By Mary Chase-Ziolek
Lectionary reading for 4/5/2023: Isaiah 50:4-9,Psalm 70,Hebrews 12:1-3,John 13:21-32
Selected passage: Hebrews 12:1-3 NRSV
Hebrews 12:1-3 NRSV
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.
Reading this passage, two images jump out for me – a cloud, meaning a large number of witnesses and lightening the load in order to run. When I think about my cloud of witnesses I first think of relatives; my father and mother, a favorite aunt and grandmother, a special teacher. These familiar witnesses were part of my cheering squad and now cheer me on from beyond. Standing with them are ancestors of the faith who I never knew and cannot name. In 2017 I had the privilege of visiting the Iona community in Scotland. Worshiping daily in the large stone chapel, I was struck by the fact that people had been gathering in this space to worship for over 1000 years. I doubt that any of them were my genetic ancestors, but I imagine them as ancestors in the faith. My faith in 2023 is built upon the faith lived by people since the time of Christ. There is indeed a large crowd cheering me on for my unique race in this season of my life.
A race is a change of pace. It may, but doesn’t have to, involve moving at an increased speed. A race may also be a set course or a duration of time. In any case it involves crossing a line to begin the race that could be considered a threshold – an in between place that marks a transition. I recently crossed the threshold of becoming “unencumbered by employment” (some would say retired), so I have taken off the weight of regular work responsibilities. When I think about laying aside that which could hold me back as I move into this season of life, I am reminded that not only excess possessions can weigh one down, but also activities that are no longer life giving as well as attitudes, thoughts and beliefs can be a burden. What may have served a purpose at one point in life, may now need to be thrown out, revised, or recycled.
Just as in a physical race, we run the race of life set before us at our own pace, and we do so with the knowledge that we are not alone. We stand on the shoulders of so many people who have gone before us and we know that Christ, along with our own cloud of witnesses is cheering us on.
Who is among your cloud of witnesses and what might they have to say to you?
As you stand solidly rooted in the present while looking forward, what is the race that is set before you?
What do you want to take with you and what do you want to leave behind as you move into this season of your life?
Gracious God, you created us to be in community linking us to living, breathing people as well as to those who have gone ahead of us. Thank you for this gift of connection that brings us together in body and in spirit. Even as we stand together, please help each of us to see the unique race that you have set before us and to continue on that course confident that you go with us. Amen.
About the Author
Mary Chase-Ziolek is a spiritual director and an emeritus professor of health ministries at North Park Theological Seminary with an interest in connecting faith and health. She lives in Chicago with her husband. Some of her life-giving activities include being in nature, gardening, cooking and spending time with grandchildren.