Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal confession of all Christians, says of the
believe in…the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness
of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’
Nicene Creed expands:
believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the
life of the world to come.’
is perhaps a commitment to the forgiveness of sins that is the most culture-critical
aspect of this confession in my twenty-first century British context (and while
the Nicene Creed emphasises baptism as a sacrament of forgiveness, the Apostles’
Creed makes forgiveness of sins, without qualification, a creedal sign of the
baptised). But today, we ought to reflect on the communion of saints, on
resurrection and life.
is the Feast of All Saints, the day Christians are called to give thanks for
and rejoice with all those who have gone before us, who have died ‘in sure and
certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious
body, who died was buried, and rose again for us’ (taken from the Committal, Common
Worship Funeral Service).
is the Feast of All Souls, the day Christians are invited to give thanks for
and rejoice with those we have known personally, who have died in this same
of the local churches I serve has been a confessing community since 930AD.
There are many more Saints to rejoice with than Souls. The other has been a
confessing community since 1939. There is among our number one man, in his
nineties, who was there on Day One. Here, in contrast, the Souls outnumber the
of the things I note in Sunderland, among both those who would locate
themselves at the heart of the confessing community and those who slip in and
out of our buildings to remember their dead before God, is a crisis in
confidence in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, and
therefore in our ability to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life
of the world to come. Every day of the year functions as a truncated All Souls,
in which my loss is cut off from the community, becoming individual (that is,
atomised) rather than personal (that is, embedded in relationships and an
institution that provides meaning). People leave written prayers for the dead,
imploring God to take care of their relatives. Every Sunday becomes a day to
read aloud the names of those whose anniversary of death has come around, yet
again, that week. There is no letting go, and therefore no meeting up again (as
with, say, the Mexican day of the Dead celebrations; as All Souls ought to be).
There is no receiving the grace to expand around our grief, such that we
ourselves are signs of resurrection and participate now in the future
breaking-into the present. These things are more peculiar to Sunderland than
they are to any of the other cities I have lived in, Glasgow and Sheffield and
Liverpool. This is not to say that grief does not break in uninvited, nor that
it should be pushed away: rather, that when it comes, we can be confident in
the promises that are ours in Jesus Christ and encourage a collective
confidence in place of a collective anxiety.
resurrected person of Jesus Christ bridges the divide between this life and the
life of the world to come and holds together those we see and those we see no
more. Through him, we are one. Through him, we can engage in conversation,
using both shared words (liturgy) and the personal imaginative gift of prayer
(our own words, shaped in part by the community). The rhythms of the year,
these Feast days of Saints and Souls, are a gift that is both a duty and a joy.
They ought rightly to be attended to, in their time. May these days be filled
with light and celebration.