“I believe in the Communion of Saints.”
That affirmation in the Apostles’ Creed has been repeated by billions of Christians for nearly 2000 years.
The Communion of Saints encompasses not only linear time but also two additional dimensions of reality—physical and spiritual. You and I became part of the Communion of Saints through our Baptisms. As today reminds us, we are ALL saints, not by spiritual accomplishments, but by God’s grace.
What does the Communion of Saints mean to us?
We probably understand best the PHYSICAL expression of the Communion of Saints.
Why? Because we physically see, hear, and touch each other. We regularly worship, study, fellowship, and minister with and to each other. In the physical dimension of reality, we are tangible to each other.
One purpose of All Saints Day is to give thanks for our corporate life together. One can only imagine how empty our lives would be if we didn’t have each other.
This, of course, raises the question, “What happens to us when we are no longer physically visible to one another?” That time will inevitably come to each one of us. Death separates us from the physical world that we now occupy.
Does this mean that we are no longer in the communion and fellowship of the Church? Does death have the power to break our fellowship with one another? The answer is emphatically “NO!”
How can we affirm this truth? We affirm our continuing fellowship beyond death because we stand on the most basic truth of the Christian Faith.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead! Because He lives, we live also!
But how do we live? What is our relationship with each other after death takes place? Do we continue to be in community with each other as we are at present?
When we consider that the Living Jesus Christ is the basis of our community with one another, the answer is “YES!”
Regardless of whether we function in this life or the next, our common foundation of community with each other is Jesus Christ. In this world, as well as the next, Jesus stands as the recipient of our prayers of praise, intercession, thanksgiving, and petition. We are also the focus of His prayers of praise, intercession, thanksgiving, and petition. This reality expresses an unbreakable bond between Jesus and us. What a beautiful affirmation of our eternal security!
To affirm this bond, we can turn to today’s reading from Revelation. John has a vision of God’s heavenly community being united with His earthly one. The first part of John’s vision is set on earth as the 144,000 are sealed from the coming worldly disaster. These 144,000 represent the Redeemed Israel.
Since this is a vision—and visions are usually symbolic of a greater reality– we can interpret these people as the vanguard of a perfectly complete EARTHLY communion of Saints encompassing every race and culture. How do we see this biblical truth symbolically in the vision of the 144,000?
First, 12 is interpreted as the biblical number for community. We are given in this vision the square root of this number (12 X 12=144). The square root of this biblical number 12 symbolizes the perfection or completeness of this community. We can recall the 12 apostles or the 12 Israelite tribes, which point to the symbolic completeness of God’s community in biblical language.
Finally, 144 is multiplied by 1000, which is a biblical way of symbolizing the great worldwide extent and inclusivity of the Communion of Saints.
This great number is being redeemed from the suffering of this earth. They include literal Israelites—since the 12 tribes are mentioned—and spiritual Israelites because the Church is often called the New Israel. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans (2:29), speaks of this New Israel when he says, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.” Thus, Paul is including Gentiles who also have a heart to trust in God’s promises—the promises He first revealed to the Jewish nation, but now is meant to be shared worldwide.
However, we can go a step further. The lesson from Revelation makes it clear that the Communion of Saints exists not only on earth with the sealed and redeemed people but also in heaven.
Revelation 7:9 testifies, “After this I looked, and behold a great multitude which no man could number from every nation, from all tribes and people and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
This is a vision of the Communion of Saints in heaven worshipping Jesus the Lamb, who sits on the throne representing God’s encompassing presence. We are shown that both in this world and the next, Jesus is the recipient of our prayers of praise, intercessions, thanksgiving, and petitions. All these prayers to Jesus comprise the expressive lifeblood of the Christian Church, which we share. When we pray to Jesus for and with one another, we are experiencing the Body of Christ at its best. We can understand that we are linked to one another both in this life and the next because we are meant to share the resurrected life of Jesus.
A pressing question for us on this All Saints Sunday is this. Is there some kind of bridge which keeps us connected with our loved ones who have died?
The Bible is very clear that we are not permitted to communicate with those who have died. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 says, “Let no one be found among you who —consults the dead.”
In the Parable of Dives and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus has Father Abraham refusing to send someone from the dead to warn the family of Dives about their sins.
Scripture simply does not support communication with the dead. To deliberately seek out and try to talk with our departed loved ones is simply not in God’s will. Anything outside of God’s will is demonic.
Those who claim to speak with the dead through psychic means are interacting with demonic spirits who can deceive this person into believing that they are talking with departed loved ones.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t authentic moments of memory which can spontaneously come to us. Part of our grieving process is sometimes feeling the presence of a departed loved one in dreams or in association with times and places meaningful to you and your loved one. These associations have strong impacts on our memories. We feel as though our loved ones are right there with us. Those moments can be most comforting, and we can thank God for them, but we are not to be deliberately seeking them. In cases like these, it is God bringing them to our remembrance for healing moments.
If the bridge between us and the heavenly Communion of Saints is not self-initiated communication with our departed loved ones, how do we describe this bridge?
Our bridge link with the heavenly Communion of Saints is sacramental. It centers on Jesus, who presents Himself for our remembrance at every Eucharist. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
John’s vision described in today’s lesson from Revelation reminds us that there is a heavenly community greater than any person can number surrounding Jesus and worshipping Him on His throne.
This sacramental bridge focuses on the altar, which we see on one side, while we perceive the heavenly throne radiating from the other side.
The Altar and the Heavenly Throne are linked by Jesus presenting Himself to us in remembrance.
Remembrance, in the biblical sense, has a very special meaning. It is not simply revealing a person or event from the past. It is God exercising His lordship over time and space to bring His personhood or biblical event into our present moment. This kind of remembrance happens between Jesus and us at every Eucharist, as well as countless other times when we need to perceive His presence.
The Communion of Saints has both heavenly and earthly forms as we are linked by a Jesus-constructed bridge. The prayers we offer before this visible altar are received by Jesus and united with the prayers of the saints who have departed this life and are at this moment praying before the Heavenly Throne.
We pray for them, and they pray for us. Jesus gathers these prayers all together as our supreme intercessor and presents them before the throne of God.
This is how the Communion of Saints functions. It can be described in the words of our Prayer Book as “a fellowship of love and prayer.”
Today, we give thanks for this “fellowship of love and prayer” because it sustains us not only in this life but also in the life to come.
For this reason, I believe in the Communion of Saints.