At Commencement at Harvard University, the minister at the Memorial Church renowned preacher, Peter Gomes, used to tell the graduates this famous bible story:
“As they were being driven out of Eden, and at the east the flaming sword barricaded the tree of life and blocked the way back, Eve turned to Adam and said, ‘My dear, we are entering a time of transition.’”
Unlike undergraduates leaving college, those who graduate from Seminary of the Southwest tomorrow do not romanticize their time here nor do they imagine this campus, beautiful as it is, to have been paradise. However, there may be some regret tonight,
some sense of loss, of these friendships, of this intense time of formation that will never be exactly replicated again.
Really the “transition” you prepare for tonight is one episode in an ongoing transition.
It is a transition that those who leave share with those who remain here to teach and lead and welcome the new class in August.
In our tradition this is the transition of a lifetime, and it is called, “drinking the cup that Jesus drinks and being baptized with the baptism with which Jesus is baptized.”
The scripture of Israel tells the story of testing and of trial, of suffering, of repentance, and restoration, of a people, scattered and sinning, whom God washes and brings back to their land.
The gospels tell the story of a Jesus, tested, pursued, tortured, and killed, whom God raises from the dead, bringing a whole people back to life and giving them a role, a job, a task, marching orders, an agenda.
In this transition we undergo, enact, perform this story.
Your education has enculturated you into that story, socialized you, made you into a person with a certain kind of character, equipped with knowledge, so that you can carry out that agenda given by God.
First, this transition is A Losing.
Gosh, how much you have had to lose!
Certainty that you knew it all.
Fantasy about how holy and special and superhuman a counselor, chaplain, priest, spiritual director is. (James and John had to lose all this too – those seats at Jesus’ right and left hand – seemed just within reach…)
Control. (“You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross”)
At the same time, this transition is A Gaining, A Getting, A Saving —
Receiving Life from the stone cold tomb.
Gaining companionship, classmates, friends, belonging to a body, taking a role in the economy and ecology of the body of Christ,
Purpose and connection with the deep, high, wide, broad mission of God.
Receiving Joy – deep joy.
This transition is A Sending –
Martha Horne, dean emerita of Virginia Seminary says that seminary is academy, abbey, apostolate. This transition is the apostolate.
He is not here – go to Galilee – there you will see him.
World beyond Eden.
Austin, Alabama, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia…
According to the story – People of Israel are not just supposed to hang out in the land, at ease in Zion, but get to the work of obeying the commandments and being a light to the nations.
According to the story – People of God are not just supposed to enjoy the liturgy, but head out into Galilee where there are still human beings mentally ill, hungry, abused, thirsty, naked and poor and there are still plenty of tyrants, arrogant, greedy, and dangerous.
Whatever our job… we are trying to live into our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You see this transition, this losing and gaining, is a Transformation.
This is our work, whether we go or stay –
Living into our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Seminary of the Southwest is for sure not Eden. But it is a place of life, good work, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
At this time of transition, let us give thanks to God for the friendship, company, joy, wisdom, we have gained, the renewed sense of purpose, and insight into the mystery of God.