-2 raised his hand, smiled a broad smile, and shouted “JESUS!” Sooner or later his usual one-and-only answer works and he gets it right. Not this time.
Tucker, the First Grader behind him, gave a try, “In Baptism?”
“You think or you know?”
He rolled his yes in thought, then nodded. “I know. It’s Baptism.” This kid is steady, matter-of-fact. He doesn’t ruffle easily except when he “blows” it. He works hard and likes to make good grades.
This is the point in the year when things begin to coalesce in their brains. They've heard enough sermons in chapel, listened to enough History lectures, recited the Catechism daily so that it has all bubbled and fermented inside. Now it is all ready to be put to the test, exercised.
GSLS is first and foremost a catechetical school. As a deaconess that is my primary task. Education is of no good if it is not centered in Christ. What does reading avail if its goal is not unlocking the Scriptures? The first “subject” taught in this school is reciting the Catechism.
The Commandments fly by simply. They are straightforward. The language is fairly simple. Now and again Matt or Jacob will get coy and ask if it is murder to kill a fly or roach. But that is only because they know my answer. Depending on which one asks the question it’s, “When does hunting season start?” or “When was the last time you asked Wendy’s to murder a cow for your dinner?” They get the point. Animals aren’t humans. There is a distinction to be made.
The students also learn the Commandments by practice. Disciplinary sentences are written along with the recitation and/or the writing of the First and the specific Commandment that applies, with meanings. Cut up in class? Easy. That’s Seventh Commandment, stealing time from others. Push or punch another student? Fifth. Lie? Second. We don’t often have need to apply the Sixth, though it has happened.
The Creed is history. It tells what was, is, and will be regarding the Christian in his life because of what God is in Himself.
But it is the Lord’s Prayer that begins to bring all this together for them into a unified whole. That’s when I’ll find need for little “catecheticals.” Usually they start with a question.
“What’s ‘contrary’ mean?”
It’s not enough to reply, “against.” This is an awakened moment. They are listening. So I go for it: “All those who cannot confess Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin, death, and the devil in their life and practice are telling Him, ‘No thank You, Jesus. You didn’t die for me.’”
They stared at me as if I’ve told them Christmas is cancelled.
“No, I mean really. What does ‘contrary’ mean?”
I tried again. “Everyone who wants to keep even one sin for himself teaches and lives according to a different life than the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed. It says, ‘Jesus, you are a liar.’”
Finally, T-1 slowly raised his hand in the air. “You mean contrary is doing against what Jesus says?”
"Yes," I agreed.
T-1 and T-2 looked at each other. One said, “Humph!” The other said, “Humph!” back.
It was not until we read Isaiah 11 that the matter finally sank in deeper.
The History unit this week was “Prophets of Israel.” After explaining that God never sent disciplinary measures against His people without a call to repentance, I named the prophets who were God's messengers of this call. Each messenger, while he spoke of a present threat, also pointed to the Promise. Recounting the story of Abraham through Moses, it wasn't hard to jog the boys' brains.
God gave the Law to His people as a reminder of what He had done for them. He took them out of slavery. He made them His own people. Remain in His word, His law, and they would be free. Live outside the Law, outside His word, and they would be slaves again. Truth is known by knowing God's word. This was repeated by Jesus centuries later. So, the explanation of the First Petition provided context for the sins of
God's name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us.
They were now ready for Isaiah's imagery.
The First Graders knew how God had divided
Then I asked a few questions. “What's this resting place are they talking about?”
“His manger?” asked Shawn, the other First Grader. He was a bit perplexed.
Tucker decided it was too easy. “Aww...that's Jesus' tomb.”
“Sure,” I confirmed. “But why is it glorious?”
T-2's hand shot up. I held my breath. Had he really been really listening?
“Ok, what is it? Why is His tomb glorious?” I was really out on a limb now.
God is only as strong as a dead man when He has had all the sins of the world in His flesh, but then rises from the dead.