One and all gave proof of their faith, yet they never saw the promise fulfilled; for us, God had something better in store. We were needed, to make the history of their lives complete. Why then, since we are watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of all that weighs us down, of the sinful habit that clings so closely, and run, with all endurance, the race for which we are entered. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the origin and the crown of all faith.
Hebrews 11:39 -12:1 (Knox Version)
Last week my wife Rita and I drove through the ‘ghost’ town of Jerome, Arizona, and I was haunted. Not haunted by Halloween’s ghosts and goblins, but haunted by stories about a grandfather I never knew. I was told my grandfather heard the call to “go west young man” then left his home in Missouri to work in the mine in Jerome. My grandfather’s hope and prayer was to make enough money to move his family to the new state of Arizona. He had heard stories of bountiful farmland in the Valley of the Sun watered by new reservoirs northeast of Phoenix.
My grandfather died before I was born but I was told of his endurance through hardship and heartache, establishing a home for his family in Arizona. He was a quiet and simple man, whose life blessed his children and now his children’s children.
Haunted with thoughts about my grandfather I remembered today’s text from the New Testament Book of Hebrews. In this text the Spirit reminds us of those who ran the race before us and have entered into rest. “We are needed”, the Word of God reveals “to make the history of their lives complete”.
I pondered Scripture’s words and felt a closeness to a man I never knew. I realized that in some mysterious way my life was necessary to make my grandfather’s life “complete”, as his story is also essential to mine today. Followers of Christ are linked intimately with those who have gone before, with those who watch from above. They are cheering us on as we run the race, witnessing to us of God’s faithfulness.
Remembering my grandfather’s faithfulness makes me want to “run with all endurance the race for which we are entered”. Together we are a part of that great “communion of saints” spanning time and space.
When we gather on Sunday to worship, or kneel alone by our bed to pray, we are joined with that “cloud of witnesses” we cannot see. When we eat at the Lord’s Communion Table we feast with past, present, and future followers of Jesus. Our stories are not “complete” without each other.
Celtic Christians spoke of the “thin places”, or those places where the margins between this world and next become very thin. All this week of “All Saints”, or “All Hallows”, I am feeling a new gratitude and a new closeness to those people, without whom our stories will not be complete.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
—William W. How
Grace and peace,
photo by Al_HikesAZ