Connections 08.14.2022: Under a Cloud

Hebrews 11:29–12:2

The “cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews 12:1 is one of the most beautiful, most encouraging images of our faith. It helps us imagine the way we are connected to all who came before us, all who, by their ancient stories of faithfulness, by their historic testimonies, and by their personal influence in our lives make up the global, timeless community of believers. Many churches observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month; the prayer of thanksgiving in the United Methodist communion litany includes these words: “And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory….”

When we look back into Hebrews 11, we see some of the folks who make up this “cloud.” Hebrews 11:32-35 describes kings, judges, priests, and prophets, all the way up to the women who witnessed resurrection. Then the text takes a turn. Verses 36-38 list those who were tortured, those who were mocked and stoned and “sawn in two.” The cloud of witnesses includes those who were tormented, shunned, exiled, banished.

This cloud is not the fluffy happy cloud of a child’s crayon drawing. This cloud has a dark edge. What strikes me most is that the tone of the text does not change at all, even as the list abruptly switches from the victors to the martyrs. There is no suggestion that there is any difference between these faithful witnesses. They all prepared the way for us.

If the cloud of witnesses is an image of encouragement, the inclusion of those who suffered and died for their faith reminds me that this cloud is also an image of conviction. If those who have been tortured, isolated, and mocked are watching me— witnessing me—what do they see? What do they think of my complaining, my easily hurt feelings, my irritation with the way things are done? What do they think of my impatience, my boredom, my indifference?

How do I dare to lift my voice with theirs?

On this first Sunday of August, on every communion Sunday, and on every day of our lives, we are under this cloud of witnesses. We are under this cloud of victors and kings and of the persecuted and the banished, of God’s “people of earth and all the company of heaven.” All these witnesses are standing watch over us, inviting us to join them as the unending hymn goes on.


  • What encouragement do you take from the idea that a “cloud of witnesses” is looking over us, surrounding us?
  • When you read the Bible’s stories, when you hear testimony of faith people across the world and across history, and when you are influenced by the faithful people in your own life, do you think of them all as being part of this “cloud”? What beloved figures from your life do you know are part of your “cloud of witnesses”? How does remembering them affect your faith, your actions, and your attitude?
  • Do you feel differently about this “cloud” when you remember that it includes people who have been tortured and killed for their faithfulness?
  • Do you feel a sense of conviction about your own practices of faith when you consider those who came before you, especially those who suffered and died?
  • If you are observing the Lord’s Supper this week, reflect on how communion is a symbol of the whole body of Christ. How do the bread and cup remind us of our role among God’s “people of earth and all the company of heaven”?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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