Jesus and His Saints are Risen, not Dead
Guess what, everone? Jesus is risen! He suffered and subjected himself to a horrible death, He remained with the dead for three days, and now He's risen! And just like He suffered, my Big Brother also rose for me. No more do I have to fear death. Death is not something, as in the Old Testament, to be feared or embraced only reluctantly. I can now look forward to the day I die because it is not, as good Gandalf says, the end but "just the beginning." My time here, in my earthly flesh, will be over, but I will be given a new body, a glorious body, like the one Jesus wore from the grave.
What does it mean to, as Paul says, have the hope of the resurrection? Well, if we die to our old selves and become slaves to Christ, then we can join the "Cloud of Witnesses" the author of Hebrews talks about. We will join our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Judah, Simeon, and the other Maccabean Brothers and Martyrs, Simeon and Anna. We will join the early Christians, Mary Magdalene, John, Peter, Andrew, James, and the other Apostles, Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Ignatius, Polycarp, Agnes, Agatha, Thecla, Lawrence, Clement, Linus, Cletus, Perpetua, Felicity, Cyril, Tertulian, and all those who witnessed to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, our Lord, through their lives. We will join the Christians who lived godly lives throughout the ages: Thomas, Augustine, Francis, Cecelia, Lucy, Anastasia, Edward, Louis, Ignatius, Catherine, Therese, Lucia, Jacinta, Francisco, Bernadette, Marie-Claire, Maximilian Kolbe, Helena, John Paul II, Mother Theresa, Fulton Sheen, Kateri, John, Josemaria, Alphonsus, and all the others. We will join our heavenly Father, Mother, and Brother and partake of the infinite beauties and majesties of heaven. Jesus and those who have died before us and gone to heaven will greet us joyfully. We will (I hope) get to meet our Guardian Angels and thank them for all the things they did for us.
And, if we do not die before the Second Coming of Christ, we will get to watch the threads of history continue to unravel. We will get to watch our loved ones continue struggling against the times. We will get to see those people who are struggling through the same things we struggled through. We will see, as the angels do, the joys and beauties of the world – the birth of a child, a wedding, an act of service done on behalf of Christ. But we will also see the sufferings and sorrows of the world – the abortions, the murders, a youth falling away from his faith, the suicide he contemplates, the girl with the eating disorder, and we will be able to, I believe, see the demons prowling the earth, seeking the ruin of souls (1 Peter 5:8). And we will, at that time, get to do what the saints of ages past have done, pray for those still here on earth.
The greater the charity of the Saints in their heavenly home, the more they intercede for those who are still on their journey and the more they can help them by their prayers; the more they are united with God, the more effective those prayers are. This is in accordance with Divine order, which makes higher things react upon lower things, like the brightness of the sun filling the atmosphere. --St. Thomas Aquinas
But how, you ask, can we know that these men and women, who have passed from this world to the next, can hear us? What gives us the right to assume that they would pray for us? Aren't they dead, and wouldn't that fall under the exhortation not to speak to the dead?
If we did not have the hope of the resurrection, I would agree, but the Old Testament, Paul, John, Jesus, and the author of Hebrews, all address this issue.
The following are excerpts from paragraphs from a paper I wrote on the evolution of the Jewish afterlife through the Intertestamental Period. First, from 1 Samuel.
Sheol was a place where all souls were taken, but it was not a place of death. For the scriptures talk about the shades or spirits of the physically dead. However, they also make it clear that the realm of the spirits is a silent one. Despite this, the spirits are still alive and aware. This is evidenced by the fact that Samuel, when summoned after his death, is aware of all that has been going on (Yamauchi, 45). Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz points out that “when Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses die, the Torah says of each that he expired and 'was gathered to his people'” (33) This is not the death, burial, or an ancestral grave, he argues, but a “reference to the survival of the soul” (Spitz, 33). Sheol was, therefore, not a place of death, but a place of living, albeit silent, spirits.
And if this is true of Sheol, how much more of Heaven? We know that Jesus went to Sheol – more specifically, Abraham's Bosom – and preached to the Spirits (1 Peter 3:19) then allowed those that had lived according to the law and hope of the Messiah into Heaven, a place of joy, peace, and love.
Though not all accept the books of Maccabees as Scripture, they were part of the Septuagint which is what the early church and early Pharisees – which Paul was a part of – used.
When we look at 2 Maccabees 12, we see Judas praying for the deceased who had been found with images of pagan gods upon them. He prays that their sin would be blotted out and takes a collection to offer as a sin offering for the dead. Verses 44-45 specifically say, “If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all of God's faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin offering to set free from their sin those who had died” (GNT).
But this idea of interaction with the dead does not seem to go one way. Chapter 15 of 2 Maccabees tells of a vision Judas has of Onias praying. While Onias was praying, an old, dignified man appears and “Onias said: This is God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves the Jewish people and offers many prayers for us and for Jerusalem, the holy city.” Jeremiah then gives Judas a sword with which to defeat their enemies. This is yet another development. Not only do the prayers of the people seem to be effective, so too do the prayers of the deceased.
Paul joins the group, saying, “If this were not true [resurrection], what do people hope to gain by being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not ever going to be raised, why be baptized on their behalf?” (1 Cor 15:29) While this is not something practiced by Christians today, it is something that the early church did, and Paul does not condemn it but rather uses it as a further evidence of proof of the resurrection to come.
Revelation 5:8 says, “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Heaven, John claims, has bowls that contain the prayers of the saints. But can we say that the saints referenced are only those living? Of course not! If we believe that we will be risen from the dead, then we cannot believe that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are dead.
Hebrews 11 traces the lives of those counted as righteous, and chapter twelve follows by saying “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us....” He does not say “preceding us” or “watching us” or "that will surround us when we pass from death to life," he says “surrounding us.” This is something that is happening now, then, and always.
Jesus also chastises the Sadducees who do not believe in life after death saying, “Have you never read what God himself said to you: 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?' God is God, not of the dead, but of the living.” (Mt. 22:31-32).
God is God of the living, not of the dead. What hope and wonder that is! But if those who sleep in Christ are not dead, then can we say that asking them to pray for us is "communing with the dead"? No, we cannot. ((Trying to contact by form of medium or such is another matter for another post.))
These passages of scripture (among others) make it very clear that the communion of saints stretches beyond the grave and into heaven. The Children of God are both in heaven and on earth. And God hears the prayers of both. If we claim he can hear the prayers of joy, exaltation, and love that the saints give, we must also believe that he can hear when they intercede on our behalf.
St. Therese, who I promise I will actually write about soon, said, in her characteristic simplicity and childlike faith and love of God,
“How unhappy I shall be in heaven if I cannot do favors for those whom I love....If God answers my request, my heaven will be spent on earth up until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.”
Martyr St. Thomas More also brings up a few good points from a logical standpoint.
Considering that when the Saints lived in this world they were at liberty to roam the earth, do you really think that in Heaven God would have them tied to a post? --St. Thomas More
You say you see no reason why we should pray to the Saints since God can hear us and help us just as well, and will do so gladly, as any Saint in Heaven. Well, then, what need, I ask, do you have to ask any physician to help your fever, or to ask and pay any surgeon to heal your sore leg? For God can both hear you and help you as well as the best of doctors. He loves you more than they do, and He can help you sooner. Besides-----His poultices are cheaper and He will give you more for your words alone than they will for your money! --St. Thomas More
If Saint Paul exhorts us to pray for one another, and we gladly think it right to ask every poor man to pray for us, should we think it evil to ask the holy Saints in Heaven to do the same? --St. Thomas More
Jesus conquered death so that we – all who believe and follow Him – would have the chance of eternal life. We believe this to be true, and this is what gives us hope for our futures and gives us the sure knowledge that we have a host of heavenly prayer warriors.