Updated: Aug 14
“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 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.”
This has been a tough week for us at Friends Church. Last Thursday morning, we learned of the unexpected passing of Brian Blake, a member of Friends for 25 years who radiated love and light to all he met. Our church family has come together to support one another and Brian’s husband Chris, sharing memories and holding each other close. I’ve been grateful to see the outpouring of love and the ways that we have stepped up to care for each other and those closest to Brian.
During one of my commutes this week, I had my phone set to shuffle my musical playlist, as I often do, and an unexpected voice came over the car speaker, that of another beloved member of Friends that we lost last year, Linda Coats. I realized that it was an audio announcement for Back Bay Mission that she had recorded and sent to me during the height of the pandemic for our online services, and I had probably downloaded to my phone and never removed it from my playlist. Hearing her voice this week was bittersweet, but I was grateful. It reminded me that those we’ve loved remain connected to us across time and space. And that Brian had now joined her in the great cloud of witnesses, the saints that have gone on before us but are never gone from our hearts.
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” Those who have gone before us have witnessed to God’s love, and they continue to surround us in the church triumphant. There’s a beautiful tradition in some of the Scandinavian Lutheran churches where the altar rail surrounding the altar is set up in a semi-circle; the altar faces the wall, as the high altar does in many older churches, and the rail surrounds it in a half-circle—symbolically, the circle is understood to continue beyond the walls of the church, because when we come to this Table, we are not alone—we are in the company of all those who have gone before us. Sometimes, the church cemetery would lay on the other side of the chancel wall, as a reminder that we are still in communion with them.
As the old country gospel song says, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” That circle of love will never be broken, because love is stronger than death. Today, that is the promise that I’m claiming. And I’m grateful for the cloud of witnesses that is cheering us on. In the words of my favorite hymn, “For All the Saints”:
Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia! Alleluia!
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia! Alleluia!