A Cloud of Witnesses

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.

14 responses to “A Cloud of Witnesses

  1. barbaraduffield

    I have always considered that within that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ is included those gone before who planted the seeds that grew into my faith. Many I knew, but some I have never met. I was privileged to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land fifteen or so years ago. One of the most haunting memories of that time is our visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church , it is believed, which was built on the site where Jesus was crucified. A bust of Mary is on display there. and the look in her eyes tells a tale of horrors beyond understanding. The creator of that bust, an unknown person from another time and place, also gave me the gift of a better understanding of how agonizing a time it must have been for Christ and his mother. And of what a gift his life was for our sake. Blessings to you, my friend and brother in Christ, and thanks for your continued planting of seeds for my growth in faith as well.

    • Barbara,

      Yes, we so often encounter those nameless witnesses who added to our faith. We do not bless them often enough.

      God watch over your going out and your coming home,

      Br. James

  2. you used my favorite verse today from Hebrews. oh how i want to throw off all the things in my life that wrap tightly around me, clinging to me, trying to slow me down on my race to Jesus. thanks for these words today.

  3. Thank you for the verse and your posting today. I have not been gone, but have not been receiving your posts on my wordpress blogroll! I am so sad about this. Maybe something that I can correct. You and your words are so important to me. But Found you today, so happy. Loved All, Yes, wish to caste off All that binds, all that hinders, and meet the Beloved One!

    • Linda,

      I’m glad you liked the piece. Sorry about the technical glitsch, and hope it’s all better. (You can always subscribe by email if you wanna.) I join you in hoping that we cling tightly to that beloved Rabbi.

      God’s great peace on you and your house,

      Br. James

  4. I love the Book of Common Prayer definition of the Communion of Saints, which I take to also mean the Cloud of Witnesses: “The whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.

    • Marjorie,

      Yes, it’s hard to beat the Book of Common Prayer. I wonder about “those whom we love and those whom we hurt”: they’re too often the same people. Let’s prayer that we are someday all bound together in Christ.

      God bless you and your house,

      Br. James

  5. Alethea Eason

    I read, or was told, that crucifixes were never hung until at least a few centuries after Christ’s death, after the living memory of crucifixions was gone. I often think of the untold number of men (I never heard of crucifixion of women) who perished this way.

    • Alethea,

      I think you’re right. Crucifixes were not common until around 325 A.D., and before that the primary symbol of the faith was the fish. I am similarly unaware of any women who were crucified.

      I wish you a wonderful Holy Week, and many blessings,

      Br. James

  6. Another great and meditative post! It is my prayer and hope you have a blessed Triduum!

  7. As a Christian, I believe I’m to be perpared to meet my Maker at any moment, not that I’m a pessimist. As a Minister of the Gospel, in your personal beliefs, do you believe that the end of the world is coming in 2012 and that we Christians should prepare for the true ‘end’ rather than be seeking places to “ride out the storm” as lots of other folks seem to be doing? The consensus seems to be that the end of the world, ‘as we know it’ is coming, but we just need to survive it and adjust. Do you believe we’re going to have any options?

    • Deysi,

      Jesus said we won’t know the day or the hour. I don’t spend much time on the topic of the end of the world, but think you’re exactly right that we are to live as though it’s imminent.

      God’s peace,

      Br. James

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