In the picture is a small boy dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved white shirt, rumpled socks and leather shoes. On his head is a homemade mortar board and on his face a bright smile. Pinned to the front of his shirt is a horizontal strip of paper. On that strip some seven or eight gold stars are pasted. I can see that photograph in my mind’s eye quite clearly because that boy is me! The event was kindergarten graduation. There was no robe but I still remember that cap made from white poster board!
That was the first of six school graduations I have experienced over my lifetime. Kindergarten was the only one with a homemade cap! Each was special, each signified the completion of a course of study, and each was an anticipated milestone. A cause for celebration!
A number of our students, my son included, will pass that anticipated milestone this month. Truly a cause for celebration! There will be commencement services and graduation open houses. I remember the first graduation season after we moved to Clinton. There were many open houses. Some days when we went from home to home, from one open house celebration to another. My wife quipped, “This is like adult trick-or-treat!” Yum!
We are proud of our students. Well done! We pray God’s blessing upon them as they step into the next stage of life’s journey. And for those going away to college for the first time, we earnestly pray that they will not leave behind faith in Jesus.
Faith in Christ is not something from which we “graduate.”
It is interesting that we call graduation exercises “commencement.” That is because this special event does not merely mark the ending of something, the completion of a course of study. More especially, it also signifies the beginning of something. It points to the opening of a new chapter of life, such as the next level of schooling or the start-up of a career.
We can go through “commencement” experiences of faith. Martha in the Bible did.
She was having a conversation with Jesus. Her brother, Lazarus, had died four days before. She had hoped Jesus would come and cure Lazarus but Jesus did not. Lazarus died; four days later Jesus arrived. Jesus speaks to Martha in her grief and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-27) Martha’s reply is HUGE: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (verse 27).
“Yes, Lord, I believe.” “Believe” here could be translated “have believed” because it is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense is used to indicate an action completed in the past but with continuing results. In other words, at some point in the past Martha had become a believer in Jesus. What she is saying here is that she believed then and she believes now. Even in the face of her brother’s death. She believes in Jesus.
This was Martha’s “commencement” event. In this situation she graduated to a new level of faith. Faith now. Faith in Jesus in her present circumstances. Faith here and now.
And so when Jesus asks us, “Do you believe?”, let’s not answer, “Yes, Lord, I went forward in a church service 16 years ago and put my faith in you.” “Yes, I prayed a prayer at AWANA when I was little.” That is good. That is absolutely vital. But do you believe now?
Students, you will face that question. When mom and dad are miles and miles away, when your home church is not just across town, when your professor is belittling the Bible, that question will be pressed into your heart: do you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the resurrection and the Life?
All of us who have put our faith in Jesus at some point in the past will face that question. Often it comes, as it did with Martha, at pressure points of life. Grief. Loss. Disappointment. Those are opportunities for “commencement,” opportunities to say, along with Martha, “Yes, Lord. I have believed. And I still believe. I believe right now.”