Back to Index

Communing With Saints
November 7, 1993

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18

Through the Apostlesí Creed, written about 150 A.D., we affirm the possibility of a relationship with the dead. I believe in the communion of saints, states the Creed. Saints is a term Paul used as synonymous with Christian. Every Christian is a saint. We can commune with one another. We can fellowship with saints who are still alive, but can we have fellowship with the saints who have died?

People have long sensed the presence of spirits, sensing that there is a spirit world all around us. Ancestor worship is an ancient, primitive form of religion. Usually ancestor worshipers fear the spirits, and worship the dead in an attempt to appease them, to pacify them. The native religion of the Hmongs is one of fear. They fear the spirits, and attempt to appease them and make them friendly. Our custom of leaving flowers on graves is a remnant of the ancient practice of offering food and flowers on graves to appease the spirits. They also attempted to chase away unfriendly spirits by making noise and frightening them. Halloween customs are remnants of the Celtic religion in Ireland where the spirits were frightened away with jack-o-lanterns. Today we call in exorcists to rid haunted houses of evil spirits, or playful spirits who like to intimidate and frighten inhabitants. Last weekís Merced Sun Star had a fascinating article about a haunted plane in the Castle Air Force Museum.

But, can we actually have fellowship with the spirits, with those who have died? Can we be in communion with the saints? Many modern Christians have swung the pendulum to the other extreme. They have reacted against the ancient fear of spirits by swinging the pendulum to an unbelief in spirits. Many moderns tend to believe there is no such thing as spirits. The dead are either dead, or are so situated out there somewhere, they are removed from our existence.

The previous generation particularly found it difficult to accept the existence of spirits and the possibility of a relationship with those who have died, because they believed a science based on materialism. Thanks to thinkers like Einstein, we are moving beyond materialism. But, the last generation, and there are still remnants with us, separated the body from spirit, physical from spiritual, matter from energy, and believed that only what is seen, heard, touched, smelled is real. Materialists believe there is no such thing as a spirit world because you canít touch, hear or smell them. Materialists also do not believe in God because God cannot be sensually experienced. If you carry this view of the world to its logical conclusion, there is also no such thing as love, or any other emotion, because you canít touch, smell or see it.

Science today has moved away from materialism because we now know that everything is composed of energy. There is no such thing as a solid. Solids are actually moving particles. Everything is in movement. Everything is spirit. Therefore, you cannot separate matter from energy, body from spirit, physical from spiritual. We are basically energy. We are spirit, and physical death is by no means the end of existence.

But, yet we ask, can we have fellowship with those who have died? Where are those who have died? According to the passage read this morning, they are with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians is probably the first letter Paul wrote. The early Christians believed that Christ was returning very soon in victory, and when people began dying before Christ returned, there was a concern about the dead. How can those who have died participate in the second coming? Paul wrote this passage to comfort them, saying that when Christ comes, he will bring with him those who have died. If he can bring the dead with him, then the dead are now with God, and where is God? All around us, and in us, and in our fellowship with one another.

That there is a spirit world all around us is an assumption of the New Testament. There are many references, most of which refer to angels. In fact, angels are mentioned some 300 times in the Bible. Angels are spiritual beings who have two functions: 1) Angels are messengers. An angel told Mary she was going to have a baby. An angel told Joseph. Angels announced the event to the shepherds. 2) Angels guard and protect us. Psalm 91:11, God will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. Psalm 34:7, The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear God, and delivers them. Martin Luther described angels as spiritual creatures, created by God to serve all of Christendom and the Church. John Calvin called angels administrators of divine beneficence who regard our safety, undertake our defense and direct our ways. The Greek philosopher, Plato, four centuries before Christ, wrote, God has placed by every person a guardian angel, to whom he has committed the care of the person; a guardian who never sleeps and who is never deceived.

Helen Keller attributed her victory over her handicaps to the angels of the Lord who helped her, watched over her, and patiently guided her progress. A little girl, playing with friends on an apartment house roof, was about to scramble over a dangerous divided wall, when she was suddenly confronted by a strange man wearing a blue uniform with brass buttons. He said sharply, "I am Johnson. Donít do that!" The little girl stopped just in time to save her life. When she told her parents of the incident, they, for the first time, told her that she was an adopted child. Her deceased fatherís name was Johnson. Furthermore, he had been a railroad conductor and wore a blue uniform with brass buttons.

A member of one of my former churches was driving on a desolate stretch of a freeway when she heard a voice inside her head distinctly say, "Carol, look at your temperature gauge." She looked, saw the temperature needle enter the red zone, quickly exited and stopped at a service station which happened to be the only one open for miles. Isnít it comforting to know you are guided and protected? Evidently, there are spiritual beings--angels and deceased loved ones--who are guarding us.

I have discovered that when I preach about communing with saints, people begin to share similar experiences. They have found it difficult to share because they are afraid some will think they are weird, or susceptible to delusions. The belief in communion of saints gives people permission to share their experiences.

One of my former parishioners shared how she had a persistent cough that would not respond to medicine. One early morning, her deceased husband came into her room and shouted, "Turpentine!" The next day she went to the pharmacy, obtained the old-fashioned remedy--Spirits of Turpentine--and immediately found relief. Another woman, who was waging a battle with cancer, shared how she awoke one night to see her deceased husband standing at the foot of her bed, beckoning her to follow him. She told him, "No way! Iím not ready to go yet! Iíve got too much to do."

Communing with saints means that you are not alone. You do not walk this journey alone. You are surrounded by your loved ones who have died, and sometimes you can sense their presence. An ancient tradition states that when you happen to think of a loved one, that is because he/she is praying for you. Feel free to pray for your loved ones. Ask God to love them, and give them peace and joy. Your communion with saints is through God. You are also protected by angels. Donít be frightened of them. Donít stifle experiences. Donít be intimidated by thinking you are weird. Be open to the presence and sometimes manifestation of spirits. Give credibility to those nudges of conscience, those moments of insight and inspiration. Be open; you might be guided.

Your loved ones are with you. The saints are with you. The Holy Spirit is with you. We are all bound together through Christ in fellowship, in communion with saints.

ã 1993 Douglas I. Norris