The sheet, the cloud, the Presence, and the Promise.
The sheet: There’s a shroud draped over us. There’s crud in this world that is against life. It’s in the news daily: The pandemic, poverty, political division, planetary destruction, catastrophic human failure due to our ignorance or calculated greed. All that’s wrong isn’t just out there (pointing beyond the Sanctuary). It’s in here, too (pointing to my heart). Pride, lust for power and pleasure, envy, anger, despair, and indifference to suffering. All of that crud fouling creation; all that soul-destroying stuff clogging our hearts is what the Bible calls: Sin, evil, injustice, death – which God shall destroy. Thus says the Lord through Isaiah: On my holy mountain, I’ll gather the nations and I’ll destroy the shroud covering humankind. I’ll tear that sheet to shreds. I’ll swallow up death forever in my saving love (Isaiah 25:6-9). That glad day is coming, but until then we’ve gotta contend with this sheet and crud. But we’re not alone.
The cloud: We not only have a sheet over us, we also have a cloud with us: We’re surrounded, says Paul, by a great cloud of witnesses: Heroes of faith, champions of love, paragons of virtue, bearers of light. Good people who gave us God’s blessings. Some of the saints in that cloud are in heaven. Some are sitting beside you. They are equipping us; they are encouraging us, they are with us. We’re not alone. We have friends to help us follow Christ. Today we remember those saints not because they were perfect, but because they loved us. Who are your heroes? Your encouragers? Take time to thank them — and take time to be one for someone else. Be their friend. Bless others. Because the cloud can trump the shroud when we decide to share ourselves in love.
The Presence: What’s more — we have not just the curses of this life that shroud us and the blessings of this life and the godly friends who surround us like a cloud, we also have the living God in our midst. Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his friends: I’m going away, but you will not be orphaned. “I’ll ask the Father, and he’ll give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14:16-17).” We’re not only surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit who is alive in your heart today. The Advocate, the Counselor and Comforter; the Spirit, who — says Paul — “helps us in our weakness; when we don’t know how to pray, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s children according to the will of God. 28All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:26-28).” Translation: When you’re so embattled that you don’t know how to pray — or can’t pray because faith eludes you — the Holy Spirit won’t fail you. The Advocate will pray for you and walk with you, bringing you through your trial, sorting your life out in good ways so that you can live.
In the end, that’s the Promise: Life, blessing, peace, love, joy. How can that good outcome be our destiny when the world is going to hell in a hand basket? How can that happy ending be in the cards for me when my life is such a big, hot mess? That future is ours because Jesus Christ is risen today. His Easter victory is the future into which our Risen Savior is gathering you. Death cannot defeat you when you have a Redeemer who has defeated death. Job, who was no stranger to suffering, finally, faithfully proclaimed: “I know my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth… I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side. My eyes shall behold him (Job 19:25-27).”
So, yes, we have the sheet, the shroud of deadly crud that is against us, but we also have the cloud, the Presence, and the Promise on our side. That’s four against one. And that, as they say, is game, set, and match. The cloud of witnesses, the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and the Promise of God’s Easter kingdom of love, justice, and peace in which you shall live. That’s what you’ve got going for you no matter what’s against you.
All we need to do is hang in there in the race before us. All we have to do is stick together with each other and with our good God. So, kick to the curb all the crud that’s tripping you up. Help each other, bearing each other’s burdens. If we all do that, then no one will be left behind. As the English theologian N.T. Wright says, “Acknowledge the challenges; say your prayers; and get on with it.” As you do, the Holy Spirit will match your pace, stride for stride, and give you peace, making the heavenly goal ahead the earthly grace you can receive, share, and live today.