If you read the family blog you may know that the Sunday before last I ran my first official road race. I ran the 10km leg of the Saskatchewan Marathon. My sister Terry and her husband Tim, along with their friend Teresa, talked me into going home for the weekend and running (they all ran the half-marathon). I’ve been running for awhile now and particularly since I decided to do the race, so the actual experience of running 10km wasn’t all that big of a deal. I’ve done it a few times and I knew I would finish (in a time of 64 mins and change if you’re curious). What struck me about the race was the power of the community of people who took part in it.
There were of course the runners themselves. Impressive people all, and some very impressive. At one point I was passed by a man who was in his 70s at least and probably running under 6 mins/km to my 6:30 mins/km. The fastest runner in my race finished 10kms in a little over 32 mins. Like I said, impressive.
Beyond the runners, however, were the non-runners. You can hardly imagine the number of people who show up at a marathon to do unpaid labour. There were volunteers and friends and family everywhere. In my race I don’t think I ran more than a 1km stretch without seeing somebody who was there to watch, to cheer, to hand out gatoraide or water, or even to sing songs while the runners passed. To put this into perspective the run started at 7AM on a Sunday morning and the temperature was 6 degrees C with periodic rain. But there they were, holding out cups and holding up signs and calling out, “Keep it up!,” “Great pace!,” “Almost there, keep running!” I’m not kidding it damn near made me cry a couple of times.
There were also “pace-bunnies.” At a marathon a pace-bunny trains and trains in order to be certain not only that he/she can run the distance of the race, but that he/she can run it at a precise pace. The official runners follow the 60 min pace bunny in order to finish the 10km race in 60 mins. There were several pace-bunnies, each running a specific time for the runners in each of the races (10k, half, full marathon). I frankly think it’s impressive enough to run a marathon at all (hell, a half is impressive…let’s see you throw down 21.1 kms), but to do it in the service of others is simply wonderful. And all of this made me think about the book of Hebrews.
In chapters 11 and 12 of Hebrews the author retells the stories of men and women of faith who serve as examples for Christians. Chapter 11 closes and Chapter 12 opens with these words:
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,a and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake ofb the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Pace Runners and Witnesses. We need them badly. The examples of the Pace Runners and the encouragement of the Witnesses helps us to lay aside weight and sin, and to run with perseverance. Here’s the thing though, you don’t have to be dead to do these jobs. In fact, if you’re a Christian you should be doing these jobs at some point in your life.
All of us have weak points in our faith. We have moments when our feet falter and our breath fails. All of us also have strong points in our faith. We have moments when the rhythm is strong and our muscles feel tireless and our lungs feel limitless. There are no people who are always weak. There are no people who are always strong. When I am weak I need Witnesses to call out to me along the way, to remind me that I’m doing well and that I can do it. I need Pace Runners to come alongside and to help me find the rhythm again, to encourage me to keep pushing even though I’m terribly tired. But when I’m strong again I need to be the witness, I need to pace my fellow runners. I am responsible for their well-being just as they are responsible for mine.
I owe a great debt to the many Witnesses and Pace Runners in my life. I pay that debt by taking my turn. I know I have friends out there, some who even read this blog, whose feet are failing and whose lungs are faltering. That’s okay. Maybe you need to stop and walk for a minute or two and that’s fine too. But then you’re going to run again. You are. I know you are. You can do it, you have the strength and what you lack Christ will provide. I believe in you.
And if the rhythm is strong for you, and you can feel endless power flowing through you, then it’s time to run pace. You need to come alongside someone, encouraging and challenging and helping him or her ahead. We must remember that as the Church we run together or not at all.
And of course in all and above all and before all goes that greatest of the Witnesses and that tireless Pace-Runner, Jesus Christ himself.