When I die, people will sing at my funeral (they had better, or I’ll haunt them).
Will they sing such time-honored classics as “Amazing Grace”, “On Eagle’s Wings”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, “How Great Thou Art”, “In the Garden” (PLEASE NO), or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”? Perhaps. Probably not, depending on how closely the person planning my funeral knows what’s good for them.
What they will sing is “For All the Saints”.
One of the core beliefs of the Christian church, expressed among Western Christians in the Apostles’ Creed, is the “communion of saints”. We believe that those who have died in the faith remain with us, part of the church (the greater part, by numbers), as present among us in daily life as they are present with God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls this the “great cloud of witnesses”, who inspire us with hope and courage.
When Martin Luther tried to reform the church, he rejected the idea that those who have died in the faith have a “bank account” of excess merit that can be doled out like a vending machine for others. He did not, however, reject the idea of the communion of saints or of the truth that everyone in the church–living or dead–can and should pray for one another.
You know that feeling you get when you know that someone is praying for you? Imagine now every Christian who has ever lived praying for you as part of the church, constantly. It’s a thought that’s brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Knowing that the saints are praying for me brings me comfort and hope. The communion of saints reminds me that I am not alone, not ever, and that whatever I’m going through is something someone else who is praying for me has gone through. They know what it’s like. I cannot express to them how deeply grateful I am for their presence and their prayers–I’ve tried. I hope they understand.
One day, I too will join the great cloud of witnesses praying for the church on earth. Knowing who’s gone before me, rather than frighten me, that gives me hope.