“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, 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.”
— Hebrews 12:1-2
The writer of Hebrews had just been delineating the incredible sacrifices and suffering of past heroes of the faith. They are the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
Perhaps those we knew personally who have passed into glory were not martyred, and did not suffer for their faith. But we knew them, and loved them, and they have gone before. Their faith instructed us. Their love challenged us. Their joy encouraged us. And so much more. They are part of our cloud of witnesses.
Thinking about the fact that people I actually know, people I hugged and loved and laughed with and sang with and cried with, are actually experiencing Heaven at this moment, makes Heaven so real to me. It’s there! They’re there! Heaven is a place.
In fact my friend Jody wrote a song called “Heaven is a Place”. I listen to the CD and hear her sweet, somewhat husky alto voice singing, and tears always come. As the musicians begin, she calls out to the audience (I and my family were their for the live concert recording), “Are you ready to go to Heaven? I’m excited to go there because that’s where we’ll finally meet the King! Face to face. There will be fullness of joy, and pleasures forever! Maybe tonight. I’m ready.” Then she sings. How her heart longed to be there. And on September 30, 2006, her desire was fulfilled.
There are others in my cloud. Those that I knew on at least some personal level. The first was my dear grandpa, Jess Vanderpool. I loved him so much! And there is Lynda, Bethany, Jody, Claire, Jasmine, Greg, Chris, Rob, and Tori.
Mrs. Claire Clint was my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Community Church. She could have been my grandfather’s teacher, too, if he’d grown up near her. Because she was born six months before the declaration of the Spanish American War in 1898, and was 14 years old when the Titanic sank I sang in choirs with her great-great-grandson. She once told me she still remembered how she felt upon seeing the newspaper headlines. Between Grace Community and her former churches, Mrs. Clint taught Sunday morning classes for 80 years.
Talk about faithfulness.
Jody’s talent was music, and her gifts were never underused. Nether were her gifts of encouragement, speaking the truth in love, and helping others set their minds on things above. Bethany’s exhortation to all of us was always “walk worthy!”. She so desired herself and her fellow believers to walk worthy of our calling.
Tori was all about others. How she could serve, how she could pray, how she could help. She offered to talk any time I needed to . . . wanting to be of any consolation to my sore heart that she could.
I think God has been teaching our little church here in Little Rock how to love suffering people well. How to love, how to be grieving people. We have experienced a great deal of loss in the last several years. Our cloud grows, while we mourn. However, instead of a dark, heavy cloud, this cloud is full of light, joy, and anticipation. They now know that fullness of joy unspeakable, and they eagerly await the day that we will join them.
And we want to! It’s the Christian’s sanctified death-wish. We want to be with our loved ones, those who spurred us on to love and good works, and whom we loved so dearly. Even more we want to be with our Lord. They, with Him, are waiting for us. Let it be soon! Or come quickly, Lord Jesus.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever!
— Revelation 22:3-4