The Great Cloud of Witnesses. The Hall of Faith. The Heroes of Old.
Abel, a younger brother; Enoch, a mystic; Abraham, a landowner turned vagabond; Moses, a prince; Sarah, an elderly woman; Rahab, a prostitute; Jacob, a scoundrel; Joseph, an interpreter of dreams.
On the surface, on the human plane, they are as different from one another as anyone could be. And yet here they are, stacked together and grouped as one, united by an ineffable mystery: each of these men + women had a profound mystical encounter, a spiritual awakening, a revelation of the close-proximity of God and through this encounter, a re-ordering of their entire life and purpose.
In the mind of the writer of this letter to the Hebrews, the foundation of the faith of our ancestors was mystical experience, a sense of connectedness to God that was so profound as to overwhelm the standard human thought life and behavioral patterns of wanting-what’s-mine, getting-what-I-can, keeping-what-I-have.
These men and women gave themselves over to a deeper way of being human, of living lives of immense risk, true sacrifice, and spiritual liberation. What they had seen and experienced of God both held them captive and made them truly free.
For Abraham, a Voice. Reaching out to him in a cracked, Mesopotamian desert, beckoning him away from all that he knew, off on a journey to “a place that I will show you…” a destination that could not be understood by the human mind.
For Moses, a bush that burned w/o being consumed. And here again, the Voice, this time self-identifying as “I AM,” the ALL.
One after another, the writer of Hebrews commends the ancients on their faith, which was their response to their experience of God, what Eugene Peterson has called, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
What, exactly, is the substance of faith?
What are we talking about when we use the word, “faith?”
And also, what is the nature of our relationship to the ancients, to those who came before us and walked this same spiritual path?
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
This speaks to a unifying theme of the entire narrative of Scripture, this idea of shalom, a sense of wholeness, oneness.
This verse points to that theme on a historical level by reminding us that no one, by any stretch, can represent the entirety of a story we are telling, let alone the ultimate story in which we are participating — the story of the universe, the song of the Divine, the restoration of all things, the complete picture: shalom.
We are fragments in search of a place, pieces fitting into a larger whole.
According to the concept presented here by the author, in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s order of things, the great construct of time itself collapses and we find that the illusion of separation is just that — an illusion. We are intimately connected to God, and because of that our lives are forever entangled with the lives of those who have come before us and those who will be here after us.
that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
And so while we are here, on the earthly part of the journey, all eyes are on us.
The Greeks used to call the very highest seats in their stadiums “the clouds.” That is the metaphor being used here, as if the ancients are surrounding us on all sides, cheering us on from the cheap seats, believing in the profound implications of our spiritual journeys (even when we struggle to believe ourselves) and calling forth our desire to hang on to the faith we’ve come to know through heritage and experience.