An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Church Schools
To consider what it means to be a disciple.
Preparation and materials
You will need a student to read the Bible passage, John 13.21-30.
More information about Summerhill School is available at: http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/
Explain that today’s assembly is about discipleship. The root word of discipleship is ‘disciple’, which comes from a Latin word ‘discere’, which means ‘to learn’. Point out that everyone in the room is a disciple in some way, because ‘disciples’ are ‘learners’.
Explain that the Hebrew word for ‘disciples’ is ‘talmidim’. The Hebrew word for ‘teacher’ is ‘rabbi’. Point out the different ‘rabbis’ in the room, such as the ‘History rabbi’, ‘Chemistry rabbi’ and ‘PE rabbi’.
Make the point that the students in the room have little choice about going to school. There is pressure from families, the government and society as a whole, who all believe in the importance of education.
Ask the students what they think about this. Ask the following question:
- Can people be compelled to do things?
Pause for the students to consider the question.
Explain that the trouble with compulsion is that it breeds rebellion. Most students recognize and accept the authority of their teachers, but it only takes one disruptive ‘disciple’ to get in everyone’s way. In the past, the solution was sometimes physical punishment. There are probably teachers in school who remember the caning of a fellow pupil - or of themselves for some misdemeanour.
Some teachers reacted against this form of discipline by advocating ‘free’ schools, where students did not have to attend classes if they did not want to. One such school still exists, and it’s called Summerhill.
Ask the students if they think that they would prefer to attend this school.
Point out that, even at this school, there would inevitably be some disharmony between teachers and students, rabbis and disciples.
The Bible tells us that Jesus had 12 disciples. Some of the disciples are more famous than others, such as Peter, James and John. However, possibly the most famous disciple is Judas, who betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the soldiers before Jesus was killed. Many people have wondered what led Judas to take this course of action.
Ask the students to listen to the readings and see what they think.
Ask a student to read the Bible passage, John 13.21-30.
The story, as told by John in his Gospel, implies that Jesus’ death, and Judas’ betrayal, were preordained. Judas seems almost to be acting out a role. Some think that Judas was greedy (he was in charge of the disciples’ communal funds). Some think that Judas felt Jesus wasn’t revolutionary enough (Judas’ surname, Iscariot, has been taken by some to imply that he was a guerrilla who was against Roman rule). Maybe Judas was jealous, or maybe he just got sick of all that religion! In the end, no one knows why Judas betrayed Jesus.
The American writer, Flannery O’Connor, wrote a novel called Wise Blood about a young man called Hazel Motes. Hazel is the son of a preacher and rebels against his upbringing. His father intends him to become a preacher, and he does - only he decides to found The Church of God Without Christ. Its aim is to preach against the teachings of his church. Here’s an example of one of his sermons, preached from the roof of his car, outside funfairs and cinemas, in the hope of finding disciples:
‘I preach the Church without Christ. I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way . . . I’m going to take the truth with me wherever I go. I’m going to preach there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from, and no Redemption because there was no Fall, and no Judgement because there wasn’t the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar.’
In the novel, Hazel Motes doesn’t win any disciples - they prefer the funfair and the cinema. In the end, his rage against the church, and his compulsive commitment to the truth, make him more of a disciple of Christ than others who claim to be disciples because, although he rejects his faith, his life turns out to be shared by Christ’s example.
Time for reflection
Everyone looks for figures of authority to help give shape to their lives. Who do we look to as our role models? A football player? A pop star? A film star? Maybe Jesus isn’t such a bad example.
We thank you that you have given us the freedom
To make decisions about the shape of our life;
And also that you go on loving us
When the choices we make
And the patterns we follow
Take us far from you.