...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses... (Hebrews 1)
Festival of Lights by John August Swanson
My father joined my Cloud of Witnesses late Saturday night. After a long bout with Lewy Body Dementia, he went home to God. So now I am more aware than ever of the "Cloud of Witnesses," the folks who, by Christian tradition, have gone home to God but somehow are still rooting for those they love on earth. And shining to the glory of God. I don't know if Dad is still solving physics problems, but I trust he is singing.
Katherine Gara was the first Witness I recognized, and the first woman pastor I ever knew. I saw her shine most brightly at a special United Methodist summer camp. There she proclaimed and demonstrated God's inclusive love to people with HIV and AIDS. She died in 2001 at age 55, about the time I read Fred Craddock's sermon about the welcoming committee that will be waiting for us on our final journey. I decided Katherine would be on my welcoming committee, because she was the most welcoming person I knew who had gone Home before me.
Since that time I have said farewell to some pillars of the churches I have served. I am remembering Beth Ackelson, who at age 100 sat in the back of our church and took the roll each Sunday, knowing the name of every person who walked through the door. It's a beautiful and humbling experience to have one of those folks at the end of her life say, "I'm praying for you." Death would never keep them from their appointed work.
We imagine we are alone, because our senses do not perceive the Presence, and presences, shining all around us. Remember the Cloud of Witnesses. If you do not know the identity of yours, I trust that some big souls like Katherine and Beth are there for you.