from the General Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley
November 8, 2021
“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 the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).”
Many churches around the presbytery tolled the bells for those in their community who died this past year, invoked their memories, celebrated the perseverance of the race the had won, and the legacy of that faith which they’ve passed on to us. I once heard Laura Mendenhall, former president of Columbia Theological Seminary, preach a sermon on the Hebrews passage referenced above. She invited us to place ourselves on the field of a great sporting event – a track event. We are running our races. We may be tired and panting hard and pushing through fatigue and cramping muscles and straining toward the finish line. And then she evoked the image of the fans in the stadium all around us. They are cheering for us, rooting for us, using their energy and hope to encourage us along our way. You can see them waving and cheering. Athletes often cite the fans as helping them to victory. The energy and enthusiasm for us is palpable.
I love that image of the great cloud of witnesses. Philip Brooks, the Episcopalian priest of the 1800’s, Rector of Boston Trinity Church, and author of O Little Town of Bethlehem, remarked that the dividing line between this world and the next is less like a wall and more like a curtain. Through that curtain we can hear the rustlings of life on the other side. I know I have heard those rustlings. I imagine some of you have, too.
I take great comfort and strength in the image of the cloud of witnesses – our ancestors who still cheer us on down here. And I take comfort from the rustlings of life on the other side. God knows we need the heavenly throng who, in the presence of God, cheer for us in all the perplexities and complexities we face as individuals and families, as a people in a pandemic on this fragile planet, as communities of faith seeing to be faithful as we run the race that is set before us.
I close with the lyrics of a hymn I used to sing when I was just a child. It has stuck with me and it makes this strong aspiration:
1 I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare,
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
2 I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh and love and lift,
I would look up, and laugh and love and lift.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, I would look up, and laugh and love and lift.
As ever in prayer,