Near the end of my first grade year, I asked my mom how much longer I needed to go to school. I enjoyed first grade as well as kindergarten the year before that, but I did wonder if there would be a day when I wouldn’t have to go anymore. I had suspected that I would need to go at least until eighth grade, and my suspicions were confirmed. Then my mom surprised me with the news of eight more years of school, called “high school” and “college.” For a young child squinting to see the end of school as upon a distant horizon, graduation seems like a fantasy which will never materialize. For those who are now arriving at their graduation day, the common question is, “Where did the time go?”
While graduation is the end goal for millions of young people around our nation, graduation day is not the end. The word itself implies a progression to something new. Just as the celebration of a sports championship is shortly followed by a new season, so each graduation brings on a new season of life. And how intimidating it can be to graduate into that unknown! Whether you are an eighth grader graduating into the intimidating halls of high school, or a high school senior progressing to the pressures of college, or a college senior stepping into your career, graduation is often accompanied by fear of what comes next.
Joshua must have been filled with a mixture of fear and apprehension as he graduated from being Moses’ assistant to serving the Lord as leader of the Israelites. What dangers would they face in the Promised Land? Would the people listen to him as they had to Moses? In response to these unspoken fears, the Lord gave him this promise, “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV) This is the same promise the Lord makes to each of our graduates in 2019. But how often do we look on this promise in the same way a first grader looks at graduation—as some far-off possibility that really is only meant for someone else? Instead of clinging to this promise, we often embark upon the next steps with our confidence founded in ourselves or our own plans.
Nevertheless, God’s promise remains true: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV) Christ proved His faithfulness by joining us here, to take upon His body the pains which we deserve. He suffered death and rose again to ensure our deliverance from hell. And now He promises that He “will be with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) And so God is still with us to guide and provide, strengthening us through Word and Sacrament.
There are those among us who will graduate this year, not from school, but from this life to the next. For billions around the world, this one graduation holds the most cause for fear. And yet through Christ’s victory over death, we know that there is no uncertainty awaiting us. Rather, there we will find the perfect fulfillment of God’s promise to Joshua. For after death, we will forever be with the Lord.
Whether you are a first grader, or a high school graduate, or in your old age, cling to this promise from God. He is with you through whatever is coming next, and His focus ever remains on guiding you through to your final graduation. “[The Lord] will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV)
Samuel Rodebaugh is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winter Haven, Florida.