Culmination and Commencement

And Joshua said to them,

“Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God
into the midst of the Jordan,
and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder,
according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel,
that this may be a sign among you.

When your children ask in time to come,
‘What do those stones mean to you?’
then you shall tell them
that the waters of the Jordan were cut off
before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
When it passed over the Jordan,
the waters of the Jordan were cut off.

So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Before you walk into a new chapter of life, it is important to complete the past. The phrase isn’t original to me, but it makes sense. Before opening something new, it is important to close the old book.

One phrase I use to describe moments like this, moments like the one quoted above from the book of Joshua, is culmination and commencement.

Rarely do things begin or end alone. Usually both are happening at the same time.

For example, the ceremony at the end of high school is called commencement, which means “beginning”.

In America the culmination of the week, the weekend, finishes with what has for years been the first day of the week – Sunday.

The end of the work week is also the beginning of the weekend – Friday. Beginnings and endings are happening at the same time.

So in the above passage, when it talks about stones as a sign, are they a sign of the beginning or the end of something?

On the one hand, these stones will mark the end of the Israelite tribes wandering through the desert. The parting of the Jordan river signifies the opening of the promised land for the Hebrews to settle.

On the other hand, the stones mark the beginning of the conquest. There will be no more waiting, but a time of war is upon them.

To complete the past, then, is absolutely important to starting the future. It is not a step that can be skipped.

There is no intermission in life – the end of Act I is the beginning of Act II. That’s why an intermission in a play or musical is a special thing. The world of theatre gives us pause to consider what we have just seen and gives us time to reflect on what may come. Real life is another story.

This is why stones of remembrance are placed in the Jordan River. They mark the event that was both the completion of the past and a pointing forward to the future.

Also, this is how the ancient church calendar can help people today. Three yearly markers serve a function similar to those stones in the river.

Advent is a sign both of the past coming of Jesus in the flesh, but also a looking forward to his return in the future.

Epiphany and the time following is sign that as Jesus lived a life walking in obedience before God, and it invites us to live a similar existence in the power that Jesus gives us.

Easter is the reminder that Jesus was resurrected historically and bodily, and the power that raised him is available to empower those who trust their lives to him.

In other words, the past that Jesus lived points as a sign so that we can have power to walk in the present.

The stones in the river were a marker of God’s power to use water to change the course of history for a whole people. Likewise, the cross of Christ is a marker of God’s power to use the blood of his son to change the course of history for you.

Whatever the past is that we have faced, in Christ there is a future and power available to walk in it.

Where do you need that power today?