This sermon by Jonathan Edwards, first delivered in 1741, is one of the works of American literature that I have never read before becoming an English teacher. Before teaching the lesson today, I read the sermon several times, both the excerpt used in class as well as the full sermon. I read a few literary analyses of it and answered all of the worksheet questions I planned to have my students answer before I checked my own understanding against the answer sheet.
My kids are not star students (more on why in a later post) and they feel more comfortable with a text if I read it to them. (We discovered that while reading Anne Bradstreet’s poem.) I happily obliged both classes of juniors and read the excerpts of the sermon.
Despite all my preparation, I do not think I was fully prepared for the power of this sermon as it was read aloud. There were points where I had to stop to catch my breath. Points where I thought for sure the neighboring classes would bang on my door and tell me to be quiet. And when I was done, I felt physically and emotionally drained.
The looks on my student’s faces, however, made it worth it. Edwards made it easy to illustrate the use of Puritan values in the writing of the time.