1 Nov 2020

Communion of the Saints: Love and Prayer

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Church, Love, Prayer, Worship

I posted an earlier version of this on my Facebook wall on October 30, 2020. Because of interest I have decided to expand it and place it here.

As Christians we confess that we believe in the catholic [=universal, lower case “c” means universal church not Rome] church, the communion of the saints, the resurrection of the body and eternal life. On All Hallows Eve, these particular truths are remembered by Christians for centuries past and all around the world.

Now, we recognize, there is nothing inherently special about the day (Oct 31) nor “All Saints Day” (Nov 1). But since it is this day, it may be worthwhile to reflect on what we believe but often do not understand. (If we recall that for most of the history of Christianity no individual owned a Bible. The faith was taught through public worship and “days” were often used to teach some point of the faith. That is what happened for centuries on this day we call Oct 31).

The biblical vision of salvation is breathtakingly cosmic in scope. The vision of God’s people is also cosmic in scope. The communion of the saints is not just Christians in San Francisco Bay having a connection with those in Florence, Nashville or Africa, though that is wonderfully true and sometimes under appreciated.

Rather It is those who are “living” and those who are “dead.” But they are not “dead” according to Christian faith. God is the “God of the living not the dead, for to him all of them are alive” according to Jesus (Lk 20.38). Paul kneeled in praise before the

Father, from whom his whole family
derives its name,

he includes in his prayer that “together with ALL THE SAINTS” we may grasp the incomprehensible love of God (Eph 3.14-19).

The Hebrews Preacher tells us that, as we are gathered in worship, we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 11.39-12.2; see also Rev 4-5, 6, etc). Those witnesses are alive. The Preacher has listed Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, “the prophets” (11.32). The great cloud in Hebrews 12.1 seems to be every faithful Israelite. As the chapter goes on we learn that the cloud includes far more however. God’s people have communion, fellowship, with the “spirits of the righteous.”

You have come to Mount Zion,
to the heavenly Jerusalem,
the city of the living God …
to the spirits of righteous made perfect
…” (12.23)

In the Revelation of John we see those righteous in chapters 4, 5 and 7 gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb. Heavenly worship and “earthly” worship combined. The saints on earth and the saints in heaven, the “communion of the saints” united before the God of all.

What we celebrate is that God’s people are not separated by death but are in fact united in Christ and commune yet. But it is not just fellowship we celebrate, the mixture of those items, resurrection of the body and eternal life, are celebrated as well. As I have said in many a funeral over the years,

may the faithful and beloved departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace and rise in glory.

That prayer points to the fact that our loved ones are resting with God, but their journey, nor ours, is over. We share/have communion:

we share in the fellowship of God,
we share in the worship of God,
we share a seat at the Lord’s Table,
we share in the forgiveness of sins,
we share in the hope of resurrection of our bodies.

We also celebrate that our departed beloved ones are among the bright stars of faith as much as Abraham, Huldah, Mary, Paul. This includes grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, a son or daughter. There is sooooooooo much joy and peace that we share.

Those who have gone before are great because they shared our frailty but lived in hope. One of the greatest joys of gathered worship, in my view, is the communion of the saints in “heaven” and on earth.

What I have written so far, I believe, rests on solid biblical teaching though we often do not reflect on it. What I am about to say is, I believe, biblical too. But if you disagree that will not bother me. But after 26 years of pastoral ministry and funerals from older saints to premature infants, I have come to hold this view. But I do not know, I confess, the LIMITS of fellowship we have.

But prayer is among the things shared in communion, I believe. The saints in Revelation 6.9ff certainly are praying to God. It is hard not to pray for some one we love. Nearly impossible in fact. Prayer is the outflow of love. If I love you then I WANT to pray that person. I want to pray not merely because of difficulties or a particular need I am aware of. I pray because I want to hold them up in the presence of God. And I believe God chooses to work through our prayers for the world’s benefit.

Now, here is the big point, love does not stop at death. If it does then that is pretty poor love. Sometimes, if we lift our loved ones to God, though departed, in prayer. It is not because we are trying to get them saved now that they are gone. It is not because we think purgatory is real (its not) and my prayer will change it. It is simply because we love them STILL and want to talk to God about them.

We even may not understand the mystery of their departing but we can celebrate them before our Father who yet allows us to remain in communion … in the hope of resurrection.

So on this day remember God’s heroes. We praise God for their victory in Christ, do we not? Some were in the Hebrew Bible. Some are in the pages of the New Testament. Some lived in the early centuries of the Way. Some have passed only recently. But we enjoy communion with all of them, our love for them has not diminished and we look forward to embracing them in the resurrection.

Happy Halloween. Celebrate the Saints.

Leave a Reply