I grew up going to the local Lutheran weeklong sleep away summer camp in Maryland (Mar-Lu-Ridge) during my younger years. My parents and I would drive the hour or so westward from Baltimore to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains each summer for my week at camp. The camp sat on top of the first ridge you reach heading west into the mountains, the three mile road up to the camp was just wide enough to allow two cars to pass going opposite directions with only a slight veering onto the shoulder and once you reached the top there were about thirty yards or so on either side of the road before you hit the steep drop off of the side of the mountain. This was the place I found my identity and calling, I spent eight summers there as a camper, another six as a counselor and finally four more summers as the Associate Director after college before seminary. The Ridge is my home in many ways.
The west facing view of the valley below was simply breathtaking: your eye could trace the path of the Potomac River making its way to forming the border between Maryland and Virginia, you could see the pocket where Harpers Ferry sat nestled between the mountains and you could see three states very clearly. Some say you could see a fourth. When the conditions were just right in the morning, the valley would be covered in a fog that made you feel like you were sitting in the cloud, and on particularly perfect mornings, the entire mountain was covered in a thick fog that made you feel like you were actually in the clouds. The fog was always thick on those mornings, the type where you couldn’t see your hands outstretched in front of you. It was an incredible sight to behold.
There was one Pastor who came up every summer to be the Pastor of the Week. He was a former staffer who seemingly never lost that enthusiasm that is in the DNA of a lot of camp counselors. Pastor Jason loved those mornings and would talk about their power in our morning devotions or worships. He didn’t relate those mornings to the Israelites being led by the pillar of clouds out of Egypt, or Moses being wrapped up in the clouds on Mount Sinai. He did not speak about Elijah riding off into the clouds, the Transfiguration, or Jesus’ Ascension. He always brought those foggy mornings back to the opening of the 12th chapter of Hebrews.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a
This is still my favorite way to understand the opening of Hebrews 12, and my favorite way to understand the Body of Christ. We are all wrapped up in a cloud which includes all the people past and present in our lives that have formed us, support us, and love us. The only reason we can be the people of God and be the Body of Christ is because of all of those people surrounding us, praying for us, challenging us, supporting us and journeying with us through life. That is the Body of Christ for me: a cloud!
However, it does not end there; if we are surrounded by a cloud of all those people in our lives that have formed us and helped us to find our calling, that means we are parts of each other's clouds as well. As much as I would like to think that I am Jim Carrey in the Truman Show, I know that I am not and I know that all of our lives are bound together. The Body of Christ is this bound existence that we are in with one another, our lives are mixed and tangled, our work is alongside one another. And if we are looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter, we are reminded time and time again that Jesus became human, entered into the messiness of humanity, loved us and even descended into hell. We are connected and linked together in the world as humans, we are bound together in the Body of Christ and we are simultaneously wrapped up in our great cloud of witnesses while being a part of other’s clouds.
I am always reminded of an ELCA Youth Gathering theme from a number of years ago. The theme was “Ubuntu” which is a Zulu word that can be translated to mean “I am because we are.” That is the Body of Christ, that is our cloud, that is the sign of our God of relationship. We are wrapped up in this together and “I am because we are”--so let us run the race together.