St Mary’s Chapel, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servants, and grant them an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

Why do we pray for the dead? Is it out of obligation? Is it merely pious comfort for those who grieve? Or is it a proclamation of faith, made in love and hope?

Our lessons today, fittingly for All Souls, demand nothing less than our prayers if we believe.

Loss is a part of what it means to be a created being. If I asked everyone in this room who has experienced the loss of a loved one to raise their hand, we would all do so. I won’t ask that, because we’re Anglicans, so I’ll simply take note of the subtle nods and raised eyebrows among you as a positive response to my question.

We were created to love God, but also to love our neighbours. That love can be powerful. In North America, we commonly say that we love someone to death. But as Christians we should reject that expression, for our love does not end with death. As we hear today in all three of our lections, they have not truly died.

Death, Life and Falling Asleep

In our Old Testament lesson, we are told it is only the foolish who see the souls of the righteous as having died.[1] In our Gospel reading as well it talks of the dead hearing and having passed from death to life.[2] Sandwiched between the lesson and the Gospel, our Epistle speaks not of the dead but of those who have “fallen asleep.”[3]

The language of our lections today gives us the Gospel’s counter-cultural narrative on death. More than cold comfort or hollow words to those who grieve, these are words that speak a message of salvation and hope.

The loss of our physical bodies is not the end. It does not carry with it the finitude of our mortality, for in Christ we have been given new life. In God we have been created and given the breath of life, and it is through sin, not physical death, that we have died. It is in Christ that we are again made alive, being restored to what we were meant to be. As he says in the Gospel, he has come to give us eternal life.[4]

And so, we hear this language of falling asleep rather than death. It is a fundamental truth of our faith. It is a fundamental truth which brings hope.

Our Hope

St Paul exhorts us not to “grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

The language of falling asleep is a reminder of our hope. It turns us to Christ who rose again and who promises eternal life. Hope is the core message St Paul has for the Thessalonians, and it is the core message of Christian Requiem services. It is the core message of All Souls as we today remember all the souls of the faithful departed. We have hope, and they have hope. So, we do not grieve as others do.

Our Response

“What then shall we do?” This is one of my favourite quotations from Scripture. In various forms it shows up throughout the Acts so the Apostles as people hear the Gospel of Christ preached and they wish to respond. How will we respond to the hope we have, for ourselves and all the faithful departed?

Today, we respond in prayer. I began speaking of thinking not of loving people to death but loving them beyond death. We love beyond death, because they have not truly died, they have merely fallen asleep. We continue to pray for them. We pray for them out of our love for them, but we also pray for them out of hope.

When we do so, it is a proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, of the reality of the resurrection, and of the certainty of the promise of eternal life.

Dear friends in Christ, may we ever respond in faith by asking of God, in his mercy, to grant rest eternal to the souls of the faithful departed, to those whom we love, and to ever ask this out of hope that we proclaim for them and for ourselves.

I have spoken to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Wis. iii. 2

[2] St Jn. v. 25; 24

[3] I Thess. iv. 13

[4] St Jn. v. 24

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