Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,.. (Hebrews 12:1)
I want to thank all of you who have given me encouragement, either directly or through cards, since my mom died on April 6. She had been diagnosed with cancer a year ago February. She was 87 and had made the decision not to go through extensive treatments that would likely have done more harm than good. As many of you know she moved up from North Carolina to stay with Charleen and me last summer, and then in the fall moved up to my brother’s home in Potsdam, NY. Phil and his wife went far beyond the call of duty to minister to her many needs in the last few months of her life. We will be holding a memorial service for her back in North Carolina in a couple of weeks, and anticipate the whole family, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as other family members and friends to converge for the service.
We had been anticipating her death for over a year so it did not come as any great surprise. Nevertheless, it catches me off guard that I can no longer pick up the telephone and call her. Despite the sorrow, we as Christians are not without hope. So much of the gospel message is about this hope, from John 3:16 – “shall not perish but have everlasting life” to John 14 – “I go to prepare a place for you”, to Revelation 21- “and death shall be no more.”.
There is a beautiful picture in Hebrews 12 as well. This verse quoted above follows right on the heels of Hebrews 11, in which the author of Hebrews has made reference to the faith of what we often refer to as the “gallery of the saints”. He starts with Abel, and then moves on to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, on down through the history of the Old Testament. The inference, while he does not say it explicitly, is that there is a . at the end of the chapter, leading us to think that the saints of the New Testament are included too; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, etc. But I am convinced that the list does not stop there either. It also includes all those who have passed in the faith before us. That means that it includes our grandparents and our parents and any other loved one who has died in Christ.
Our understanding of heaven is limited on this side of eternity. All we have is what the Bible tells us, despite books by neurosurgeons and others who write about their near death experiences. The fact is, as long as we are still on this side of the Jordan we are still in the race of life and need that encouragement. That race is a marathon and not a sprint. The author of Hebrews seeks to encourage us with the picture at hand, that all those who have passed before us are in the bleachers cheering us on as we continue the race. What a marvelous thought! That means my mom and my dad and my grandparents are cheering along with all your loved ones who have died in the faith.
But I want to point out that in the middle of the bleachers as it were is our Lord Jesus himself. As pleasant a thought as it is to contemplate our loved ones cheering us on in the race, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus himself. Elsewhere Paul reminds us that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. Is it possible that our departed loved ones do too? Perhaps in heaven, cheering is synonymous with praying.