"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . 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
The writer of Hebrews is invoking the image of an ancient stadium where races were held. The "cloud of witnesses" is the huge throng of spectators cheering on the competitors, and Jesus is pictured as the lead runner, the pacesetter, "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."
When my Dad died over thirty years ago I received a gracious note of condolence from my Conference Minister, Don Overlock. In it he shared a favorite quote of his from one of the Puritan divines: "The commonwealth of heaven becomes more dear with each loss below." I took comfort then from those words, and on many occasions since when I have lost someone to death. I recently learned that Don died earlier this year.
He now joins the great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on as we try to follow Jesus our pacesetter. This vast "communion of saints" is rooting for us. One of our best-loved hymns says that the church "on earth hath union with God the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won." In Christ we share a bond with them that even death cannot erase.
O Jesus, let us follow you day by day, as we run the race you have set before us.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and author of A Course In Basic Christianity and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.