Surrounded by a Great Cloud
You wouldn’t ordinarily want to do anything in a cloud. Ever drive through thick fog? It’s not fun. I spent nearly five years driving every day to the seminary and back home again in Defiance, Ohio where my wife taught in a Lutheran school. If you are familiar with Northwest Ohio you know that it was once a large swatch of swamp land and then was settled, swamps drained, and fertile farmland was the result. But one legacy of the swampy days is fog so thick in the Fall and Spring that schools in the area would frequently have fog delays in the morning. But we drove on anyway. At times the fog was so thick you literally could not see more than two feet in front of the car. So we drove slowly. Driving in a cloud is not something most would do, if they don’t have to. But the Bible tells us we are in fact spending our whole Christian life, running, with a "great cloud" around us all the time.
Hebrews 12:1 urges us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. It is as if we are in a huge stadium and we are running with the crowds all around cheering us on. Those crowds — the great cloud of witnesses — are the men and women of Christian faith who have gone before us. Which raises the question about saints and the dead in Christ. Are we to pray to them for help as we run our race? Absolutely not. There is not a single command, promise or example in all of Sacred Scripture to justify prayer to the dead. I was reading a blog site recently and sadly noticed a person claim that anyone who denies prayer to the dead is thereby denying the doctrine of the Resurrection. That is nonsense, of course.
What then is the solution to such error? Do we simply ignore the dead in Christ, the saints of all the ages? No. We remember them, but we do not pray to them. Jesus has taught us to pray, and so we say, "Our father, who art in heaven." We pray to the Lord, we remember His saints. Why? I like to think of it this way.
Getting to know our forefathers and foremothers in the faith is like
sitting down and looking through a big family album tucked away in an
attic. You get to know members of your family you never knew you had, or
never knew anything about. When we look at family albums we learn a lot
about our family and about ourselves. We remember and thank God for all
His blessings and the things our family members did. We remember and
learn about the good things and bad things in their lives. And as we
learn more about them we think of the ways we can emulate them and put
some of their virtues and strengths into practice in our lives. That’s
what the saints are like for us. We do not pray to them. We do not
venerate them. We learn from their lives and we thank God for the grace He gave them. Even as we want to know about our earthly families,
all the more should we want to get to know our family in Christ, all our
brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, in the faith, who have gone
before us, that great cloud of witnesses that even now is cheering us
on as we run with perseverance the race marked out for us. After all, we are going to join them some day, so we may as well get to know as many of them now as we can, in anticipation of a joyful reunion in heaven.