I believe in the communion of saints

I believe I am never alone.  To believe in the communion of saints is to believe you are always in company - even if that company is invisible.    You may come to Christ on your own but you do not live with him on your own.  Nor do you grow as a Christian without the help and encouragement of others.                              

Our communion with fellow believers is very real at the Eucharist. The bible says though we are many we are one body because we all share in one bread (1 Corinthians 10v17). In Eastern Orthodox worship the priest goes around the church incensing both the icons of Jesus and the Saints and each person present to honour Christ’s presence through or in them. This ritual demonstrates an understanding that the faithful departed are one in worship with the gathering of the church on earth. Before communion the priest lifts up the consecrated bread and wine saying: The gifts of God for the people of God. The communion of saints on earth and in heaven as God’s people is seen as God’s gift to us through Jesus Christ sealed by communion in the holy gifts of Christ’s body and blood.

The communion of Christians is now and then, now on earth – and then in glory.  This is the loving, supportive fellowship we know as the church of Jesus Christ.  On earth we love people but with dislikes.  In heaven our dislikes will go. Everyone will be everything to us and God be all in all (1 Corinthians 15v28).

The joy of this is captured in a beautiful saying of St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1166): This is the great and wonderful happiness that awaits us in heaven. God has created between himself and his creatures, between the manifold orders and degrees of angelic spirits, between the innumerable types of Saints, an all-embracing friendship, so that each one loves the other as himself. The result is that as each individual rejoices in his own happiness so he finds joy in the happiness of his neighbours; and the beatitude of each individual is the beatitude of all, and the sum total of the beatitude of all is enjoyed by each individual

Beloved we are God’s children now writes St. John. What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3v1-2). Contemplating the saints in glory is like heading home down the garden path on a dark evening to be greeted by the welcoming light in the front room.  The saints beckon us home to heaven and the vision of God as he is. They shed light on our spiritual pathway to the glory of the Lord.                                                            

Surely the departed are dead and gone? Some say.  In Christ, we might reply, the departed live, held in his risen life.  For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain wrote Paul to Philippi (1v21).  If we live, the Christian dead live even more fully, present to God and close to us in Christ.  Especially at the Eucharist we sense their closeness with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We live now in hope of heaven but heaven is where Christ is - and Christ is with us.      

Why do Christians give special honour to Mary within the communion of saints? The simple answer is that she is his mother, the mother of Jesus our Redeemer. To honour Mary is to obey the word of God that promises all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1v48a). Her role is celebrated at the centre of the Nicene Creed where Christians affirm that by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary God became man. Mary was close to Jesus and remains so. She has always been seen as close to Jesus’ followers since the Lord gave her to St John, and some would say through him to us all, with his word from the cross: Here is your mother (John 19v27).  In recent years Christians have found more common ground in their devotion to Mary. Those from the catholic tradition have gone back to the bible to recover her role in salvation history. Those from the reformed tradition have recovered new devotion to her as a model of trust and obedience and of the Spirit-filled believer.                                        

Is it right to ask the prayers of the saints in heaven?  A lot of Christians have done so over the ages.  Some draw back from invocation of the saints insisting on a very clear line between this world and the next lest Christians fall into a form of spiritualism. They are also wary that prayer to the Christian departed risks bypassing their Saviour. Others insist on the interlocking of heaven and earth revealed in Christ’s resurrection which brings those who die in Christ into a fullness of life beyond our own in every sense. The faithful departed can be seen as more alive than we are – alive and accessible in Christ. So Austin Farrer wrote that when we pray to St. Francis it is prayer to the Christ in St. Francis since Christians hold that all prayer from humankind must rise to God through, with and in Jesus Christ.

I believe in the communion of saints. All things on earth are to be seen in the perspective of eternity and of God’s purpose to gather a community of love and praise. In the letter to the Hebrews the writer senses heavenly witnesses cheering mortal believers on, waiting for their arrival in heaven’s stadium as they run life’s race to its conclusion. Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin … and run (that) race …looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12v1,2a).                

For a 2min audio summary of this article click: https://soundcloud.com/john-twisleton/communion-of-saints


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