“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…” (Hebrews 12:1)
Back when I used to run in more races (usually 5k races), I was still not in the best shape. I was exhausted past the halfway mark, if not earlier in the race. I was barely making it to the end. But when I saw the silhouette of the finish line, I began to find my second wind.
Quite often, there were people lined up on both sides of this end point.
Even though I was running on fumes, short of breath, feeling I was going to have a heart attack or get sick, I would begin to feel a positive energy as I grew closer and closer to the line. The energy of those cheering reached to me. As I approached the last few steps, the crowd of strangers were cheering as I sprinted the final handful of strides.
It didn’t matter that I was usually closer to the end of the crowd who was trying to complete the race. These strangers were called to be cheering us on, no matter who we are or how fast we could compete.
And, one evening, as I crossed the finish line, it occurred to me that the kingdom of God is like the finish line of a race.
I had finished the race, like it said in the above mentioned 2 Timothy text. I gave all I had to fighting fatigue and doubt. And then I saw the great cloud of witnesses, embracing their gift of exhortation (encouragement), giving me the last bits of energy and faith I needed to run my last few steps.
I thought to myself – maybe this is like what the transition from our lives on earth to our lives in heaven in God is like. Maybe those who loved us and those we hardly knew are the great cloud of witnesses cheering us as we reach the finish line and celebrate the race completion. What a beautiful image of what heaven could be!
And that’s the heaven we experience on earth – at the finish line of races when friend and stranger cheer us on to victory and completion of our goal. There is only love at the finish line – love from those we know and those we don’t. There is rarely ill will at the finish line but, instead, genuine gratitude for finishing the race and being loved by all of those around us. Many of us are trying to find our energy after greatly exerting ourselves, but words and smiles of love are still in our presence.
But Monday was different. It wasn’t the kingdom of God as we would hope to see it on earth. As numerous runners neared and crossed the finish line, explosions rattles and injured those at the end of the run. The people who have answered God’s call to encourage friends and strangers finishing the race were struck with physical and emotional objects and flames. These are people who were there to share their love with fellow humans. These are people who were trying to help their neighbors experience the true kingdom of God.
On Monday, that glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like here on earth was shattered. It was destroyed in a matter of moments.
Instead of love and peace, trauma and fear now have entered the hearts of many. Some may be tempted to quit their racing. Others may find it dangerous to stand and cheer on the many runners.
Right now it’s hard to see that God is the God of resilience and resurrections. As time passes and healing begins, many will eventually leave behind fear in the tomb and resurrect into a place of faith and hope. They will lace up their shoes again. They will rejoin the great cloud of witnesses at the end of the race. It may take time, but I pray that many who suffered today will find their way back to the finish line.
I look forward to meeting these great cloud of witnesses and fellow runners the next time I run the great race of life… or my next 5k.
My prayers are with all of those in Boston – especially those grieving, those healing and those helping, with runners and spectators of the Boston Marathon and with runners and spectators everywhere.