“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
Last Sunday I stood in church a little overwhelmed. As we worshiped I had the thought, “I wonder if this is the last time I will be able to come here?” As a couple of tears slipped down I felt a little silly thinking it might get that severe. And now, I feel a little silly thinking it wouldn’t.
The moment was poignant. I thought about how much I love my church. I thought about the people there and what it means to be able to come, each week, into that space to worship Jesus — and what it would be like if I couldn’t.
And that’s when they showed up.
As my physical eyes brimmed with tears, my mind’s eye filled with faces. Beautiful dark African faces and lighter Indian faces. Shrouded Middle Eastern faces and gaunt imprisoned faces. Shadowed Asian faces staring up from a basement church and missionary faces who are spreading the Gospel in places where their lives are, quite literally, at risk if they get caught.
They were faces I didn’t recognize and yet, I knew exactly who they were.
They were the faces of the buildingless faithful.
For many of us, this is the first Sunday of our entire lives when we do not have the option to enter a church building. To be extremely clear, it is not appropriate or responsible to compare our situation to places where you take your life in your hands to claim the name of Christ. We have the Internet. Many of us will attend church online. We are welcomed and even encouraged to practice our faith in the midst of these very different circumstances. And yet…
I am so grateful for them. As we face this strange little hiccup in our regularly scheduled faith practices, I am strengthened and encouraged by the “cloud of witness” who have come before us. The faithful who have lived in generations past and those who live now in places where they cannot freely gather. These incredible people, all around the world, who stand as examples to us. They are our “witnesses” of what it means to continue to worship, to learn, and to grow in faith even when our usual methods have been disrupted.
So as trite or inadequate as it may sound, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to the countless men and women who have worshiped faithfully throughout time without structure, convenience or ease. Thank you for your mighty example that encourages us in our momentary troubles. Thank you for your faithful practice and presence as the church when we can’t meet in a church. We are so very grateful.