This is the time of year for graduation ceremonies. In recent days, families of high school and higher education graduates have celebrated the “moving of the tassel.” Churches often join in these celebrations to mark this significant passage in a person’s life. Woven into this cultural season of commencement ceremonies is Pentecost Sunday, the day earlier this week when Christians celebrate the birth of the church and the powerful manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the first believers. Maybe the convergence of these academic and sacred seasons will have some lessons for healthy churches today.
The words that we use are interesting. Do you know the meaning of them? “Graduation” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “grade.” A graduate is one who “has completed a course of study.” This person is one who has made the grade and moves on to the next level. The word graduation signals completion, accomplishment, and achievement. In addition to the word “graduation” we also use the word “commencement.” To “commence” means “to initiate,” “to start,” or “to begin.” Graduation marks an ending – commencement marks a beginning . . . and yet we use both words to describe the same event.
The story of the events at Pentecost is a story of graduation and commencement.
GRADUATION: A SEASON IS COMPLETED
Pentecost represented graduation for the followers of Jesus. A season was coming to an end – completion was being marked.
The season began about three years earlier. Jesus called to himself twelve men to be a special class. He was their rabbi, or teacher. Others were in the larger group that followed along. For a season they stayed close together – learning from the Master.
After the Resurrection Jesus returned to his class of students to instruct them one more time. In Acts 1 he tells them to wait together in Jerusalem – wait for the promised Holy Spirit who would come. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit came. It was God’s way of saying – class dismissed, season ended, time for graduation. The disciples would no longer be together as they once had. That season was over.
Notice something very important. It is only when the early church was willing to graduate out of the comfort of the closed room that they were able to begin changing the world. The lesson is there for all of us. When we trust in the God who is calling us to the next level of living then we need to let go of what we have been holding so tightly in order that God can transform us into something much greater. That is what metamorphosis is all about. The caterpillar comes to the end of the season of crawling around on many legs. It enters the upper room of the chrysalis and then it graduates as a season of life comes to a close.
Does your church need a graduation? What are you clutching as a church which needs to come to an end so that the Spirit of God can lead you to do something new? In our churches, we often do not let go of the past very easily. It seems to be defeat, loss, even death. What if we thought of letting go as a kind of graduation? That attitude might make a difference!
COMMENCEMENT: A NEW SEASON BEGINS
Commencement is when a new season with God begins. Pentecost was when God transformed the followers of Jesus to prepare them for a new season. They had been in the cocoon of the upper room, now they were set free to fly throughout the world. They had been gathered in one place, a learning community who went around with Jesus. Now they were to be scattered into the world to tell others about Jesus.
Do you see the movement of Pentecost? As the day began the apostles were huddled together in one place. By the time the day ended, God’s Spirit had exploded them from that place and sent them out into the world empowered by the Spirit. Their message was not just for a select few but was good news for all the world.
Does your church need a commencement? Is there something new that the Spirit wants to begin in the life of your faith community? The Spirit of God comes into our lives to fill us with the power of new beginnings. What might that look like for your church? In our churches, we sometimes fear what is new, and move with hesitation to try something new. What if we thought about new beginnings as commencement? That attitude might make a difference!
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19 (NRSV)
Graduation . . . Commencement . . . Pentecost. God’s way for healthy churches!