June 1, 2010
On May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford, the Governor of California, took a hammer in his hand at Promontory Summit, Utah. Moments later he used it to drive a golden spike, the last spike that ceremonially joined together the rails of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, thus creating the first transcontinental railroad. It was an event that had an enormous influence not only on the State of California, as it opened a much easier path to immigrants, but it transformed the way Americans viewed and experienced their country. Minutes after the ceremony, a telegram was sent to President U.S. Grant in Washington, “Sir, we have the honor to report that the last rail is laid, the last spike is driven, the Pacific Railroad is finished.”
The completion of the railroad was, of course, not truly the end of the railroad project; it was only the end of the beginning. Railroads don’t exist to lay track. They exist to move people and goods between places that have previously lacked or had only the most rudimentary connection. So this great moment may have been a completion, but it wasn’t the completion. It was, in fact, a commencement of an entirely new way of life.
The month of June is famous for two things – graduations and weddings. Both are special “golden spike” moments that mark out the end of one stage, and the beginning of another. Both are the product of hard work, careful planning and a larger vision. They are occasions to celebrate the past, and all that has taken place. And they are also occasions to anticipate the ways in which the past is the prelude to the future.
Both weddings and graduations provide the opportunity to become “last spike” moments for those who are there to witness the occasion. Each wedding should not only be an opportunity to rejoice with the bride and groom, but to hear the vows and to recommit oneself to the vows one has taken. Or, if one is single, to live out one’s singleness in a way that truly glorifies God.
Graduations, as well, are opportunities to reflect on the bright hopes and dreams we once held as we walked across a stage to receive a diploma. But that ceremony was only a beginning. The call of God is faithfulness to the end, and so a graduation provides an occasion to evaluate how we are advancing, on the journey of life, towards faithfulness to God and his purposes for our lives. Summer itself, with its break from many of life’s normal routines, provides an opportunity for us to take stock of our progress, and then, in the words of Paul, “forgetting what is behind, and straining to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).