Roy Atwood’s final charge to the 2015 graduates
The following is the final address delivered by past NSA President and Senior Fellow, Dr. Roy Atwood, to the class of 2015 at this year’s Commencement ceremony:
Members of the Class of 2015:
As your former college president, it is my privilege to give you, as former college students, your final charge. Put another way, this is the final word of one has-been to the latest class of NSA has-beens.
You have been a good class and it should probably be you up here instead of me. After all, you finished your work at NSA in about four years or less; it took me more than 20 years to finish mine.
But whether our Moscow captivity has been two years or 20, this is a glorious occasion, fittingly punctuated by the fact that today is Ascension Day.
The Ascension is, sadly, the most neglected, least understood, and least celebrated part of the redemptive story in the church today. Tim Chester & Jonny Woodrow, in their delightful little book, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God (2013), explain why, when they write,
“Let’s be honest: the ascension of Jesus is weird.”
It seems strange indeed to most of us that the final act of Jesus’s earthly ministry should be him floating off into the clouds and out of sight.
But it only seems weird until you realize that it was the capstone moment of Jesus’s earthly ministry that was absolutely essential for our redemption.
It was the Second Moses returning to the impenetrable cloud on the Mount.
Without Christ’s ascension there is no consummation to our salvation, no Holy Spirit, no great commission.
We’d be like the prodigal son returning, being forgiven, even given a new life, but then receiving our Father’s cold shoulder with no celebratory feast, no reconciliation. That would be even weirder.
So the ascension is weird, but only in the most redemptive and glorious sense.
And I believe there are some interesting parallels between the ascension story and our story here as those who have completed our work at New Saint Andrews today:
- Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely take on human flesh at his incarnation, it was not enough for you to have merely been admitted to NSA—more was needed.
- Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely suffer and die on the cross, it was not enough for you to merely suffer through all those classes, books, declamations, recitations, Disputatios, lectures, papers and a thesis —more was needed.
- Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely rise from the dead on the third day, it was not enough for you to merely complete your graduation requirements and to receive your diploma today—more is still needed.
One more thing was required of Jesus after the resurrection, just as one more thing is required of you after graduation.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took his incarnate-crucified-and-resurrected human body and restored redeemed humanity to full fellowship with our Heavenly Father. By his ascension we now have the full rights and inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Lord of the Universe.
In a similar way, if you were only admitted, studied and graduated from the College, then your story would be radically incomplete.
What you must now do is rise to the occasion as those who have been admitted-educated-and-graduated, and go forth faithfully and joyfully to serve our Ascended King and his Kingdom as alumni of New Saint Andrews. This is your ascension moment.
St. Paul put it this way, in Colossians 3
“(1) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on things on earth. (3) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
So my final, three-fold charge to all of us who bid New Saint Andrews farewell today is this:
- Remember that, just as Jesus’s final act of ascending to heaven was to reconcile fallen humanity to God the Father, once and for all, so too you, as alumni of New Saint Andrews and the adopted children and heirs of the King of kings, must be busy doing the Kingdom work of declaring the crown rights of Jesus over every square inch of all that exists.
If you are in Christ, this is your call. If you are an NSA alumnus, this is your call.
If we fall short of that, then our NSA experience and your graduation today will have been in vain.
- Second, never allow any friends, spouse, child, family, clan, college, career, congregation, community, nation, ideology, or dream to displace our First Love and highest priority. Let nothing in our lives or devotions distract us from our chief end to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
- And finally, be weird. That will probably be easy for some of you. But remember each Ascension Day, the anniversary of our Last Day at NSA, that what seems weird is sometimes the most important and necessary and glorious thing of all.
When everyone else is taking the easy road to success or fame, be weird by choosing a more faithful direction.
When everyone else is camping only where it is safe, and comfortable, and smugly self-satisfied, then be weird and pack up your tent and follow the path Abraham took.
Go where there is the greatest need, rather than where you can make the most money.
Go where your gifts and abilities can best serve the least in Christ’s Kingdom, rather than producing one more widget for some godless corporation.
And be shapers, not consumers of culture—for Christ’s sake.
In doing so, we will, together, fulfill the mission and capstone experience of New Saint Andrews, namely, to become “leaders who shape culture through wise and victorious Christian living.”
Class of 2015, I hope every Ascension Day hereafter will remind you of your chief end and greatest privilege.
Make this your own ascension moment. Rise to the occasion. Take your rightful place next to Christ’s ascended side and advance his kingdom to every corner of Creation.
May our Ascended Lord guide and bless you all your days. And may they be many, joyful, fruitful and wonderfully weird.
God bless you!
Holy and Ascended Lord,
We thank you for these graduates who worked so hard and faithfully these past few years. Bless them for their labors.
Go before them.
And most of all embolden them to serve you all their days without fear or faltering.
Make these graduates, as your adopted children, to be like their ascended Lord:
humble in spirit,
pure in faith,
self-sacrificial in love,
fervent in godliness,
steadfast in the truth, and ever joyful in hope, according to the sure promises of your Word.
Lord, thank you, too, for their families, especially their parents, who sacrificed so much that these graduates might be better prepared for service in your kingdom.
Multiple their blessings 10- and 100-fold for their faithful nurturing of these children you entrusted to them.
Now dismiss us with your Triune blessing, we pray,
In the strong name of our ascended Lord, Jesus,