1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Over the last three weeks, I have been teaching lessons about church fathers from Africa during Latin classes for middle and high school students. I wanted to celebrate Black History Month in a way that was pedagogically relevant, and one of my roommates recommended delving into the lives of our African church fathers.
So far we’ve covered Tertullian and Athanasius, with Augustine on deck for next week. If you ever want to learn to admire the cloud of witnesses around you, I really recommend studying church fathers from the 4th century with dabbing, smart-mouthed, bright teenagers from southeast D.C.
The discussions have included questions about the nature of the Trinity, the Apocrypha, and why don’t we celebrate black history all 12 months anyway?
The crazy thing is that these discussions are not new, but are in fact, so very old. See, Athanasius was proclaiming the life to be found in Scripture in 367 A.D. (And oh yeah, writing down for the first time the list of New Testament books we still use today.) Tertullian, well, he helped us to see that language can be punchy, powerful, and relevant to people’s everyday lives.
In a fresh way, I have experienced the surrounding of the cloud of witnesses—from these conversations with my students to the beauty of the church throughout time and history. What a gift to realize that the cloud of witnesses inspire, encourage and empower us to run the race of faith with ever increasing perseverance.
See, I’m not a big runner. The running the race with endurance metaphor often feels overtired to me. However, I was talking with a friend recently about the difference between a casual workout versus training for a marathon. When we (again, humans generally speaking) casually work out, we may work hard or see slight changes. There may even be a sense of routine to it.
But when we train for a race, we work toward a very particular end. Often, there are other changes to be made as well—diets must be adjusted and you work in small, detailed increments for the sake of achieving the larger goal.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
In a season that can feel so wearying (PTL for the end of February!), we do well to consider the saints surrounding us, the cloud of witnesses both today and throughout time. Moreover, we consider the endurance of Jesus.
Whether we are just holding on until spring or we are enduring through our Lenten discipline, our eyes turn back to Jesus, time and again. He draws us, surrounds us with saints and his joy, and sends us out, each and every day.
My prayer in this Lenten season is that you’ll join me, Tertullian, Athanasius and a few classes worth of teenagers to persevere in whatever race of faith you are running today—that over and over again, you will be able to look forward to the cross, and know the glories of the resurrection.
Take it With You:
Is there one area in which God is calling you to persevere?
What is one way you have seen the work of the cloud of witnesses in your life?
Prayer (Prayer for a Saint from the Book of Common Prayer):
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servants, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with them attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.