On May 7, Mary and I officially became the parents of a college graduate, as David handed in the last assignment of his undergraduate career. Four days later, Mary and I took a day off and drove down to help David move out of his college apartment. No ceremony, neither pomp nor circumstance, no craning to see David among 2,500 other gowned graduates amid the red and white azaleas and the green of the Lawn at Radford University. This year the Lawn is empty, the buildings dark, and the only ceremony attached to the end of his four years at Radford was his surrendering his apartment keys at the landlord’s office…into a locked box, because no one is working.
He will not admit it, but I think there is a piece of him that mourns the lack of closure. He’s never been one for ceremony, but after seventeen years of formal education, some piece of him was looking for that final moment. I know his mother and I were. Is this all there is?
Others are perhaps in a similar place: graduations from high school, college, or grad school that are deferred, rescheduled, or not to be held, denying closure for the student and for the families. Similarly, for all those moving up from elementary school to junior high, or junior high to high school, there is no final ceremony, there is no final week of joy. Or even those just moving up a grade, there is a sense of unfinished business about the year that I sense in talking with people: is this all there is?
God’s people have seen unfinished business before. On March 16, 597 BC, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, captured Jerusalem. He destroyed the Temple, the center of Hebrew worship, and carried off most of the nation of Judah into captivity; we read of the fall of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 24, and we see the weeping of the people, and the confusion. The city has fallen, the Temple is in ruins, and the people have been led off into captivity…now what? Is this all there is?
God, of course, had other plans for God’s people. Jeremiah was a prophet at the time of the Captivity, and in Jeremiah 30, we read God’s promise for the future: “For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people” (Jeremiah 30:3).
I truly believe that same promise is at work today. God sees all the heartache and distress, and hears the cry of “Is this all there is?” God’s transformative work is already at hand, as we begin transforming towards reopening churches this month. The days are surely coming, when our fortunes as a congregation will change, and we can worship God once again in person as we are comfortable.
And as we do re-emerge, for all those finishing either just a year of school this year, or making a major change such as graduating, know that the same promise holds true for you; God will make everything whole. All you who are students, know that as this school year ends you are being held in prayer by your church family, for the joys of graduation and the sorrows of unfinished business. To all the graduates, God bless you on your next journeys. To all the continuing students, like me…blessings on your summer, and I’ll meet you in class in September.