This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. (Exodus 12:2-11 NRSV)
Its that time of year again, trees are blooming, rain showers are plentiful and school years are coming to an end. Commencements and graduation season is upon us. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, godparents, sisters and brothers, extended family and cousins travel near and far just to hear that loved one’s name called out. Even in an economic downturn and unsure career moves, excitement still pervades the air. The melodies of Edward Elgar’s classic march ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, beautiful colors on robes, honorary degrees, famous and ignoble dignitaries, processionals and recessionals, all contribute to a festive and exciting atmosphere.
This year, my family celebrates three graduations up and down the east coast. We have seen more processionals, academic regalia and heard graduation speeches to last us all through the decade. Despite the fatigue, I must reflect on the real importance of this time. In attempting to wax philosophical, many graduation speakers fail to capture the real meaning of this moment of triumph and completion. In reflecting on the importance of commencement and the value of completing one thing and starting another; I must wax theological.
To commence is to begin and start anew. It is to have start on a journey that is filled with all of the unknowns and uncertainties that are part and parcel of the journey. Commencing the journey of life is more than a joyous concept that fills one with hope and excitement. Often, beginning the walk on the new path is frightful and intimidating. After two, three, four, five or more years in school, you grow familiar or accustomed to the culture of school, the timing of class schedules and the overall atmosphere of college life. Overnight, you are thrust into the world of resumes, job interviews, and the hustle and bustle of life. Leaving one culture for the unknown is disorienting. Finishing college (or any degree) is intimidating and disconcerting. To put it mildly….
You see, commencements are about beginnings and not endings. In our social life, commencements are one of those glorious contradictory moments that are ripe with meaning and significance. The text above reflects a pivotal moment in the life of the incipient nation of Israel. Captive in Egypt, the last plague of ten is about to be enacted on the land. Included in the instructions to Moses to give to the people is the statement, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” It is an instruction of beginnings. The calendar and the life of Israel will begin again.
The ironic thing about this passage is that the instruction is given on the eve of the end of captivity in Egypt. Israel is not free yet. They people are still enslaved, but they are given a foreshadow as to the journey they are about to start. This is the first commencement. They are to leave the old ways of doing and being behind (slaves) and live into the new reality of journeying with God in the unknown (the people of God). The journey will be long and its end result is unknown at the beginning, but all paths must start somewhere.
This Commencement season 2012, all of the graduates in our lives should take a lesson from this text: All of our endings are really new beginnings. Nothing is ever over until it is OVER. The God of all of our journeys plans, orchestrates and executes our beginnings and our endings as part of life with God. Just because one path draws to a close, doesn’t meant the journey is finished. Sometimes you need to go off the beaten path and make your own way, and sometimes you have to wait until a new path is carved for you. In any case, stay the course and keep the faith.
This commencement season, in the crowd of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, there stood a son who watched this teaching lived out in a most special way. One of the first graduations we attended this season was my mother’s baccalaureate ceremony. She started 35 years ago as a freshman at her local state university. After only a year and a half, the path changed and moved in a different direction. After that, life continued with each twist and turn that made the original quest for a college degree seemingly insurmountable and distant. Including my birth, a military career, and a stint as a corporate executive. She reached a point in her career where she really didn’t need a degree to achieve the things she wanted and do the jobs she felt equipped to do. Regardless of her successes, there remained something that was incomplete. Even after I finished my undergraduate degree, she stayed the course, walked the path and kept the faith. She finished her requirements and walked across the stage, and I was the proud son beaming with joy as her ‘commencement’, albeit delayed, was ushered in the life of God. Congrats MOM!
Congratulations to all of the graduates this year. Many blessings to you and the ways your paths with twist and turn with the vicissitudes of life. Whatever may come, may your paths be graced with visions of truth, and a steadfast hope in the promise that the next end is really a new beginning.