By Sylvia Schroeder
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 12. I can almost see it. I picture a real cloud enveloping millions of great people of faith who have gone before us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1).
The white mist enfolds terraced seating that surrounds a great Olympic theater. The sounds are deafening. Runners line up at the starting line. Their skin glistens, their muscles are taut, and all eyes focus on the finish line.
In the crowded oval stands, I see many whose names are listed in the great faith chapter, Hebrews 11. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Joseph are in the stands. Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and his parents are there as well. My mom and my dad are there. My friends Jodi and Gail, my uncle Joe, and my aunt Emma are cheering with an entire throng of animated encouragers. They are cheering for me. I am running. The race is grueling. I am weary and fainthearted. I strain to hear what they are saying.
“You’re going the wrong way,” I think I hear.
“Run light—get rid of the weights!” someone’s voice shouts above the others.
“Keep your eyes on the finish line.”
Not a Good Day
Although Scripture has no account of Peter’s wife’s death, within some ancient manuscripts is a compelling story of Peter, forced to watch his wife die a horrific martyr’s death. Tradition states that his words to her as she was led out to be killed were, “Remember the Lord. Remember the Lord.”
My son-in-law, Jeremy George, and I were well-acquainted with waiting rooms in various medical facilities. We dragged ourselves once again into another during the summer of 2007, where we waited to see his wife, my 26-year-old daughter. Jeremy stared at the TV, while I picked up a magazine I’d already read.
Charity was not having a good day. In fact she hadn’t had a good day for three months, ever since she was first diagnosed with a brain stem mass. Each day was worse than the day before. Within 26 days of her first numbing symptoms, Charity lay in a hospital bed, paralyzed except for her eyes. Those expressive eyes spoke earth-shaking volumes, and our hearts broke in their speech. Yet in that constant anguish, I knew by her pale, translucent skin and lifeless eyes that today was extra bad.
Words remain long after the waves of sound dissolve their utterance. Final words spoken to someone we love very much cut clean to the core of what we want our loved one to know as they pass from our presence into the presence of Christ. Those brief words are the most dear and important things that our heart desires to impart.
“Code blue, room 32, code blue, room 32,” the intercom blared.
Jeremy’s head shot up, his ice blue eyes wide, “Oh, no!” he shouted.
He ran down the hall where the words of the intercom had stirred a white army, like minutemen, ready for action, running toward room 32 where Charity lay. A blue light flashed above her door. Machines rolled like racecars into the gaping mouth of her room, and Jeremy and I pushed and scrambled to get in with the medical fray.
“Charity!” he yelled, trying to push his way into the room. I was right behind him, following his lead. He stretched frantically to get a glimpse of where she lay. I stood on my tiptoes and craned my neck.
Strong arms arrested our pushing and flailing, as if restraining irrational inmates, and directed us away from her room. From the hallway we could see inside her room, abuzz with quick but calm orders and rapid-fire action. With the chasm widening between the hospital bed and us, Jeremy began to preach the best sermon of his young, youth-pastorate life.
“Hold on to Jesus, Charity! Hold on to Jesus!” he yelled to her and to the entire hospital, his voice loud and imploring, desperate yet confident. “Hold on to Jesus.”
What words could I say to my daughter that could better transport her into Jesus’ arms than, “Hold on to Jesus”? And so, in chorus with the man who committed his life to love my daughter in sickness and in health, I shouted with him, “Hold on to Jesus, Charity! Hold on to Jesus!”
“. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2, 3).
Perhaps that crowd of witnesses would cheer not only for Charity but also for Jeremy and me, urging us to remember Jesus at the finish line. Indeed, what better crown could we anticipate? Perhaps the crowd, could we hear it, would grow quiet and remind us in reverent whispers that Christ had to look far ahead, past the pain and agony that awaited, to the certain joy beyond the cross, because of the cross.
I reflect often on how important our words are and if I have communicated the profound significance of eternity to those I meet who are, in essence, racing toward it. Christ Jesus himself spoke last words to a grieving, bewildered following: “‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
How deeply we grieve such loss, yet how richly we welcome such gain. Christ, in his agony and death, accomplished the fulfillment of God’s sovereign moving since the creation of the world to this pinnacle, redemptive act on the cross. It is completed. And with open, nail-scarred hands, Jesus offers salvation freely to those who accept it in faith.
That was the significance of Jeremy’s summary of all that truly mattered in that junction of time, when his words needed to say everything. Charity belonged to Jesus. In what we believed might be her final moments, eternity mattered. Her faith counted. Trust in him now, as you have learned to trust him in life; he will carry you to himself—that was our underlying plea.
“Hold on to Jesus, Charity.”
Charity is still holding on. Prayers were answered. Medical staff got her breathing again, and she stabilized. Her race isn’t over. The scars of that brain stem mass left her terribly disabled in body, but not in faith. As Charity continues to race, now in her power chair, I see the body of Christ around her, lifting her, running with her. I hear the great cloud in the stands chanting, “Hold on to Jesus, Charity. Hold on to Jesus.”
And I renew my own run, soaking into my own soul those words addressed in my name. I draw in the fresh oxygen of God’s Word. I throw off the weights another time, and I refocus my eyes resolutely on the welcoming, outstretched, nail-scarred hands at the finish line.
Sylvia Schroeder is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Missouri.
Who’s in Your Cloud?
Make a list of believers you respect: biblical and modern-day, living and dead, friends and people you’ve only read about—anyone who inspires you. Now create a collage of photos, imagery, and words that represent the people in your cloud. Be as literal or figurative as you’d like. Keep your collage somewhere you’ll see it to help you live out the truth of Hebrews 12:1, 2.