The Great Cloud of Witnesses

All Saints’ Day is November 1, and our congregation observes this festival on that day or the next Sunday. At our observation of All Saints’ Day, we speak the names of those faithful departed from our family of faith. A verse of Scripture clothes our memory of them. We then toll the bell. This is a time for us to rejoice in the great cloud of witnesses that God has placed in our lives. The faithful departed spoke volumes in their lives by holding dearly onto Jesus Christ.  The way we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ includes remembering the amazing working of God in their lives.

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. (Hebrews 12:1)

The heroes of the past that serve as witnesses to the truth of God’s mercy do so through their vulnerable and honest lives that remained held by the love of Christ on the cross. As I remember the people of the past I do want to revel in the best and the glad. I like to hear the victorious stories filled with moments of valor. I want to rejoice in the good that a person has accomplished.

I hear the desire for the best and the brightest moments when I am preparing to preach at a funeral. I know when I preach at funerals people desire to hear demonstrations of the departed’s virtue. But I also have learned that the faithful departed witness to the truth of God’s grace is found even more forcefully when I recall their weaknesses. I know that it is not appropriate to reveal a person’s dirty laundry. I don’t enter the pulpit at a funeral seeking for the opportunity to bring shame to a family. I try to navigate the space between celebrating their lives but even more emphasizing the necessary grace of Jesus Christ. I want to be honest with the people gathered in grief because the medicine for a hurting soul does not include placing a person on a false edifice of our own goodness. We are saints, holy ones, through the the work of the holy one.  My identity has been secured through the power, pardon, and presence of God. How we remember all the saints in our past is best shaped by how they were witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ as our savior.

November-1st-Happy-All-Saints-Day

When I think about the work of God in our saints of the past, I see the creative power of God. I want you to take a moment and think about how God made His creation out of nothing, and He declared it good. I rejoice in the power of God as my creator. I trust that out of nothing He declared light to be present in His creation. I look into my own life, and I know the darkness and nothingness of my own hands.

I have no lasting confidence in my own labors because I know my ability to turn all towards my own pride and selfishness. I am remarkably adept at viewing the world through a lens of my own making. I lie to myself about my certainty about myself and others. I get sure that there is some sliver of me that has accomplished and earned my position. People are either with me or against me. When people enter my life, I find that I quickly size them up. I figure out if I can take them. Intellectually or physically I am always taking measure. Of course in my own system of score keeping I usually am better than you. I don’t like this truth about my personality. I wish I was beyond this, but I have my Jason Bourne moments when I look around a room and figure out where I stand.

In the great cloud witnesses that surround us I discover my measurement system is broken. In the mirror of God’s holy and sacred will for me, my arrogance is shattered. I find my fault, my own grievous and miserable fault is I have claimed the privilege of power in my relationships with people. I view people, and I trust others view me, based on our accomplishments. I earn or lose relationships and so I gain or exhaust my power and position. But from this false and empty and shallow heart God produces in me a new creation. Our Heavenly Father clothes us with the righteousness of his dear son Jesus. From a child of arrogance God’s grace calls me into something new and different. The word of God made flesh in Jesus writes onto my body and soul a new truth. My old self is drowned and a new creation emerges. We are saints because what God has written onto our lives. I give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses that point me to Jesus as my hope and confidence.

So as I look at the story of God at work in the lives of the saints, I find the creating power of God at work in His pardon. I am beloved. I am sacred. I am a child of God because the power of God has brought me pardon. My position and power in relationships is found secure as I trust in God. I can now be vulnerable and weak. I can serve others without a contract of returned favor. I can empty myself for others because I am filled by the endless mercy of God. He will remain my refuge and strength.

When you remember the cloud of witnesses, do you hear their testimony to the power, pardon, and presence of God? I think it will be easier to hear their testimony if you are open to listening to their weaknesses as well as their strength in Christ. Our lives are a living confession of faith in both our sin and our savior.

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