The Cloud of Witnesses Revisited

Years ago I was walking along Broadway Street in NYC. It was a Saturday afternoon, and from where I was I could see a long way down the street, and on the sidewalk was a sea of bobbing shoulders and heads walking towards me and away from me. A funny thought struck me; wouldn’t it be strange if I knew everyone on this street and everyone knew me? Hi Jack, how’s Jill? Sam, how is your father doing? Hi John, did you have a good class today at the Seminary? It would go on and on, greeting and being greeted!

As I thought about this, it struck me that this wasn’t so funny or strange at all on a theological level. In fact, what was really strange, and even terrible, was the fact that all these people would not even so much as lift their faces to others with a greeting, let alone a smile of acknowledgement. We are all made in the image of God; we were made to relate, to know and be known, to appreciate the unique qualities God has infused in each of us. Each of us is a mystery that only God can fathom. To ignore is morally reprehensible. Hell is for strangers.

Lately as I have been thinking about the spiritual realm I took this thought farther. Upon our death to this world and reception into the spiritual realm, we will join that great crowd of witnesses of saints and angels. These are the ones cheering for us. They must be endowed with a comprehensive knowledge of us and our striving towards perfection in this life, cheering us on, interceding for us, and channels of God’s grace to us. When we join their ranks, we too will be endowed with astounding knowledge of everyone in the cloud, and perhaps even on earth. In other words, we will all walking the celestial streets greeting everyone, and everyone greeting us. Being part of the cloud of witnesses, we will also have knowledge of those on earth, for the Church is a union of those above and those below. We indeed will be channels of grace to those on earth in some fashion, for God made us for purpose and accomplishment, not for self-indulgence. We will know and be known, not only with regard to God, but also with regard to each other.

I am convinced that if we are not deeply conscious of the spiritual realm something is wrong with us. Something I know is wrong with me, for I have to work so very hard in my prayers to appreciate the reality of this realm. (I have many a blinder that keeps me from what really is!) Many of us have been handed a cosmology that simply doesn’t allow for this realm, whether from our rationalistic and materialistic culture or from church communities that ignores it almost completely out of fear of Catholicism and old world thought. Perhaps both are in play. Either way, such ignorance is destructive to who we are as spiritual beings. The result is one-dimensional shallowness. Many of us are in poverty and we do not even know it. We were made to be connected. The great work of Christ is to reconnect that which was torn asunder by the Fall. Easter is all about Jesus breaking hells gates, the opening up the spirit realm, the joy of union.

When we walk down the street and observed downcast faces, think about this!

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