I mostly think of June around here as the month of graduations and the end of school. Most of us perceive it
as a mad rush to get things done before summer and vacations, or at least a slightly more relaxed pace. I would lose
my good standing in the Preachers-Saying-Obvious-Things union if I didn’t type something about remembering to go to
church somewhere wherever you are and to keep your pledges up to date and all that other getting ready for summer
But graduations come along first, and while thinking about graduation ceremonies that I have attended (both
as a participant and a parent) a couple of relevant things popped into my mind. Of course, there is a certain necessary
tedium to sitting there while long lists of graduates’ names are read, but usually it is punctuated by applause and happy
outbursts from families rejoicing for their graduate. And there is the discomfort of sitting in the long black robes in summer
weather. My graduation from Hamilton College was outdoors. In a black robe. My seminary graduation was in
Richmond. In a black robe. Outdoors in the heat. And I’ve been a participant, doing an invocation or benediction a
few more times. In un-air-conditioned auditoriums. In a black robe. (Any questions why I am happy to stop wearing
the black robe after Pentecost?!?)
But here’s the thing: most of the programs list the ceremony as a “Commencement.” Interesting word, that.
“Commencement” carries connotations of commencing something, not just finishing up school and graduating, which
sorta looks backward. Commencement speaks of going out into the world, starting out at what you are educated to do.
Whether graduate school with a professional degree or high school to the military or a job, you are going out, going out
prepared, going out to commence the next season of your life. You don’t stay at school. You go out into the world and
make a difference. You commence living.
Commencement speakers usually pick up on that theme, telling graduates to go out and make a difference,
follow their dream, never give up, amaze people, get on with a productive life. Often the speaker jokes about the graduates
going out in to the “real” world. One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books started out as a commencement address
delivered late in his life. He then illustrated it, and it was published as “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” (OK, second favorite
to “The Grinch.”)
And here is the real thing: every Sunday is a commencement. Each Sunday during worship we are reminded
of the bonds we share together, reminded of how we have been educated in the faith, reminded that we are prepared
and invigorated and energized to go out into the world to make God’s difference in the lives of others. The worship
service is not the end, not the end product. It is getting us ready to meet the coming week, with its joys and challenges,
out there in the oh-so-real world.
A certain style of church architecture has an inscription over the sanctuary door. One version has the Great
Commission, to go out and make disciples. Another says “We are Christ’s hands in the world.” A more modern version
I’ve seen says, “Our worship is ended. Our service begins.” You may remember my children’s time last year when I
put “Employees’ Entrance” over the door exiting the sanctuary. All of them, and many charges before the benediction
(the “Go forth…”) remind us that we do not stay inside the church, but we leave to make a difference. We go out into
the world, to love and serve God and neighbors.