A Diploma, Twelve Stones and the Cross
June 4, 2008 § 2 Comments
Last evening our eldest daughter graduated from High School. It was a sweet event. The school both our girls attend has preserved a tradition of offering spoken words of honor and praise for each graduating Senior as they receive their diplomas. As I sat there beside Katherine, brimming with pride, and overflowing with love, joy and thanksgiving, it struck me that our daughter has encountered one of those markers in life.
Joshua 4 recounts a fascinating event in the life and history of Israel. After the people of God traversed the Jordan River to finally enter into Canaan, men from each of the tribes were commissioned to carry a total of 12 huge stones on their shoulders from the middle of the river to the first camp they would establish in the Promised Land. There in the new land they were to lay these stones that would serve as markers, so that whenever children asked what they represented they would hear the story of the day that God dried up the river to enable the Ark of the Covenant and His people to pass through on the day they entered.
Today, I reflected on Emily’s graduation and realized that it has been 33 years since mine! A few of us laughed about the age ‘thing’ this morning as I related how depressing it sometimes is to have to use one of those pull-down menus to fill in a blank that asks what year you are born. It seems like I have to wait three eternities until it scrolls down to 1957 – very sad. All I have as a reminder of my high school days is a few scattered friends, a yearbook – and, fortunately, my diploma, because interestingly and mercifully, every diploma leaves out the gory details of skipped classes, failed tests, missed assignments and after-school detentions.
A diploma tells you and those around you that you made it – that you never again have to go to grade school or middle school or high school – that you are done and that something important happened along the way. Along with the date of graduation it has your name on it and the signatures of important people who verify that the document is official – that it actually happened! It doesn’t tell of the pitfalls you encountered getting to that stage – only that somehow, someway, you made it to the other side.
Through the years those stones told an old story to new generations of Israelites – a story of something that had happened in the life of their people – but deeper, the story of a God who fulfills His word and delivers the people He delights in. What God didn’t do is have the Israelites lay down forty stones that would represent the forty years they whined, complained, rebelled and disobeyed before they eventually got to the river. This is because the Gospel isn’t about what we can’t do so much as what God has done – in Christ – for us.
For our daughter, as with every grad, this is one step on the path of a much grander journey – a happy step, to be sure, but also a journey that will be marked by all kinds of experiences, good, bad, and in between. That’s what makes it a journey – life isn’t stagnancy – it is a span of events, an entire lifetime of paths ventured, relationships forged, mistakes made, sins committed and forgiven, struggles wrestled through and lessons learned.
The point never is our stumbling – that is a given – No, it is always the same story that those Israelite children heard from their forefathers – that we are feeble, and we can’t carry ourselves across the river, but that we have a God who loves us and has made a way for us to make it to the other side regardless of our weakness.
Of course the true marker for the Christ-follower is the Cross. Like those stones it serves as the core symbol of God’s Rescue. It is what we – and the generations that follow – have been given – to flee to in faith and to be reminded that once we were wandering in sin, but now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we have ‘crossed over from death to life’ (John 5:24).
I can’t fully express in words the joy and love that flooded our hearts as we watched our precious Emily cross that stage and enter into her moment of graduation. Perhaps the sweeter and deeper sense was that she has entered into the rest of her life – a life that will encompass many experiences, joys, pitfalls, confrontations, mistakes, sorrows, wounds, people, accomplishments, trials, errors, discoveries, transgressions, doubts and assurances.
Her diploma tells us that she never has to go to high school again. The Cross assures us that our daughter is safe – because she is His.