A Great Cloud of Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

– Hebrews 12:1

There’s a lot of imagery in Christianity that resonates with me. The body of Christ, the communion of saints, and this, “a great cloud of witnesses.” When I sometimes pray the hours, I’m deeply aware of the ancient tradition and it is entirely humbling to think of all the people that have prayed a certain prayer before me. Regardless of Christian faith tradition, it is neat to envision the figurative body of Christ joining in a collective act. My brand of American Protestantism doesn’t typically look to the saints or such traditions like fixed-hour prayer, but there is a great deal to be learned from them, I think.

This brings me to something that recently happened at my home church in Hopkinsville. They held a wonderful commissioning ceremony for my upcoming Peace Corps service.  My youth group leader from high school, Selena, wrote the blessing and a large part of the ceremony and even came all the way from Colorado to lead it. My childhood minister, Dr. Tom Steiner, had a role as well. Even some of my grade school teachers came! It is something that I will really treasure. (The ceremony was recorded and will be posted on the church website soon.)

Part of the ceremony involved a laying on of hands, something that is typically used to ordain ministers and elders. During this, I was reminded of the cloud of witnesses. Every Sunday school teacher, youth group sponsor, every author, every teacher, friend and family member is a part of it. They’ve molded me into the person I am today, and helped me realize my dream of joining the Peace Corps and serving humanity using my gifts and strengths. I’ve been really fortunate to grow up in a faith community that is loving, welcoming, accepting, and encourages questioning. I know not everyone is as lucky.

No doubt that great race that is marked out for me will involve stumbling and confusion and beauty and heartbreak and joy and wonder. But dang. Worth it.

Good reads that inspired this post: Surrounded by a Puff of Witnesses by Rachel Held Evans

In Which I Commission You by Sarah Bessey

About Elizabeth Riley

It's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them.
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