Word of the Month

The cloud of witnesses

March 2006

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of a "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us (cf. Hebrews 12: 1). These witnesses are the souls who are already in the beyond and have long completed their life on earth. The eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews lists many by name, but also some from the ranks of the people of the Old Covenant whom we do not know. They had fought and proven themselves as witnesses of faith, but even they have not yet experienced the completion of God?s work.

And why not? Because there is only a single event of completion, namely the day of the Lord. They are waiting for this moment just as we are. I believe that they know many things about the developments here on earth and that they are waiting for the work to be done here.

Today, the number of those from the spiritual world is even greater than it was in the time of the New Testament or the Old Testament. And the longing for the day of the Lord is also great in the beyond. After all, whether we are among the living or the departed, we comprise a single congregation before the Lord, the one bride, who is being prepared in our time. How wonderful to know that those who have preceded us in faith surround us like a "cloud of witnesses".

The author of the letter to the Hebrews had his reasons for mentioning these witnesses from the past: the Christians whom he addressed in this letter were starting to become faint. They had allowed themselves to become discouraged. Thus he advised them to set aside all things that could hold them back. In so doing, the author referred to the image of a race. In a race it would be foolish for a runner to burden himself with heavy weights. It is just the same in our life of faith. We must lay aside everything that could burden us, bind us, or hold us back: such things as doubt, dispute, discord, strife, and irreconcilability. Annoyance is especially bad. Admittedly, it is something we cannot control ? it simply arises from time to time. But if we cultivate it, it becomes heavy and overpowering. Annoyance always arises whenever there is a lack of understanding. But if love is the motivating force within us, then annoyance will not be able to take hold. Certainly, it can happen that we become annoyed from time to time ? after all, we are only human ? but annoyance will have no chance in the long run if we deal with one another in love.

How can we lay aside these weights and the things that burden us? The letter to the Hebrews gives us an important hint: we must look up to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (cf. Hebrews 12: 2)! We burden ourselves if we only look at the mistakes and weaknesses of the ministers, if we fail to look up to those men whom the Lord has given us, or fail to accept them as messengers of blessing. However if we are one with them, if we cultivate a close connection with them, this makes our hearts lighter and brings us blessing and strength.

So why would we want to be unnecessarily burdened? Let us see to it that we rid ourselves of these weights, and press forward unburdened toward the goal of our faith. Let us support one another ? even as regards the unredeemed in the beyond ? and extend our hands to one another so that we may all be perfected as soon as possible. The moment will come when we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, this "cloud of witnesses" who today still surround us.

(From a divine service by the chief apostle)