Preached last Thursday, Nov 2, 2023 at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.
Readings: Wisdom 3.1-9, Psalm 116:1-8; 1 Pet 1:3-9; John 6:37-40
Tonight we join with other Anglican churches who are rediscovering the deep meaning of All Souls.
I say rediscovered because this service was not part of our Reformed heritage. The early Reformers saw prayers for the dead as being unnecessary and wrong, in part because of the absolute grace of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by whom the dead are also promised resurrection, but also because in the late middle ages the Roman Catholic Church had monetized prayers for the dead as a way of getting them out of Purgatory.
We as Anglicans have never believed in Purgatory and we have never believed that the dead need our prayers.
So why has this service in returned?
In part because we as North Americans have increasingly turned away from the reality of dead. Few of us have laid out and washed a loved one’s body. Many families ask for celebrations of life rather than funerals, which is a well meaning denial of the reality of death.
As Christians, the reality of death is built into our faith in the form of the cross. Nothing can be more real than death if we look to the cross on Good Friday. Acknowledging the reality of death gives us permission to mourn as we should, to shed real tears, and feel sorry for ourselves, something that a celebration does not really permit.
But we also know that our faith only asks us to mourn for a while. If Christ is not raised, as Paul says in First Corinthians, then we are to be pitied (1 Cor 15.19).
The resurrection assures us that the dead we mourn are safe in the care and love of Christ, and promises us that they, and we, will have life again.
Until then, our prayers for the dead are an acknowledgement of our loss, but they are also an acknowledgement of our love and our hope. What is prayer really but the expression of love and hope?
And that hope is buttressed by the yesterday, the Feast of All Saints, and our belief that the dead join in the great communion of saints where they join with God and the Lamb in love and prayer for us.
So, when we pray for the dead, we say, in effect, I love you, I miss you, I’m glad you’re safe, I’ll see you again.