Posted November 3, 2015
The Communion of Saints
At any given time, most of the world
believes that death isn't final, that some form of immortality exists. Most
people believe that those who have died still exist in some state, in some
modality, in some place, in some heaven or hell, however that might be
conceived. In some conceptions, immortality is seen as a state wherein a person
is still conscious and relational; while in other concepts, existence after
death is understood as real but impersonal, like a drop of water that has flowed
back into the oceans.
As Christians, this is our belief: We believe that
the dead are still alive, still themselves and, very importantly, still in a
living, conscious, and loving relationship with us and with each other. That's
our common concept of heaven and, however simplistic its popular expression at
times, it is wonderfully correct. That's exactly what Christian faith and
Christian dogma, not to mention deep intuitive experience, invite us to. After
death we live on, conscious, self-conscious, in communication with others who
have died before us, in communion with those we left behind on earth, and in
communion with the divine itself. That's the Christian doctrine of the Communion
But how is this to be understood? Not least, how do we connect
to our loved ones after they have died? Two interpenetrating biblical images can
help serve as an entry-point for our understanding of this. Both come from the
The Gospels say that at the instant of Jesus' death, the veil of
the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks
were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen
asleep were raised. (Matthew 27, 50-52) The Gospels then go on to tell us that
on the morning of the Resurrection several women came to Jesus' grave to anoint
his dead body with embalming spices, but rather than finding his dead body, they
meet instead an empty grave and two angels who challenge them with words to this
effect: Why are you looking for a live person in a cemetery? He isn't here. He's
alive and you can find him in Galilee. (Luke 24, 5) What's contained in these
As Christians, we believe that we are given eternal life through
Jesus' death. Among other images, the Gospels express that in this metaphor:
Jesus death, they tell us, "opened the tombs" and emptied graveyards. For this
reason, Christians have never had a huge cult around cemeteries. As Christians,
we don't do much in the way of spiritual practices around our cemeteries. Why?
Because we believe all those graves are empty. Our loved ones aren't there and
aren't to be found there. They're with Jesus, in "Galilee".
"Galilee", in terms of a biblical image? In the Gospels, Galilee is more than a
place on a map; it's also a place inside the Spirit, God's Spirit and our own.
In the Gospels, Galilee is the place where, for the most part, the good things
happen. It's the place where the disciples first meet Jesus, where they fall in
love with him, where they commit themselves to him, and where miracles happen.
Galilee is the place where Jesus invites us to walk on water. Galilee is the
place where the disciples' souls enlarge and thrive.
And that is also a
place for each of our deceased loved ones. In each of their lives, there was a
Galilee, a place where their persons and souls were most alive, where their
lives radiated the energy and exuberance of the divine. When we look at the life
of a loved one who has died we need to ask: Where was she most alive? What
qualities did she, most-uniquely, embody and bring into a room? Where did she
lift my spirit and make me want to be a better person?
Name those things, and
you will have named your loved one's Galilee -- and you will also have named the
Galilee of the Gospels, namely, that place in the heart where Jesus invites you
to meet him. And that is too where you will meet your loved ones in the
communion of saints. Don't look for a live person in a cemetery. She's not
there. She's in Galilee. Meet her there.
Elizabeth Johnson, leaning on Karl
Rahner, adds this thought: "Hoping against hope, we affirm that they [our loved
ones who have died] have fallen not into nothingness but into the embrace of the
living God. And that is where we can find them again; when we open our hearts to
the silent calmness of God's own life in which we dwell, not by selfishly
calling them back to where we are, but by descending into the depth of our own
hearts where God also abides."
And the "Galilee" of our loved ones can also
be found inside our own "Galilee". There's a deep place inside the heart,
inside faith, hope, and charity, were everyone, living or deceased, is met.