In the clouds
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” Hebrews 12:1
Our scripture readings this past (toasty!) Sunday were full of painful images. Wiser people than this writer can address them, but I want to talk about the image that brought me to a reflective place of gratitude, the ever-present cloud of witnesses.
Who are these witnesses? They are people from every age who were molded by their faith in God, who show you and me how to live into the life God intends for us. There is a swarm of them we cannot know. For sure, this cloud includes those we have studied and admired. One of mine is St. Hilda of Whitby, a strong woman monastic and peacemaker who cracked the 7th century church’s glass ceiling and founded an abbey. And MLK Jr. Edith Cavell. Harriet Tubman.
Others in my cloud who are now with God are specific to me; they include the Lutheran pastor of my young adulthood who may have been one of truest Christians I’ve been blessed to know. At my side are my faithful parents and my husband’s mother, who I never met but whose affirming presence and guidance nevertheless have been gratefully received. My cloud of witnesses grows each day with those still on this earth—my personal saints who just seem to arrive and change life for the better. How amazing! This cloud includes many of you.
In our scripture passage, we are reminded that we cannot run to Jesus without putting down all the stuff that holds us down. I need that reminder. There is no mention of “winning” the race set before us; it’s about forbearance, commitment, passion, and love of the Lord. These saints who inspire us, cheer us on, love us over time and space are not spectators. Rather, they are lending us the faith that sustained them in good times and bad so that we may persevere by their godly examples. And like images we’ve seen of marathon runners who stop to pick up an exhausted, fallen companion, sometimes they carry us.
Writer-theologian Frederick Buechner observed: “You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own. As much as we may delight in being individuals, we are made for community—a community with each other AND a community with a past.” By grace, in our life of faith, we press on with the community that is the communion of saints, past and present.
A wonderful meditation: In a quiet place, listen for voices from your cloud of witnesses. Name two aloud. Consider what they give to you. Give thanks for them and for their gifts. Do it today.
One more thing. Let us pray that in these troubled times, your faith and mine may be sufficient to show up in another’s cloud. I’m pretty sure we are needed.