Looking Up and Around
by Kyle Kelley
That great cloud of witnesses the Hebrews writer talked about was very real to the early Christians. They went to church with the expectation their departed loved ones, who had a full taste of the other side of Jordan, would be there with them.
Paradise was the dominant image of early Christian sanctuaries note church historians and theologians Brock and Parker in their fine book Saving Paradise.
Bursting with Resurrection were images of "a lush visual environment: a cosmos of stars in midnight skies, golden sunlight, sparkling waters teeming with fish, exuberant fauna, and verdant meadows filled with flowers and fruit trees. Punctuating such scenes were images of the great cloud of witnesses, many dressed in purple robes of nobility. Others wore white robes of baptism as brides of Christ. They wore or carried wreaths of victory. Many apse images included exactly four rivers flowing from a lamb, globe or golden cross."
Paradise - Early Church Art - Ravenna, Italy
Paradise extended down from heaven into this world "permeated and blessed by the Spirit of God." Persecution, oppression, even martyrdom could not sever the connection between the living and the dead. Paradise had begun in this world in the life and worship of the church and included all God's children on both sides of heaven. In fact early church father Origen found the departed more prompt church attenders, "Souls come more rapidly than living persons to the places of worship."
I have no special knowledge of the mysteries of the life to come, but I have glimpsed Paradise in the lives of some modern CBF saints, whose memory and influence live on. Life is about change and as we enter a transition time for CBF-LA, I find myself thankful for some folks like John Goodwin, Frank Stagg, Al and Elizabeth Kessler, Milton and Grace Johnson, Robert Wilson, Bryan and Dorothy Bazer, Bay Tull and Sue Tweedy. There are others. Who else should be remembered in this cloud of those who have gone before but left us a foundation and grounded us for the work ahead?
My thanksgiving extends to the many still around us who continue to inspire me and have caught a vision of Kingdom work much larger than any individual agenda. They've seen what's on the other side of the hill. Our Coordinating Council, staff and leadership are blessed by many who stand beside us.
I am heartened by the many friends within our Fellowship and without, within our state and beyond who join us in prayer for wisdom and strength "to run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Heb.12).
So look up at that great cloud of witnesses and be inspired. Then look around at your co-laborers, put your hand to the plow and join us in following the One who brings "a kingdom that cannot be shaken."