They rain on our parades; they obscure our vision; they represent ominous omens on the horizon. The weatherman never smiles while reporting a cloudy forecast. Clouds have a bad reputation. But not so in the Bible. The rainbow after the flood was set in the cloud. The Lord led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in a pillar of cloud. The Son of Man will appear with glory and power on a cloud.
Beginning in the 4th century, when Pope Gregory designated November 1st All Saints Day, the Church has knelt in worship to name the dead, has celebrated the faithful who have run the good race, has affirmed the atmospheric and eschatological intersection of earth and sky.
After listing many of the deceased heroes and slayed martyrs in the Great Cloud of Witnesses, Hebrews speaks to a flatfooted people still trying to complete the marathon of life. So according to today’s text, what do we believe on All Saints Day?
Hebrews 12:1-3 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.
That we’re not alone
The saints complete their lives by being involved in ours.
Jesus is the mediator that makes sainthood for all possible.
Fred Craddock recalled going home to the west Tennessee community of his childhood. He said on a Sunday evening, I went with a friend to worship. There weren’t many people there but I noticed the small church had new leaded glass windows, beautiful windows, and I calculated, expensive windows. While I wondered how they could afford it, I began to read the names, the dedications in the windows. I didn’t recognize any of the names and I was reared there. I said to my friend, “Are these new people who have come in?” He said, “No, a church in St. Louis ordered these windows from Italy, and when they got them, they didn’t fit. They advertised in a church paper that they would sell them because they were going to have new ones made. They were so cheap we bought them.” And I said, “Well, they sure are beautiful, but what are you going to do about the plaques?” He said, “Well, the board discussed that, and we decided to leave those names up there. It’s good for us in our little church to realize that there are some Christian people besides us.”
On All Saints Day we believe that while the attendance pads may only record those who are physically present, in every house of worship and beyond the pews are always packed and the balconies always full, that the Church is involved with far more than just the living, that there are so many Christians among us besides us.
Instead of disqualifying the human experience to put their feet up in the celestial longue, the dead have assembled in the Great Cloud of Witnesses to spend their eternity surrounding earth, not some detached heaven, to be intimately involved in our every stride and stumble, to remind us that salvation history is not a competition of winners and losers, but only finishers.
If faith is an endurance race, then we do not run alone. The course is crowded with everyday saints cheering us on, miscarried children and murdered protestors, diseased strangers and disavowed parents, beloved spouses and detested enemies. And with a sweatband of thorns and a dusty pair of sandals, Jesus is there too, as he has been since Creation first toed the starting line, running alongside every participant until we all break the tape.
So the next time you decide to go for a run, just wait until it clouds over.