Hebrews 12.1-2: “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.”I am afraid of closed spaces. Not elevators or cars or anything like that, mind you—I can make it through the day just fine—but still. As a child, I wouldn’t go through the box maze or those tube slides at the water park. If you make me watch a movie about spelunking, it’ll seem just a little bit harder to breathe.
I couldn’t avoid thinking about those narrow walls as I read our lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews today. On the one hand, see how the letter’s author describes our sins: they’re like weights—heavy; burdensome; solid as rock. Worst of all, they cling to us so closely. The letter-writer is telling us that sin forms a wall around us, closing us in, closing us off from God. Even the smallest things in our lives, the things that should come most naturally to us, become wearying or even painful; things like loving God, or loving the children of God all around us.
And then, on the other hand, we find that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” The image is similar to that of sin—the saints are all around us, encircling us everywhere we turn. We might expect that this cloud of witnesses could itself become suffocating—but on the contrary, they’re light as a feather. You could almost pass through them without even noticing, but they’re there all the same. And instead of closing off our air, they seem to vivify us, inspiring to run faster toward the holiness to which Christ calls us, pointing us to look not at them but at Christ Himself. In this time of Lent, let us give thanks for the saints all around us—those who have come before us, who surround us now and pray for us as we race through our days, and who have shown us what it means to live a holy life.
— Joe Lenow