There is a story about a young woman who was a dedicated daily jogger. She signed up for a five mile race in a nearby town. When the day of the race came, she checked in and went to the starting line. The opening gun went off and the race began. Our runner passed the one mile mark and the two, three and four. By this distance the runners should have made the turn back to the place they started. That prompted her to ask another runner. “We have already gone four miles. There is only one to go. When do we head back?” The other runner looked at her with surprise and said, “This is not the five mile race. That had a different starting line. This is the marathon!” The marathon – 26 miles!
Our runner was in a race she did not train for. She was totally unprepared. She did not sign up for this. But it was the race she was in. So she kept going. Mile after mile. Our runner was one of the last to finish, but finish she did.
I’ve been thinking about that story as we enter the fifth month of this pandemic. Most scientists are telling us this may go on for a long time. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t prepare for this. I didn’t train for this. But this is the race I am running.
That led me to go to all the “running the race” references in the letters of St. Paul. One is in his Second Letter to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
There are running images in First Corinthians and two more in Philippians, and another in Hebrews – a letter which Paul did not write. The inspired writers of The Book of Common Prayer created a prayer out of that one:
“In the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us; and together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.”Preface for All Saints Day, BCP, 380.
This is one of my favorite prayers. It is for use in the Holy Eucharist on All Saints Day. I admit that I use it on a lot of other days as well. (Don’t tell the bishop!) I believe it is a good prayer for this marathon of a pandemic.
“Run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We did not choose this race, but it has been set before us. And from where does our endurance come? It comes from the “multitude of saints” that “surround us with a great cloud of witnesses.”
This pandemic is a new race for us, one we have never experienced before. But the world has been through many other times of suffering. And people have kept the faith. As St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Who will separate us from the love of God? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Recently I read a letter that Tom Synan, rector of Grace Church in Amherst, sent to his church: “The current circumstances do not define or control us. We are the Body of Christ. We are descendants of the saints and mystics, holy women, holy men, holy young people, holy children. We are God’s servants, God’s agents, a community of faith gladly doing its part for the common good.”
Let us run this race with endurance. And at the end of it we’ll be able to say, “we kept the faith.”