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. Hebrews 12 1:2 (NRSV)
Today we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses- those who have gone before us- those have done so much to form our faith and lead us to life in Christ. The saints who have gone before us are cherished gifts to the saints here on earth who are still running the race and dealing with the trials of life. Because of them we have learned how to live lives that (however imperfectly) honor and glorify God.
All Saints’ Day is one of the more difficult observances of the church year. We honor and thank God for those who are departed, but we mourn them also. Knowing that the ones we love are no longer bodily present with us makes us even more aware that we live with one foot in the earthly kingdom and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. We long to hear our departed loved ones’ voices and to be gifted with their presence. Remembering them makes us painfully aware of their absence, even if we know in our hearts that their absence is not permanent, but only a temporary sojourn.
Of course our faith is not just in our hope of eternal life with Jesus and with those who we love who have gone before us. Our faith is also for now- for our relationships with others, for our celebrations and trials, for our vocation and purpose while we are here.
Perseverance is the key to holding on to Jesus and not letting go of His promise to us. The Holy Spirit is always available for us, interceding and stepping in the gap for us, because we are weak. We lose heart. We get depressed, and on days like today, more often than not, we mourn. We sin and we fail, but we also remember that today is a new day and that all things are possible for he or she who trusts in Christ.
There is nothing wrong with remembering and thanking God for our loved ones who are no longer with us. It is good for us to consider their example as well as to remember that they are living in the fullness of the heavenly kingdom. The “not yet” waiting is over for them, and Jesus and heaven are their only now. Their joy is complete. Our joy is divided, at least for now.
We are still running the race they have already finished. There is abundant life for us now, but our life and our joy is made complete beyond the end of the race.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)