"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." -- 2 Timothy 4:7
"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..." -- Hebrews 12:1
Back when I used to run in more races (usually 5K courses), I was not the strongest runner. I was exhausted as I neared the halfway mark, if not earlier in the race. I was barely making it to the end. But when I saw the silhouette of the finish line, I began to find my second wind.
In most of my races, there were people lined up on both sides of this end point, enthusiastically clapping in joyous support.
Even though I was running on fumes, short of breath and feeling like I was about to get sick, I would begin to feel a positive energy as I grew closer and closer to the line. The energy of those applauding reached to me. As I approached the last few steps, the crowd of strangers were cheering, giving me the strength I needed to sprint the final strides.
It didn't matter that I was one of the final runners to cross the finish line. The strangers at the end of the run were called to be cheering us on, no matter who we were or how well we could compete.
As I completed the run and saw all of the people applauding for the runners, it occurred to me that the kingdom of God is like the finish line of a race.
I had finished the race, like it said in the above mentioned 2 Timothy text. I gave all I had to fighting fatigue and doubt. And then I saw the great cloud of witnesses, embracing their gift of encouragement, giving me the last bits of energy and faith I needed to run my last few steps.
I thought to myself, "Could this be what the transition from our earthly lives to heaven is like?" Maybe those who loved us and those we hardly knew are the great cloud of witnesses cheering us as we reach the finish line and celebrate the race completion. What a beautiful image of what heaven could be!
And that's the way we can experience and create heaven here on earth, whether we are crossing the finish lines or we are encouraging others in their goals. I have only experienced love at the completion of a race -- love from those I know and those I don't. There is rarely hatred and mean-spiritedness at the finish line. Instead, genuine gratitude and celebration brings runners and spectators together.
Many were not able to experience this beauty at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15. It wasn't the kingdom of God as we would hope to see it on earth. As numerous runners concluded their races, explosions rattled and injured those at the finish line. The people who have answered God's call to encourage friends and strangers finishing the race were struck with objects and flames. These are people who were standing at the end of the race to share their love with fellow humans. These are people who were trying to help their neighbors experience the true kingdom of God.
In Boston, that glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like here on earth was distorted. Trauma and fear now entered the sacred space of the finish line. Some may be tempted to quit their racing. Others may find it dangerous to stand and cheer on runners in their last few steps.
But even through the trauma and heartbreak, God's love continued to flow at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Stranger reached out to stranger to save lives and bring peace in the midst of chaos.
In this time of healing, it may be tough to see that God is the God of resilience and resurrections. It's difficult to recognize that we are in a season of Easter. As time passes and healing begins, those experiencing anxieties from this trauma will, hopefully, eventually leave behind fear in the tomb and resurrect into a place of faith and hope. They will lace up their shoes again. They will rejoin the great cloud of witnesses at the end of the race. It may take time, but I pray that many who suffered this week will see the presence of God in even through their distress. And from this time forward, I can't help but believe that we will all think of our sisters and brothers at the Boston Marathon finish line each time we find ourselves at one.
I look forward to meeting the great cloud of witnesses and fellow runners the next time I run the great race of life -- or my next 5K.
My prayers are with all of those in Boston grieving, healing and serving. And my prayers are with all who will be running races this weekend and those cheering at the finish lines.