August 12, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)
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 our 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.
Read Hebrews 11 here – these verses serve as the conclusion to that chapter.
With all of these witnesses to accompany us—even cheering us on—the author says that we now need to look where the path is going: Jesus.
So, I need to tell you a story.
About a decade ago, I attended a reunion put on by the choir at my undergraduate college. The college choir at my undergraduate school was serious business—we rehearsed every day, we toured, and we became close friends. (The connections were so great that during the pandemic some of us even set up a weekly Zoom, nearly thirty years after graduation, so we could talk to each other.) As I mentioned in a previous devotion, my alma mater was a church-related school, and our conductor had always felt free to make our singing as a spiritual as well as a musical experience.
All of the past conductors of the choir came back to assist at the reunion concert, leading a choir of alumni who spanned over fifty years. The conductor who had directed me and my friends was, we all knew, dying of cancer at the time of the concert. I still remember how he led us in “Soon-Ah Will Be Done With the Troubles of This World,” how he sat pensively as we sang “God Be In My Head” with its closing line “God be at mine end and at my departing,” and how he got up to join us as we sang our school song, which features the line “Though the future years may part us – still together now.”
Two years later, he died.
A few years after that, we had another reunion – for many of us, the first time since our mentor’s death to see each other and grieve. And as we walked into the church where we were to sing our closing celebratory concert, I was faced with this sign: “Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” In grief and in gratitude, I went on stage to sing.
The author of Hebrews brings in this phrase at the end of a long line of folks from the Old Testament—famous ones such as Abel and Abraham and Moses, as well as unnamed ones, tortured and mocked, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). It represents at first a looking back. We turn around to see lives of faith lived by those who were longing for something to come: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised” (11:39).
Then the author turns us around to face forward again. With all of these witnesses to accompany us—even cheering us on—the author says that we now need to look where the path is going: Jesus. Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, also endured suffering and shame on behalf of righteousness. And in his suffering, all of ours was taken up; and now he reigns victorious at the right hand of God.
In many ways, our lives of faith are a tension between this looking back and this looking forward. We look back at those who, like my mentor, lived lives of faith and dedication. Besides the Biblical heroes we all admire, we each have our own stories of departed saints “of whom the world was not worthy.”
And then, surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses, in grief and in gratitude, we turn around and run with perseverance down the path ahead.
Who do you count among your great cloud of witnesses?
What did they tell you?
Where are you going?
Ponder especially the words of “God Be In My Head” as you run with perseverance the race set before you:
God be in my head,
And in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes,
And in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
And in my speaking;
God be in my heart,
And in my thinking;
God be at mine end,
And at my departing. (Sarum Primer, 1558)
Lord, help me remember and help me move forward. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Realizing the Faith (Hebrews 10:19–11:40)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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