Many Christian churches will celebrate All Saints Day this coming Sunday, on November 5th. While the holy day rests on November 1st, many Christians celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday following. On All Saints Day, the church remembers the martyrs who died for the faith, the great holy examples of the saints, and all Christians who have died before us. They have passed from the Church militant into the Church triumphant with Christ in heaven. Like us, they wait for the day of his return.
The Communion of the Saints
All Saints Day is a good day to reflect on the unity that the church has in Jesus, both the living and the dead. Christians call this, the Communion of the Saints. This communion is the unity that the whole Christian church has in Jesus Christ. Christians everywhere, both living and dead, are one in Christ.
We will start with Jesus’ words in Mark 12. When the Sadducees came to Jesus to entrap him about the resurrection, Jesus replied with these words:
And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.
Jesus quotes what God said to Moses from the burning bush. The tense of the verbs is important. God says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” We’d expect God to use the past tense instead of present. I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why does God use the present tense? Jesus explains it himself, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus reminds us that those who die in Christ, whether Old Testament saints or New, are not past tense; they are present tense. They are with Christ, in heaven.
Union in Christ
If the Saints are truly with Christ, then how are we connected to them? The same way that we are connected with those who are living, in Christ. St. Paul describes our unity as the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (Romans 12:12-13). When we are in Christ, we are united with all Christians in one body.
Ephesians also describes the unity we have in Christ. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Christ is the head of the whole church, his body.
Again, in Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the unity we have in baptism and the faith, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Our unity with Christ is mystical, something beyond our understanding. We are one, together, in a way that goes beyond our physical presence. It is something only God could accomplish through his almighty power and his omnipresence.
Comfort in Christ for Lost Loved Ones
The communion of the saints can be a holy comfort for Christians whose loved ones have died in the faith. We say all sorts of things to comfort ourselves when people die that the Bible doesn’t say. We say that our loved ones are looking down on us from heaven. We say that we can feel them with us.
While those have no warrant in Scripture, the communion of the saints does. When we come together with Christ in worship, we experience unity with him and with all the rest. This is especially true when we eat Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Unity with Christ’s body and blood brings unity with all Christians.
For people who want to have a connection with their dead loved ones, they only have to go to worship to find it. When we gather together to praise God and receive his grace, we gather with the whole heavenly host and all the company of heaven. We have a mystical communion with them.
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