I believe in the communion of saints!
This is a dogma of our creed upon which we too seldom reflect. What does it mean to believe in a communion of saints?
Simply stated, it means that, as Christians, we believe that we are still in communion with those who have died. Among other things, this says that we can relate to them, speak to them and be spoken to by them.
The bond of love and of family still exists between those who have died and ourselves. We can still be present to each other and influence each others’ lives.
That sounds like fantasy and wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true! Well, it is true. It’s an article of faith. Sadly, today, we rarely live our lives in the face of that and we are the poorer for it.
There is a rich mysticism, not to mention an immense fountain of grace and consolation, lying untapped here. Allow me to illustrate this with just one kind of an example:
Last winter, I attended a large religious education conference in Los Angeles. Its theme was the resurrection, its logo was the rainbow and its closing liturgy brought together about 6,000 people.
At that Eucharist, after Communion, when all the hymns had been sung and everything was quiet, a young couple walked up to the altar and picked up the microphone. They looked up at the more than 6,000 who were gathered there and shared this story:
About a year ago, their 12-year-old son had died of cancer. He had died after a long struggle. They were, naturally, devastated.
Nothing prepares parents for the death of a child and nothing, on this side of eternity, can soften its blow. Nature itself is set up in reverse: Children are equipped to bury their parents, tough as that is, but not the other way around. Children are meant to outlive their parents.
The morning after their son’s death they were sitting with friends in the living room of their home, drinking coffee and attempting to console each other, when their phone rang. It was a neighbor.
“Quickly, go look out of your front door!” he exhorted. “You’ll see something unique.”
They rushed to look and there, before them, was a rainbow the like of which they had never seen before, in terms of its spectacular color as well as its scope (it extended perfectly without flaw from the edge of one horizon to the edge of the other).
They were, of course, taken by its beauty and by its symbolism (rainbows are a symbol of hope, God’s promise and the resurrection), but they were even more taken by the clear, unmistakeable, intuition that it was their son who was doing these particular fireworks for their benefit.
As they watched in awe, and in faith, the mother heard her son say to her gently: “Mum, this is for you! And because it is hard for you to believe it, I will do it again, the same way, for you tomorrow at this same time!”
All doubts that they had this was some trick of their imaginations or mere wishful thinking induced by fatigue, sorrow and longing, were erased the next day when, at exactly the same time, the identical rainbow re-appeared . Their son was speaking to them and they, I am sure, will now forever know what it means to believe in the communion of saints.
I believe their story, not just because they appeared to be very balanced persons, nor because they had enough nerve to share this in front of thousands of people, but because what they shared is not something weird, exotic, new age or even all that extraordinary.
The story they shared is what the dogma of the communion of saints means when it is taken out of the creedal formulae, out of the theology texts and out of the realm of the abstract, and put into our actual lives.
There is a rich mysticism here, a rich grace, a deep consolation. We must take this item of our creed far more seriously.
Christian tradition puts it into a dogma and that tradition, as G.K. Chesterton once suggested, “may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving, votes to the most obscure of all classes, the dead. It is the democracy of the dead. It refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.
“All democrats object to persons being disqualified by the accident of birth; (Christian) tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death” (Orthodoxy, p. 83).