In the Church, the aftermath of Halloween is known as All Saints Day. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, famously said that All Saints’ Day was his favorite holy day on the liturgical calendar. Methinks Wesley must’ve have suffered through some dreadful Christmas services to make such a claim tenable. Nonetheless, All Saints’ is a powerful reminder of two primary claims of our faith, that of Ash Wednesday and that of Hebrews:
To dust we came and to dust we shall return.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (i.e., those who’ve returned to the dust ahead of us) who themselves surround our Great High Priest who has sat down from his once-for-all finished work of redemption.
The ancient script for dearly departed says thusly for all of us. Draping a white pall over his casket, the pastor proclaims:
Dying, Christ destroyed our death.
Rising, Christ restored our life.
As in baptism ___________ put on Christ, so now is he/she in Christ and clothed with glory.
Then facing the standing-room only sanctuary, the pastor holds out her hands and voices Jesus’ promise:
I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
Likewise at the end of our every funeral, after the preaching and the sharing and the crying, the pastor lays her hands on the dead guy’s casket and prays the commendation:
As first you gave _____ to us, now we give ________ back to you.
Receive ________ into the arms of your mercy.
Receive ________ into the fellowship of your departed saints.
When we baptize someone, we baptize them into Christ and we declare that he or she will forever be a son or daughter in heaven. And so in death we never cease to be in Christ. The Christian community is one that blurs the line between this world and the next. That’s why Christians use the word ‘veil’ to describe death, something so thin you can nearly see through it.
It’s a fellowship that cannot be broken by time or death because it’s a communion in the Living Christ. What we name by the word ‘Church’ is a single communion of living and departed saints.
Therefore, the Church, rightly understood, is one People in heaven and on Earth.
The dead don’t disappear into the ether. They don’t walk around as vaporous ghosts. They don’t dissolve into the fibers and cells of the natural world. They’re gathered around the throne, worshipping God. They’re in Christ, the very same communion they were baptized into. The same communion to which we belong.
Death does not destroy or fundamentally change our relationship to the dead.
We pray and, according to the Book of Revelation, so do they. We praise God and, according to the Great Thanksgiving-our communion prayer, so do they. We try to love God and one another and, according to the Book of Hebrews, they do so completely. Our fellowship with the departed saints is not altogether different from our fellowship with one another.
That’s what we mean when we say in the Creed ‘I believe in the communion of saints…’ We’re saying: ‘I believe in the fellowship of the living and the dead in Christ.’
So it seems to me we can pray and ask the saints to pray for us. Not in the sense of praying to them. Not in the sense of giving them our worship and devotion.
But if we believe in the communion of saints, living and dead, then asking the departed saints for their prayers is no different than Trish, Julie and David- in my congregation- asking for my prayers for them this week.
It’s not, as Protestants so often caricature, that the saints are our way or our mediators to Jesus Christ.
Rather, because we (living and dead) are all friends in Jesus Christ we can talk to and pray for one another.
Indeed I do so every time I stand behind a loaf of bread and poured out wine and declare:
‘…and so with your people here on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their ending hymn…’