Rev. Shomari Tate

“It is Finished”
By Rev. Shomari Tate Chaplain of Discipleship 

Sunday, May 5, 2024
Ray and Sue Smith Stadium Holland, Michigan

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Scogin, Provost Griffin, faculty & staff, family, friends, loved ones, and especially the reason why we are all here, the class of 2024. You are most welcomed here!

Class of 2024, I am humbled and honored that you trust me with the monumental task of serving as your commencement speaker. Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned that in two and a half short years of serving you as a Chaplain, that I would be delivering the final lesson of your college experience. When I first arrived here in the fall of 2021, you were sophomores and we were in the throngs of a pandemic gripping the world; what a journey it has been. To see the courageous, convicted, kind, and courteous young adults you have all grown into has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I want to re-read our scripture lesson that contains the topic of our conversation; John 19:30: “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It Is Finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up His spirit.”

It is finished. My brothers and sisters, never in the history of humankind have more important words ever been spoken. These words teach us everything that we need to know about our existence. They teach us about the mission statement of èƵ, which is to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith. The context of the historic Christian faith is the context for which this school was founded. In this context, we find a solemn thread about human existence. This solemn thread links all of our lives together, and I use the word solemn rather intentionally. Not to mean sad or gloomy, but rather to mean serious and important. This is the weight of which the foundation of èƵ rests on. This is the weight of how important each and every one of your lives are. 

Class of 2024, I love that some of you test the boundaries of faith. It may bother some, but it excites me! It means that you’re doing exactly what Jesus did regardless of if you believe in Him or not. It means that you’re testing not just the boundaries of faith, but you’re testing the boundaries of human existence. Jesus did the same thing during his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. He tested the boundaries of faith not to destroy it, but to build it, to improve it, and to make it better. We who believe in the gospel have unfortunately become intimidated by those of you that are skeptical of the faith instead of living into the second Christian aspiration of èƵ of being welcoming. Here at Hope, to be welcoming means that regardless of your creed, your background, your race, your gender, or your orientation that you are welcomed here! We believe that is the way of Jesus. 

Your generation more than any other generation in American history has realized something about some traditions of mainstream Christianity. You’ve realized the unfortunate reality that some forms of faith are what theologian Robert McCracken used to call a “suburban gospel.” This is a gospel that doesn’t like adversity. This is a gospel that prefers uniformity instead of the duty of diversity. This is a gospel that prefers the status quo instead of living into God’s purpose of creating meaningful change in the world. It deals with manageable themes, inoffensive language, and whimsical advice. It fails to cut at the heart and at the core of what human existence is all about. 

But the gospel of which I speak of, which gives our beloved institution its context—the historic Christian faith—has measured the depths and heights of the human condition. It speaks to those who sit high and reminds them that God casts the mighty from their seats. It speaks to people who are suppressed, oppressed, and faced with injustice and reminds them that it is God who lifts up those who are of low status. It reminds those who are hopeless that there is an authentic hope for the world. 

It speaks of God as someone who cannot be adequately explained with human words. It speaks to the great depth that is the challenge to exist as a human being. The apostle Saint Paul deals with this depth with what is known as the doctrine of kenosis. It holds that Jesus journeyed down from His position in the Godhead and did not consider it presumptuous—not taking it for granted—to be equal with the Father. That he gave it all up and came down to the lowest depths of humanity. He took on the form of a servant, and became obedient even to the point of death. 

What a strange gospel. What a unique gospel. Some say it doesn’t make sense. Some would say it’s not real. What I love about the life of our Lord and Savior, is that it is a life that links us all together. The life of Jesus is similar to all of our lives—busy. It seems that He’s always moving, from one thing to the next to accomplish something challenging, great, and costly. Today, I want to give you a few things about this link as something for the rest of your life’s journey. The first thing about the life of Jesus that links every single one of us together is this: 

Life is built on Adversity

The cost of achievement is adversity. The cost of advancement is adversity. If you want to go far in life, you have to pay a price called pain. It is the pain of being you that creates the power of being you. I submit to you today that life—as some of you have already experienced—is full of storms. While God doesn’t always take you out of the storm, He will never let the storm take you out. There is no other way.

Our college; èƵ, is built upon the foundation of adversity. There is blood here. Where anything that is worth having has been lifted; there is blood somewhere. Somewhere here where we stand right now there are long sleepless nights. In the midst of you and your classmates, there have been four, five, and six years of adversity. You all have experienced bitter times of uncertainty where you do not know what the future holds. Where you have been unsure if you’re going to make it. Where you’ve had to sit in the midst of disappointment, heartbreak, and pain. 

I pray you all to come to understand that if love is going to be a central theme of your character, then you are undoubtedly going to be faced with adversity. Even the purest forms of love involve sacrifice. Life is built on adversity. Each one of you graduates are here today out of adversity. Somewhere in the world right now and throughout the past, there has been somebody who has had to pay the price for us to exist. You will never be able to build your life on any other basis; it will not stand upon any other foundation. This is the origin of all human existence; that a perfect Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus went down into the shadow of death so that we could live again. Without the shedding of blood, there is no redemption of the world, and there is no hope. 

I need you to hear me today; this is the most important thing you will learn at Hope College. Trust me when I tell you this is not outdated nor outworn, and it applies to each and every one of us here today. It is the very essence of being human. I wish I could tell you exactly where it starts. I often wonder if, like your parents, did the mother of Jesus know that her son would be somebody. I am not sure, but I hear it in what is known as the great “I must” statements. As a 12-year-old child, Jesus defiantly says, “I must be about my father’s business.” That’s the next aspect of this common thread in the life of Jesus that links us all together: 

Life is about Duty

It is about obligation; it is about our morals; it is about our responsibilities. It becomes clear when King David picks up his sling and stone because He must slay Goliath. It becomes clear when Deborah defies the systematic poison of sexism because she must become the first and only female judge in the Bible. It becomes clear in the life of Harriet Tubman when she led the efforts of the underground railroad because she must help free those enslaved. It becomes clear in the lives of each and every one of you when you said I must embark on this college journey. 

Nowhere is it clearer than in the life of Jesus, and when we creep into His story at the height of the adversity he had to deal with in the final hours of His humanity in the garden of Gethsemane where he cries out, “My Father, if it be possible that this cup of suffering could pass from me.” But then he says, “Nevertheless, your will, be done!” 

At the thought of dying for the sins of the world, Jesus responds with the authority and urgency of someone on a great mission: “The cup which my father giveth me. Shall I not drink it?” This disgusting cup. This abusive cup. This ignorant cup. This horrible cup. This cup that nobody wants. This cup that nobody else will even touch. No matter how much I don’t want to. No matter how much I hate it. No matter how much it hurts me. No matter how much I have to endure. No matter how much it makes me tremble. The cup which my father gives me. Life is about duty. In that moment, when it becomes your duty to drink from your cup, will you say these same words? The cup which your father gives you. As Jesus hangs on the cross. As darkness begins to cover the world and hope is gone, and with a loud shout: “Father, into your hands, I give my spirit.” It. Is. Finished. The next aspect of Jesus that links all of us together is this: 

Life is About God’s Purpose

When Jesus says these three words, He seems to speak of the fulfillment of the consummation of that terrifying shadow that has covered His entire life. It is this crimson red thread that runs through the entire story of scripture. It talks about something God will do if you and I fail our assigned purpose to steward well over human free will. I read it in the most famous psalm of all time, Psalm 23:4: 

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil, for He is with me. His rod and His staff, they comfort me.”

As I live out the last year of my twenties and prepare to enter my third decade of life—with a bachelor’s degree, three master’s degrees, and soon to be a doctoral degree—as I get older; I don’t know anything else of any greater importance than whatever it was Jesus was talking about when He said, “It is Finished.” I’m honestly not sure how I should describe it. What was holy in Jesus and hated evil made demands upon his purpose, and what was tender in Him and made Him say that He loves us all with an everlasting love also made demands upon Him. 

I think we can find it in each of our lives. That all of our lives, great or not, speaks of some high cost. Of a great price. Of a great sacrifice. I read in Jeremiah of a vessel that is like clay in the hands of the potter. However, the potter destroys His work, and puts it back into the healing fire and makes it again. I read in the book of Zechariah of fountains open in the house of David. It is Finished! As if some great contingency plan is needed. As if a great disaster procedure is needed in case of the collapse of the human undertaking that God has a plan for your life! The plan that He has for your life was not thought of out of nowhere, and it was not conceived at the last minute. In our Christian context we use mysterious words that are hard to understand like pre-ordained and predestined. But it is the echo of the words found in John’s revelation of a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; It Is Finished. My closing point about this Jesus-centered link that connects us all, that forces us to deal with adversity, that gives us our duty, and that crafts our purpose is this:

Life is about God, because the consequences of sin live on 

In my time here at èƵ, I have spent countless hours having conversations with many of you, and I have spent many nights praying for the things that you trust to share with me. I think the skepticism that some of you might have towards faith is because of the “suburban” gospel I spoke about; it turned you away from faith. Because of this, there are some of you who may not believe in the idea of sin; that the concept of sin is no longer important in today’s world. Some of you have shared with me that this idea of sin is an old and a worn-out notion. Truthfully, maybe it is; I don’t know. Who am I to argue with the world’s next generation of experts? Here is what I do know about that boring, old, and ugly word; its consequences live on. These consequences live on in a world you are about to enter into for the next phase of your life’s journey. 

I speak of people your age who have died by suicide. I speak of broken and destroyed families and homes. You may not like the word sin, but its consequences live on. I speak of people the same age as you dead before they can even make it to the hospital due to the fentanyl crisis. You might not like the word sin, but its consequences live on. I speak of a nation torn apart by a crippling political divide. I speak of genocides taking place around the world as we speak like the ones in the Ukraine and in Gaza. The consequences of sin are not dead, and it's up to you—the next generation of leaders—to step into this adversity with purpose and duty. 

Whatever Jesus was talking about when he said, “It is Finished,” has something to do with human failure. It’s all around you and I. It's why He has to utter these three powerful words after suffering for the shortcomings of a broken world. 

These words, however, are not words of defeat; Class of 2024. These are words of the greatest achievement ever accomplished! As Jesus says these last words: the holy warrior’s muscles unclench, He unbuckles His shield, the price has been paid, the debt has been cancelled, the adversary has been outmatched, destruction has been turned back as he says, “Into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” The last exam has been taken; the last all-nighter has been pulled; the final paper has been written; the last box has been checked. 

Class of 2024, Congratulations, 

It is finished.