Blessed company

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Some readers will find it impossible, even abhorrent, to ask for the prayers of the saints. These feelings and convictions run very deep in the spirituality of those who have been formed in the more evangelical traditions of reformed churches. Indeed, since the Reformation the Anglican Church has not ‘made’ one saint, although the Common Worship Lectionary commemorates a diverse congregation of men and women. There is a reticence and confusion about prayer, the departed and the communion of saints in the Church of England.

I was reminded of this as a live and lively issue at our Diocesan Clergy Conference when I spent a late night hour discussing prayer with, for and by the departed with three young evangelical clergy. It is easy enough to understand their problems with petitioning the departed for prayers. It seems to me to be twofold. The first is that there is ‘only one mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus’; the second is that death is a spiritual cut-off point, beyond which is the chasm that lies between Dives and Lazarus in the parable, one from which there is no return. God has made his provident and saving truth available in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the witness of Scripture; ‘let them listen to them’ says the Lord in the parable.

Jesus makes it clear that there in a continuum between now and forever, earth and heaven, death and life. He says to the penitent thief on the cross,‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ When Lazarus dies, as recounted in John 11, Jesus describes his death as ‘sleep’ and four days later he calls Lazarus out of the tomb. The grace and power of God is at work beyond death. It is not that death is a barrier; it is a door, and Jesus is that ‘Gate’ through which we come in and go out and are fed and protected (John 10). Death completely disappears in the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration. On Mount Tabor, Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah and talks with them as Peter, James and John bear witness.

In the Eucharist when we lift up our hearts we too take place in a transfiguration and we too sing with the whole company of heaven. We are, as the Prayer Book says, ‘very members incorporate into the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.’ Humanly speaking it seems ridiculous to think that in Christ the Church on earth and the Church in heaven do not cooperate in any way to further God’s kingdom. I have been with friends as they have died and have asked them to remember me in their prayers in the nearer presence. I do not doubt that in ways beyond imagining in the economy of God’s love their partaking of his risen life will have its place. Blessed Edward King (we can’t call him saint) once wrote that he asked for the prayers of a young fisherman who had been hanged for murder. God is Lord of the living and dead and none are dead to him.