I didn’t want to overwhelm the wallpaper with words, so the original verses are pared down. The full verses (shortened version in bold) are:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:1-2 (RSVCE)
The reflections on this passage from the study Bible I use are really great so I’ll share them here.
Regarding the cloud of witnesses, the author is making reference to several people they called out in the prior chapter like Noah and Moses who persevered in faith. Also:
Images of the faithful departed cheering us on hints at the communion and intercession of the saints. It shows that the Church in heaven is neither cut off from nor disinterested in the pilgrim Church on earth but is actively solicitous of her salvation.—Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament 2nd ed.
Pretty cool to think we have an unimaginably large stadium of brothers and sisters on the other side hoping we’ll join them. Regarding the analogy to running:
As a runner sheds whatever might restrict his movements or hamper his performance, so the believer must rid himself of every encumbrance in life that will jeopardize his chances for winning the eternal prize.
Life is more like a distance race than a short sprint. Endurance is therefore necessary to keep moving toward the finish without losing faith along the way.—Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament 2nd ed.
We need to persevere to the end. If we live holy lives for the first half of our life, only to cast it off as outdated and irrelevant, we could run smack into a closed banquet door of heaven, at the end of a long life. This recalls the ending of the parable of the ten maidens that Jesus tells:
“While [the foolish maidens who needed lamp oil] went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'”—Matthew 25:1-13 (RSVCE)
I wonder if, for that soul, it is less that Jesus shuts the door in their face and more that they have acquired a taste for things not served at the heavenly banquet. They’ve changed so much from God’s design that they might just hate heaven. The lines of C.S. Lewis come to mind:
“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
On Earth, vices can be easily accessed and consumed, but in hell, in the vision I experienced, it wasn’t like that at all.