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 the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Heb. 12:1-3.
The Lectionary offers us this reading for Holy Week, and I thought we might reflect on it for a bit. While we often think of it in the context of All Saints Day, it strikes me as terribly appropriate as a Holy Week reflection. Certainly, our Lenten task consists of laying aside those burdens and separations that “cling so closely” to us. We know that these weights, these sins, entangle us and swarm around us. Lent offers us a chance to loosen those bonds.
The Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”. It’s a remarkable and deeply poetic choice of words. Often, we think of these witnesses as the great saints of the Church. I’m inclined to think, however, also of those who were present during those remarkable days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus touched a remarkably diverse group of people. From the wedding guests at Cana to the blind man at the pool of Siloam to Lazarus of Bethany to the Roman centurion who cried out “Surely, this man was the son of God!”: they all bore witness to the redemptive power of the Lord.
And yet, this “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” , this Beloved Son of God, would cry out in agony from the Cross. He would wonder, quoting the Psalms, why the Father had deserted Him. He would wonder how He could feel so desperately alone. Somehow, His mother and a few of his friends bore witness to this horror. They offered to God that precious gift, the ministry of presence. I’m wondering whether we can bear to watch, whether we will join into that cloud of witnesses during this Holy Week. I’m wondering whether we can endure the Cross.
God watch over thee and me,
James R. Dennis, O.P.