Though its exact date varies from year to year, the first day of school has become a kind of secular holiday–complete with rituals, special costumes, and lots of companies trying to sell you stuff. I still remember the clench of dread and disbelief that would grip my stomach when I was a kid as soon as the “back to school” ads started appearing on television. How could summer be nearly over already? These reminders of the coming transition always felt cruel and premature.
Like many of us, as I got older, especially once I made it to college, my feelings about the transition from summer vacation to the academic year became a little less full of foreboding. And yet, even during the few years of my adult life that I haven’t spent as part of a school or university–I still felt the special tinge of sadness and expectation that I associate with this time of year.
Now, in my role as Episcopal Chaplain I have cause to consider this first day of school feeling anew, using a different lens than that of an anxious student or teacher. Rather than seeing the transition from summer relaxation into scholarly busyness as a mere shift in activity and stress levels, I see it as a particularly lucid movement of the spirit–a call to notice changes and to trust in God.
For instance, at the start of a new school year we are uniquely able to look out on a span of time–the two semesters ahead of us–not just as minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, but as a period of possibility. An envelope of time that we’ll always file in the same folder–2019/20–with its own cohort of as-yet-unknown people who will become important to us, decisions to be made, personal and global events that will be tragic or hopeful or groundbreaking, new foods to try and new memes to be forgotten, another Christmas, a new shirt we’ll keep until it disintegrates in twenty years, a new apartment or dormitory, a Lenten promise, a different and deepened relationship to God and our neighbor. In May, we’ll look back on this school year and say: I can’t believe all that happened. And now, here we are, poised on the edge of it. And with God’s help, we’ll make choices that reflect our love of him.
On the brink of all the possibilities of the new school year, I am particularly looking forward to worshiping with the Episcopal community once again, starting this Sunday at 5PM. The Eucharist is an event that changes very little and very radically, not just from year to year, but every time we gather to celebrate it. Christ’s gift of transformed life will always be available to all who seek it. And yet, as with all the other changes of the new school year, we will find that we have a particular relationship to holy communion as individuals and as the Episcopal Community at Cornell in 2019/20. I invite you to join me to begin to discover what God has in store for us on September 1 at 5PM in Anabel Taylor Chapel.