“Boasting In the Cross of Christ” (September 13, 2015; The Installation of Paul M. Quick as Head of Ascension Episcopal School, The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Galatians 6.14[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

During the course of my final year at my previous parish in Tuscaloosa, a couple of my campus ministry students and I took a trip to see the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, located 104 miles northeast in Hanceville, Alabama in Cullman County. While walking up one of the outside porticos, we came upon a tall crucifix affixed to the wall at its end. Although I had seen many other crucifixes before, the one that we saw that day was unlike any other. Whereas a majority of crucifixes show Christ hanging on the cross with a look of agony that is restrained and somewhat romanticized, this particular crucifix exhibited Christ in an agony that was not at all restrained, totally devoid of dignity, and in which the emotion made the worst kick in the gut that I had ever felt. Our Lord’s body was completely covered in scars, so much so that it looked like there was hardly any skin left on His body. Every part of His body, from head to toe, was covered with dripping blood. There were gapping wounds and pulsing veins. Looking at this crucifix, I said to my companions, “In all the times that I’ve thought about the crucifixion, I never imagined Jesus looking like this.” “How do we know that it wasn’t worse than this?” one companion responded.

Just a few minutes earlier, right up front, we heard Saint Paul say to the Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For us here in 2015, I doubt that we are shocked to hear such a thing, being that the cross has been the most well known and looked to symbol of Christianity since, at least, the second century AD. But for people during the years of AD 40-60, hearing Saint Paul say such a thing was more than likely quite shocking, primarily due to evoked real-time images similar to the description I just made of the representation of our Lord’s own crucifixion. In the Greco-Roman world, crucifixion was an execution method principally reserved for slaves, violent criminals, and political rebels.[2] It was capital punishment meant to degrade and show its victims as conquered enemies.

Yet in spite of the culture’s repulsion of the cross, Saint Paul says what he says, quite emphatically and with great seriousness. That is because for Saint Paul, Jesus Christ, the visible face of the invisible God, while hanging on an instrument meant to shame and convey weakness, took that same instrument and redeemed humanity back to God the Father, making it the instrument of our salvation and the sign of God’s ultimate defeat of sin and death. It was through the cross of Christ that “the ruler of this world”—Satan and his forces of evil—was driven out.[3] Saint Paul boasts in Christ’s cross because it gives him life, inspires him in his daily living, and he realizes that by it, Jesus has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven him. The cross of Christ is the cross of victory, not defeat. All who have come to believe in Jesus through faith have been “baptized into his death…We have been buried with him by baptism into death” and “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father…we too…walk in newness of life.”[4] Because of the blood that was shed by Christ on the cross, He has spared us who walk in His light from the condemnation of sin.

So how appropriate it is that we, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension and School, gathered together to install, pray for, and give our support to our new Head of School, have as our focus this evening the cross, the symbol that unites us all together. We proclaim, “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” It is a mission greatly dependent on the cross, that victorious instrument from which come the governing principles of that Christian environment we seek to form our students within. The cross drives Ascension to be a place where its students, faculty, and administration are gentle, generous, truthful, and kind to one another, brave when facing adverse situations, and reevaluating the priorities of the heart. The primary avenue through which this takes place is corporate worship—the regular rhythm of daily chapel and frequent Eucharist—where the honing of such environment comes by way of an acknowledgment of God’s mercy, reflection on His Word, and regular reception of the Eucharistic sacrament. Through our focus on the cross, Ascension strives to be a school whose environment reflects the commandment that Jesus Himself has given us: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[5] Because of the cross and what Jesus has done, Ascension is committed to forming its students to love all of their neighbors as they do themselves and have courage to go forth from Ascension and make positive differences in the power and Name of Jesus Christ.

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Saint Paul says, “and individually members of it.”[6] Although, as Saint Paul also says, “each of us was given grace according to the manner of Christ’s gift” and that “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,”[7] the driving force that is charged with keeping Ascension School focused on its mission of being an intentionally Christian school committed to academic excellence is the Head of School. In defining its general role and responsibilities, the National Association of Episcopal Schools states that the Head of School serves as an important spiritual leader, embracing, articulating, and advancing the school’s Episcopal identity.[8] Tonight, Paul M. Quick, our friend and brother in Christ, ceremonially takes on the role as Head of Ascension Episcopal School.

When his immediate predecessor’s resignation was announced and it was decided that Paul would assume the role of Head of School effective July 1, 2015, I noticed a general affirmation of the succession plan. Perhaps the reason why that was is due to the fact that the Rector and school board, faculty, staff, administration, and school parents saw within Paul a similar and seminal quality that was also possessed by the New Testament apostle of the same name. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick is not ashamed of the Gospel.[9] To be in any sort of meeting with him, either it be one-on-one, Administrative Operations and/or Administrative Support Team, all-campus continuing professional education, and so on, an incorporation of the Good News will find some way into it. That is because Paul wholeheartedly believes in the Good News. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick boasts in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has given him life and inspires him to live his life daily for the Lord Jesus. Paul openly acknowledges himself as a ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven sinner, that God has done a marvelous work in his life, and that in all that he does, it is the Lord Jesus that orders his steps. Paul is a man who not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk, doing so as only in the best way he can, which has endeared him to the Church and School community as a man faithful to his word and an effective witness of the Gospel among us. It is by grace and our trust in the Holy Ghost that we are here tonight to affirm Paul, offering our prayers and support for him, and in which Paul himself enters into the office of Head of School, with all of us, together, engaging in the work of ministry.

Paul, my friend, my brother in Christ, everybody here tonight is here because they love you and they support you. There are many others who unfortunately could not be here, but love and support you just the same. I love you and support you and am glad to be a member of your team. As you prepare to ceremonially take on the responsibility of Head of School, a piece of advice that I would like to give you is this: continue to boast in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Continue looking to the cross; continue looking to Jesus. By boasting in the cross, Jesus boasts in you and will walk with you during every step you take in this journey. By continuing your gaze upon Jesus, you will be a witness for Him to our students, being used as a vessel for His Good News, planting the seed to the truth that God does, indeed, love them. As Moses once said, “Be strong and bold; have no fear…because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”[10] Know that as you prepare to enter this new chapter of your ministry, you enter with our love, sincere prayers, and support.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, by His grace, uphold you in the service he lays upon you.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.  

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Frank S. Matera. Galatians (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 231.

[3] John 12.31

[4] Romans 6.3-4

[5] John 13.34

[6] I Corinthians 12.27

[7] Ephesians 4.7, 16

[8] “Headship.” National Association of Episcopal Schools. National Association of Episcopal Schools, accessed on September 12, 2015.

[9] Romans 1.16

[10] Deuteronomy 31.6

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