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May 18, 2023

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday is the convergence of two observances, one civic and one liturgical. First, it is Graduation Sunday, in which we will honor the high school seniors in our worship services with a video and a prayer of blessing. It is also Ascension Sunday, in which Christians around the world remember Jesus’ final moments with the disciples before ascending into heaven.

It’s not often that graduation and ascension occur on the same Sunday, but there is some connection between commencement addresses typically heard at graduations and the speech that Jesus gave to the disciples.

Commencement speakers often seize the significance of the moment and challenge the listeners to rise to the occasion. They widen the graduates’ gaze beyond their own social circle, and summon them to be part of something greater than themselves.

Here are some of the more notable commencement speeches offered in recent history. Listen for those common elements:

From Vaclav Havel:

Whether our world is to be saved from everything that threatens it today depends above all on whether human beings come to their senses, whether they understand the degree of their responsibility and discover a new relationship to the very miracle of being. The world is in the hands of us all. (Harvard University, May, 1995)

From Elie Wiesel:

My good friends, we are all waiting. We are waiting, if not for the Messiah, as such, we are waiting for the messianic moment. And the messianic moment is what each and every one of us tries to build, meaning a certain area of humanity that links us to all those who are human and, therefore, desperately trying to fight despair as humanly as possible and–I hope–with some measure of success. (DePaul University, June 15, 1997)

From Bono:

This is the straight truth. The righteous truth. It’s not a theory; it’s a fact. The fact is that this generation — yours, my generation — we’re the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this stupid extreme poverty, where, in a world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in its belly. (University of Pennsylvania, May 17, 2004)

Then there is this speech, offered 2,000 years ago, during a commencement ceremony on a mountain top. Assembled were students of Jesus’ traveling seminary, who had spent more than

three years learning, practicing, attempting, failing, and trying again. For this simple band of commoners, the world had changed. They were no longer fishermen and tax collectors, they were world-changers-in-the-making.

And their time had come. When Jesus stood before them, before he took off into the clouds, he gave his address:

This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:4-8)

Like all great commencement speeches, Jesus seized the moment. He told the disciples that there were challenges ahead, but that they were to carry the gospel of God’s love to the furthest reaches of the earth, beyond their small social circles. Along the way, they would not be alone, for the Spirit would come upon them. They would receive the Spirit’s power and comfort to achieve great things for the Kingdom, and participate in God’s ongoing project: the healing of the world and redemption of all creation.

Congratulations to all of our graduates, from preschool, high school, college, and beyond. More importantly, let us hear Christ’s commencement address for ourselves, calling us to a deeper commitment and a greater love.

See you Sunday!

The Rev. Magrey deVega

Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist