The Apostles' Creed
The Communion of Saints
Read : Hebrews 12: 1-2
During the month of November we are considering the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. This is an opportunity to explore the concept in a different way. Rather than simply looking at the theology which underpins the doctrine, you are invited to consider how it feels to be part of this community.
The term is included in the Apostles' Creed, this profession of the Christian faith was settled in its current form in the eighth century, but it originated from not long after the year 100 so it has been part of our Christian heritage from the very beginning. We are all part of the Communion of Saints.
But we, the living, are united with them. Through Baptism we pass "from death to life; death no longer has dominion over us." As Christians we believe that there is no real distinction between the believer in human life and after human life. Saints, living or dead, are indistinguishable before God.
As we read in Ephesians, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. This is a present reality. We are seated in the heavenly places. We are part of the communion of saints, because we have been saved by grace, because God has raised up us with Jesus, and because for the Christian there is no distinction between death and life. We have already entered into eternal life, and death is but a last bridge to be crossed on our journey home. Born again as Christians we are born into a family of hundreds of thousands of members, all of whom are with us in the heavenly places. Because as Christians, we are seated in the heavenly places, so we are part of that family - those who are, those who have been and those who are to come. Supported, encouraged, upheld by all those who are part of this family.
Recently I was in Orkney on holiday. It was wild, wet and windy, but we managed to get round a number of the historic sights. I stood in stone cottage looking at artefacts made by people who lived 3500 years ago. And in a tomb where a skull had been found which belonged to someone who lived 5000 years ago. What a sense of connectedness to the past I had, standing in the home of a prehistoric family and imagining them going about their daily work. The past and the ghosts of the past, truly, were all around me.
I have a strong sense of history, a sense of place, and being in the presence of the ancients makes the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. In the same way, I rejoice in this tradition that we are part of; that we rejoice in and affirm every Sunday, and day by day as we live out our faith.
Do you ever go into an ancient church building, perhaps on holiday, and sense the presence of hundreds of years of worshipping Christians? The walls are imbued with their song, and the air sings with the echo of their praises. In these places, where the barrier between earth and heaven is very thin, I have a real sense of being surrounded by the faithful, of being part of a great and ongoing tradition which feeds and upholds me in my daily life.
I find it inspirational to consider that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. I find it humbling to consider that I am part of a great tradition that lasts thousands of years and which lives on in you, and me, and all who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I look at the lives of the saints who have gone, and some who still live today, and I am daunted by their life and example. But it is because of them that I stand here today. It is their faithfulness, and their witness, and their commitment to living the Christian life which has preserved our Church, Christ's body, through the millennia. And so I also find it challenging to be part of this Communion. I would like to think that I might make a difference in someone's life. That my presence or prayers or practice of faith might be an inspiration to those who come after me. That challenge is before us all today as we consider the saints of the Church.
As the light shining through a window of stained glass brings a rainbow of shades to colour the space it fills, so we can offer our lives, each so very different from the other, in company with this great cloud of witnesses so that the Church might walk into the future and the Communion of Saints never cease to grow.
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