Here we are after a couple weeks worth of the Summer Olympics and what should the Revised Common Lectionary provide for us this week but this:
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, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSV
I’m not a runner–never have been, never will be. (The same can be said about many other athletic endeavors.) But that doesn’t keep me from appreciating what these several thousand world-class athletes exhibit in Rio de Janeiro right now. It’s incredibly impressive, whether or not they end up on a platform getting a gold, silver, or bronze. Just getting to Rio is a big deal.
Watching the Olympics unfold day after day it’s easy to assume that all those athletes headed to Rio with the dream of standing on the winner’s platform, watching their national flag be raised and national anthem played. I suspect the reality, however, is that most go to these games knowing that won’t happen. But being there, competing with the world’s best, knowing they belong, is the real experience. Of course, competing is the final step in years and years of practice, of training, of enduring discomfort and pain and setbacks of various kinds. Just to make it to Rio they’ve had to endure and they’ve had to be faithful.
The writer of Hebrews throughout the latter part of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12 recounts a long list of biblical examples of endurance and faithfulness. This writer does so not merely as a way to look back but, perhaps even more importantly, as counsel to the readers of this letter. Just as a long-distance runner enters the stadium for the conclusion of his or her race while a huge crowd of witnesses looks on, so too is the Christian disciple surrounded by all those who’ve come before, who’ve joined in the race, and will bring it to a triumphal conclusion.
The true Christian life is a life of faithful endurance, culminating eventually with the glory that is yet ahead.