Clap for me.

I don’t remember very much about the moment of walking down the aisle to receive my diploma.  I don’t remember the diploma.  I know I must have received it; I know I framed it.  But I don’t remember reaching for it.  I don’t even remember holding the scroll in my hand.

Nor do I remember shaking the president’s hand, or what shoes I wore, or what I did other than smile.  I do remember the long, almost endless, and yet split-second walk down an aisle to go across a stage to take a diploma I don’t remember taking to go off the stage and back down the aisle.

The announcer called me by my legal first name, something he had to do, but something I haven’t gone by a day in my life, and I don’t think any college friends lingering around knew who I was until the moment had gone by.  So I didn’t have any of them to clap for me.  My mom was taking pictures on our digital camera, so she couldn’t clap.

I guess I had a professional photograph taken, maybe–I don’t remember.  I guess I had my few seconds of fame walking from one seat up a platform and down to another seat.  I know for a fact I look horrible in a long black gown.  But what most sticks in my mind in that walk towards the diploma was the clapping and hollering.

From my vantage point on stage, it sounded like I had one admirer.  And yet, this was more than enough, with the fervency of the admiration.  The hollering and clapping was enough to hold its own against ten rowdy college kids.

There was something about the hollering and applause.  It wasn’t just the screams of college kids trying to get attention for themselves or embarrass their roommates.  It was more like Jubilee shouting, Jubilee clapping.  Like a slave getting set free, or a hard journey rounding the last bend.

The clapping was gone, and the rooting, and my turn in the radius of the spotlight was up.

But who had been cheering for me?

It was my father.

My father never was a very loud person at public events.

He didn’t cheer loudly at a baseball game–though he did in front of the TV.  He didn’t applaud like crazy at my piano recitals–though he bragged on me in the car.  He didn’t say the loudest “amens” in the pastor’s sermons–or any “amens” out loud, but he’d talk about the message with conviction over Sunday lunch.

Dad was . . shy . . about sticking out in a crowd.  Like a bird that flies only when it isn’t watched too closely, my father was a wild cheerer only without scrutiny.

Now, the fact that my father was cheering and clapping despite this shyness might not make this story so extraordinary, because people do sometimes (rarely) change old habits.  But what makes this story so amazing is that my father had Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

He was at the point where he could barely talk, much less yell.  He sounded garbled, languageless.  And clap loudly?  Impossible.  He couldn’t button his shirt, much less slap his hands together in wild applause.

So what on earth happened?  A miracle?  Well, yes, but not in the way you are probably thinking.

Rewind to the time before I’d walked across the platform, before I walked up the aisle.  Rewind back to family rustling in their seats as they waited for my diplomatic debut, my mother edgily fingering the digital camera.  My family held their programs, waited for my name, talked in low voices about things no one remembers to make the time go by faster.

But not my father.  He had no part in these things.  He had something else to do.

He gestured clumsily, fumbled with slurred words–whatever he could to get my grandfather’s attention.  My dad was on a mission.  He’d made up his mind to keep trying until my grandfather understood, no matter how tired he got.

He did get my grandfather’s attention.

My grandfather watched him closely.

And he understood what my father wanted, what he was trying to say:

Clap for me.

My grandfather did.

And because he was cheering on behalf of my father, he threw everything he had into it.  It wasn’t a moment of celebrating a ceremony.  It was the chance to show my father he understood just how much he wanted to cheer at his only child’s graduation.  It was the chance to carry out my father’s will when he was utterly helpless to carry it out for himself.

The ceremony itself was, in a way, hard on me.  I was receiving an award– and I was losing my father.  I don’t remember the student in front of me or behind me, or the beautiful symphony music, or how full the building was.

But I do remember the clapping.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6, NASB)

When we were unable to do for ourselves what we most needed, Christ died for us.  I am convinced that I can’t unbind the burden of sin from my own back.  I can’t break my own sin nature; I can’t live a single day untarnished.  I am paralyzed in my sin.

That’s why Christ clapped for us.

When we couldn’t do anything to unburden ourselves, He unbuckled the load of our sins and carried them on His back.  That is the story of the cross.

He raised His hands when we could not, and He took the nails.  He drank the suffering we could not, and He finished the cup.

And no one who believes in Him will stand in silence before the throne of God.

Mobilized by His grace, we’ll all clap for Him.

God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, GW)