Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday Scripture – August 18, 2019

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Reflection

This week people have been sharing this powerful interview* between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert, focusing on their conversation on grief, suffering, and perseverance in life through the grief. Their conversation brings to life this lectionary text from Hebrews 11, which talks about following faithfully into unknown and dangerous circumstances, suffering, and the gifts that come because of or despite the suffering.

It can be problematic to take from this Hebrews text that God wants us to suffer in order to understand or have a strong faith. But in our experiences of suffering and grief, we can come to understand that our God truly understands our suffering and grief. God came to meet us in our existence here on Earth in human form as Jesus, as well as being the parent watching over Jesus. So, we can see that our God both suffered in body and as one who grieves over the hurt and death of a beloved child. We know such suffering in our own lives. It is not that God wants us to know pain or great difficulty or grief, but that it is a part of human existence, and God is not separate from our pain.

Also, the lectionary does not leave us with suffering, but reminds us that in order to get up and keep running the race, in order to persevere, it takes a cloud of witnesses. We see this in the exchange between Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper as they talk about losing their fathers at a young age and Cooper’s more recent loss of his mother, still raw. They are witnesses for each other – discussing the similar and different ways they each deal with their grief, and Cooper asking Colbert about how he sustains hope in his faith.

We will suffer in many ways in our lives. Our God does not desire bad things to happen to us, but enters with us into our sadness, anger and loss. We are not expected to be happy about suffering. But, we might find a gift as we are surrounded by our cloud of witnesses, running the race alongside us, and stopping with us when we need a break. (Yes, Hebrews doesn’t mention the water and stretch breaks along the way, but it’s ok to take breaks, too.)

So, keep running – someone may need you.
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*This is a short cut of a longer interview – the relevant part is here.

Questions

  1. What is a time when you struggled to see hope? What helped you regain hope?
  2. Who is in your cloud of witnesses that helps you keep going when life gets tough?

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