My daughter graduated from Calvin College this spring on a sweltering, late May Michigan day.
I was grateful to enter an air-conditioned fieldhouse with about 3,000 other attendees after waiting (sweating!) in an outdoor line for the better part of an hour. Waiting is a big part of every graduation ceremony! Lines beforehand, pictures and receptions after, and speeches and so-many-names-to-be-read as part of the ceremony itself. All that waiting would have been my lasting impression of graduation 2019 were it not for gracious surprise along the way.
About halfway through the two-hour ceremony, the president of Calvin College indicated that there were other graduates in addition to the 1,000 young adults assembled on the floor of the field house. He gestured to a large screen where a live feed from a state prison came into focus.
For the first time, there would be associate degrees conferred to 15 current inmates from the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan.
My eyes widened as I looked upon the faces of these 15 graduates. I saw dignity, accomplishment and potential beaming through their faces and wide smiles. Others in the room felt the same. There is a lot of applauding at graduations, but the applause and cheers that day reached their high point for these 15 grads. I teared up big time. I hardly even teared up for my own kid. What was going on?
I believe that we are all suckers for stories of radical positive transformation because we all know in our heart-of-hearts that WE TOO are in need of some radical positive transformation. This is why the Gospel is such good news. It’s why I love to hear the Gospel story and why I love to tell the Gospel story over and over again. Jesus’ death and resurrection offers everybody the possibility of forgiveness-powered-transformation through God’s relentless love. God’s love confers the same dignity and potential modeled by those 15 inmate-graduates to everybody willing to open themselves to Jesus’ way.
As the applause for the 15 new graduates died down, the president of Calvin College had one more surprise to share. There was a 16th inmate to graduate with an associate degree who had been recently released and was seated on the field house floor with the rest of the students!
A grinning grad stood up to another round of thunderous applause. A live camera zoomed in on his shining face — a face both fully adult and like that of a newborn. I was crying again.
Total sucker for a redemption story. Such is the power of hope on the human heart.
This Sunday night at 6:00 p.m., Elmhurst CRC will host a Prison Ministry Celebration that will be filled with similar (and some, even better!) stories of hope, along with some awesome music in between. Perhaps your heart could benefit from such an evening.
God’s Grace to you in the experience a Sabbath day full of worship, rest and delight.