Cloud of Witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a could 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. Hebrews 12:1-3
When I was a young mother, I served as a director of music in a church. Mary Jane, an alto in the church choir and twenty years older than me, became a friend and then a wise guide for me as I experienced the tribulations and joys in parenting my young children. She had a pragmatic, light-hearted, compassionate philosophy about life and children and parenting which helped me negotiate my way through the struggles I had with overcoming some of the perfectionist ideals I inherited from my parents of how I should behave as a mother. “If you’re a good mother, your children will always be good” was one ideal/burden I carried, which she helped me let go.
Three years into our growing relationship, Mary Jane was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Her life was turned upside-down, inside-out, shattered with the news. She cried and wailed in anguish. She entered treatment and fought the cancer with every fiber of her being. Mary Jane’s faith had always been like her life-philosophy – pragmatic, light-hearted and compassionate. She had lived, assuming that everything would work out as long as she believed in God. Cancer shook her faith to the core. She railed at God and asked what many of us wonder when faced with adversity, “Why, God? Why me?”
As she wrestled with God and with her cancer, she began to understand her faith and life from an entirely new perspective. She realized that cancer – and death – are as much part of life as health and pleasure. Her faith deepened as she began to experience God’s presence in every aspect of her life, even through the miseries of chemo. She decided that she was going to live whole-heartedly, fervently faithfully and with every ounce of energy she could muster.
She gathered people around her and shared stories with family and friends. We went strawberry picking and made jam for a future she never saw. She began to draw and paint again. She sat outdoors to appreciate the wind in the trees and bird songs and the light playing with shadows in her yard. In the last months of her life, she re-learned how to knit. She knit her husband and son sweaters to hold them and keep them warm when she was not around to hug them anymore. Mary Jane ran her race of life with gusto and perseverance and left a legacy of love and laughter and compassion and passion.
Mary Jane lives on as one of the “cloud of witnesses” in my life.
We all are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” who teach us about faith and perseverance and letting go and learning and stretching and growing in faith. They have witnessed to the joy of life and new life set before them. They live with heart and heartiness.
As we live into the last days of this Holy Week, let us remember these guides and witnesses who have shown us how to live fully as Jesus lived. We remember those who have shown us how to live fully and whole-heartedly until we die. Because of them, with faith in Jesus Christ, we know that suffering and death are not the whole story.
Today I remember Mary Jane as one of these witnesses (and I remember many others). Who are the people who are present and alive in the cloud of witnesses surrounding you?
God of life and death and life beyond death, we thank you for those witnesses who have taught us how to run this race of life with perseverance, who have given us the heart and joy of faith. We have been so deeply blessed. In the days and months ahead, may we know and experience your presence with us through the hardest times and through the grace-filled times. We pray, as always, in the name and witness of Jesus Christ. Amen.