“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,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” – Hebrews 12:1
One of our family traditions is that on Memorial Day weekend, at some point, Lori, the boys and I drive up to Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis and meet up with my Mom at my Dad’s grave site.
Today, after worship, we hopped in the car and made the journey.
We were not there for a long time…it was really warm, and we had to get back for the boys marching band rehearsal at 4pm. But we were there long enough to clean the grave markers, edging around the stones to cut away the grass that was starting to grow over it, and put some cut roses into vases. They were placed over the graves of my father, my grandfather and my grandmother.
It is good to be there. It is good to be with my Mom. And it is good for the boys, who never met my Dad, to have some kind of connection. Sometimes it’s pretty quiet as we do the work. Sometimes we start telling stories, and then there is some laughter. And every year, we wonder why the grass over my Dad’s grave site doesn’t seem to be quite as nice as the grass surrounding it. I tell the boys it’s because he was ornery.
There is nothing magical about going there on Memorial Weekend. While my Father was a veteran, serving in the US Marine Corps, he didn’t die in service to his country. So this weekend isn’t set aside to specifically honor him. Rather we go this weekend because we’re usually all available to go, and because it has become a ritual…a part of our year.
And we go to remember.
19 years after his death, I still grieve. And being there, having an opportunity to remember moments I had with him, continues the long healing journey.
This reminds me that while Memorial Day Weekend is about honoring those who have given their lives in service to their county, it is also about creating space for memories…for story telling…and for healing.
The text from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews says that since we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we should lay aside the distractions and run the race with perseverance. Paul links these things together; being surrounded and running the race. When we remember that those who have gone before, live in Christ, and surround us, we are strengthened to do the things God calls us to do.
It’s good that we visit the graves of those who have gone before us. It is good that we remember. But we don’t live in those memories. All of our time cannot be sent at the gravesite.
And in all honesty, it doesn’t need to be. Because we are surrounded. Because our ancestors walk with God, alongside us.
Remember. Remember those who have gone before and who surround us. But also remember that as people of faith, we do not to dwell at the tomb; we live in the world. And in the world, we share the Good News, and we serve those in need.
And we remember that we are surrounded, first and foremost by God’s Holy Spirit, and secondly, by that great cloud of witnesses.
Remember…we are never alone.