All Souls

Sermons

Preached by Fr. Paul Allick on All Faithful Departed (Thursday, November 2, 2017)

Wisdom 3:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; John 5:24-27

 

Halloween and All Saints are my favorite holy days (holidays). There’s something about the unknown and the mystery of it all that engages my imagination. I’ve always loved stories of the unexplained and supernatural. And of course growing up in places with pronounced seasons this time of year always brought darkening shadows, the smell of leaves, the biting air shrouded in sunlight, the colors of dying vegetation.

 

We gather here today to pray for the dead. We aren’t praying to simply memorialize the dead, we say prayers for them. At every Eucharist during the Prayers of the People there are things we are to include and one of them is always prayers for the departed.

 

Episcopalians like Roman Catholics and the Orthodox pray for the dead. We are the only tradition born of the Reformation that I know of that has kept this ancient custom. For most Christians of the historic Reformation it is theologically incorrect to pray for the dead because the belief is that there is no journey after death: you either go right to heaven or to hell.

 

The Catechism (BCP, p.862) teaches that we pray for the dead, “because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.” This language suggests and ongoing  journey for the departed.

 

So this begins to sound like Purgatory. 

 

The Church of England repudiated the idea of purgatory in our reformation. Article 22 of our reformation documents states that the idea of Purgatory is “repugnant to the word of God”, “vainly invented”, and has no “warranty in scripture”. But yet here is this teaching from the Catechism and the prayers in the Prayer Book.

 

 

For most in the modern world Purgatory implies the selling of indulgences to get into heaven. Nowadays the Roman Church tends to downplay the teaching. Like most things when an idea gets abused we throw the whole concept out. The problem here is that we didn’t.

 

Purgation does not equal punishment. Purgation implies catharsis or purging; purifying. I don’t have any difficulty in believing that our souls do not stop going through catharses after the death of our bodies.

 

We are taught in the Scriptures that to see God face to face would be too much for us all at once. Even Moses was not allowed to see God’s face. Is it really hard to imagine that our soul continues on that journey? If that isn’t the case, why have all these prayers for the dead?

 

There would be no reason to pray, for example, this from the Burial Office “grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, he/she may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom”.

 

We pray for the dead and we commemorate the Saints because we believe in the Communion of Saints. Again, the Catechism (BCP, p. 862), “The Communion of Saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

 

We pray for the departed they aren’t dead. Life for them has changed not ended. We are all one Communion. And that communion is a mystical body; we don’t explain it; we experience it.

 

We pray for the dead because we are people of hope. As we read in the Catechism (BCP, p.862)The Christian Hope is, “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.”

 

We are in an interim. We are, with the departed, awaiting the consummation of time. Our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ who have died to this world are approaching the throne and praying with us.

From Wisdom we hear, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God…in the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died and their departure was thought to be their disataster…but they are at peace.”

 

St. Paul echoes this in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica, “We do not want you to be uninformed about the those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

 

And again in the Good News according to St. John, Jesus that the faithful have “passed from death to life.”

 

 

I don’t believe that the striving, hoping and revelation of our God given existence end at our physical death. We are a people of mystical hope; not all is figured out; not all is clearly explainable in language.

 

According to Scripture the point of all this hope is that everything that is hurting, dying, sad and lost will be redeemed. All will be made new and there is an experience coming when all will be reversed.

 

In this cosmic interim we keep praying. We gather around the sacraments and try to understand holy things. We don’t write off the departed. We do more than remember them; we live and move and have our being with them.

 

We’re in the kingdom right now, praying with those we love but see no more.