Graduation season is upon us… my Facebook feed is inundated with photos of friends, classmates, acquaintances, even a few complete strangers… all smiling in caps and gowns celebrating their accomplishment of completing one level of education or another. Preschoolers, Kindergartners, 5th graders exiting Elementary School, interestingly enough – no Middle School graduations have shown up for my viewing pleasure… apparently, that’s not a big thing. And of course – High School & College graduations are all over the place.
The most prominent pictures that I have seen are those of my fellow seminarians. The last graduating class of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg as LTSG is in a merger process and I will graduate next spring from United Lutheran Seminary. All of these pictures exhibit a sense of hope for the future, but a finality for the past.
Then there are the videos of people giving the epic graduations speeches that we all just love! Celebrities, politicians, really, really smart people with impressive degrees… some better received than others… all speaking to rooms and stadiums packed with optimistic graduates who are going out into the world and living into new roles and a new identity.
I have never heard a graduation speech that didn’t say basically the same thing – your time here is finished, it’s now time for you to go do what you have prepared to do, to walk into the scary realm of newness, to embrace the world around you, to be an implement of change.
This can be a very, very scary reality to face. Moving to public school from preschool is a big step for a small child, as is the transition from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college or the workforce, and from college to the world beyond. That step from high school or college into the “real world” may quite possibly be the hardest and most frightening transition. There is no fall back or security blanket anymore, just the knowledge that we have to enter the world and create a place for ourselves within it.
Given how broken and isolating and confusing our world can be, it is no wonder that this transition is scary. But we are told by modern culture and society that we must buck up, put on our big-boy or girl pants, place a smile on our face, and wade into the muck without complaint. And so we do. We create a façade, we mask our fear, and we play the game that has been laid before us.
I’ve recently been reading a book entitled Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. In the book she speaks of all of the years where she tried to hide behind what she refers to as her “representative”. Her “representative” is the woman she broadcast to the world as confident, happy, competent, and whole. The only problem was, deep inside, her true self was none of these things, and the battle between her representative and true self became oppressive.
As I’ve read this book, I have significantly identified with her on many levels. Her story is my story. Given the fact that this book is now part of Oprah’s Book Club and a New York Times bestseller, I suspect, it is MANY of our story, if not all of our story. A story of broken people in a broken world, desperately trying to convince one another that we are whole. Because this is what we are told to do. This is what is ingrained in us through all of our life transitions, milestones, events, and changes. Smile pretty, the world is watching.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives his own graduation speech, of sorts. The past few weeks we have progressed forward in John’s version of Jesus preparing to leave the world. This week, we get the final layer of this story.
Jesus and the disciples are gathered together. Sitting around a table eating a meal. John’s depiction of the last supper. At the end of the meal Jesus begins his graduation address. This address is prayer. A prayer that glorifies God. That states: Jesus’ time here is finished, it’s now time for him to go do what he has been preparing himself and others for. It’s time for the disciples to go off on their own – to walk into the scary realm of newness, to embrace the world around them, and to be implements of change.
Unlike in other Gospels, this final prayer or graduation address isn’t offered up as a private conversation between Jesus and God. He doesn’t slink off to a quiet space alone. He does it in front of all of the disciples. He remains with “his people” just a little longer before everyone departs and goes their separate ways, like graduates who linger for that one last picture or conversation.
Jesus’ farewell address is a prayer, but not a prayer for himself, rather a prayer for all of those whom he is leaving behind – making sure that they know they are loved, they are important, and they are not alone.
This prayer is asking God to create a shared community of honor and relationship between Jesus, and the disciples, but not just the 12 sitting there. He asks this for all generations. All whom God gave to him. All who are in the world. Jesus asks God to protect them, to empower them to carry on his works of justice and mercy, and to make them all one.
Jesus knows what’s coming. He knows what is coming for himself. He knows what is coming for the disciples. He knows that unity and community will be essential for them, just as it is essential for us.
Samuel Cruz writes: “Good works of justice, mercy, and equality were in stark opposition to a world in darkness. This must have created a sense of insecurity for the disciples. In all probability, the priority for this community must have been to safeguard against the dangers of the world around them. How would one support and protect the individuals who labored for the establishment of the Kingdom? Jesus knew that his time was limited. Prayer was needed and welcomed by the disciples of that community. Jesus prayed for his beloved … I think Jesus’ prayer should be accepted for what it was – a sincere petition asking for the help that his loved ones needed at that time and would need in the future.”
Jesus knows what all of his disciples will need in the future. He knows what is coming for future generations. He knows that several thousand years into the future communities of people will still struggle with issues of identity, fear, stigma, and isolation. Jesus knows that there will be a world full of people who present their “representatives” to the world around them giving off the image of having it all together, when they are really frightened and unsure underneath the disguise.
When Jesus offers this prayer he is certainly praying for the 12, but he is also praying for you, and for me. Much like a parent prays specifically for their children’s wholeness, happiness, and future, Jesus prays for all whom God has given him, including us.
For our lives. For our existence. For our ability to glorify God and to love our neighbors through works of justice, mercy, and equality. For us to go do what we have prepared to do, to walk into the scary realms of newness, to embrace the world around us, and to be implements of change.
None of that is easy, none of that is secure, and much like it was in Ancient Palestine, this work is contrary to our societal norms and cultures. It’s not normal to share love, grace, and mercy with all the world, with no motive or agenda. But we are called to attempt to do so, because that is what we have received. Unconditional grace, love and mercy.
Jesus knew the struggle would be real. He knew that societies would continue to counteract his mission. He knew the difficulties that his disciples would face then and in future generations. He could have prayed for any number of things, but he chose to pray for unity and community – because HE KNEW!
And that community is what we have today. We may not all know each. We may not all like each other. We may not all agree with each other all the time, but for a few moments each week, we can cast aside our “representatives” and be our broken, frail, insecure selves. We can gather together and we can experience Jesus together.
We share in bread and wine knowing that Jesus is present with us, equipping us to once again go out and face our fears in the world around us. Empowering us for the work that Jesus began and that we continue. In staff meeting this week Pastor Schul stated that: “Small actions all over make an impact and weave a greater tapestry of hope.”
Jesus prayed for all of this during his graduation address. And because of his prayer, we are stronger. Our true selves shine a little brighter and our need for our “representatives” diminishes.
Jesus’ time on earth was finished. Now it’s our time. Together each week we prepare to walk into scary realms. To embrace the world around us. To be implements of change – both large and small. To weave that beautiful tapestry of grace and love. Amen.