Communion of Saints: Our beloved dead are with us now
By Peg Ekerdt
It was dress-down-and-clean-out day at our parish office. Once a year, the staff sets aside a morning to clean out files, sort through books and, in general, get rid of “stuff.” It is interesting to look back at the year through the lens of accumulated piles of paper and files, and to wonder how it all got done and remember that much of it will be repeated in the coming year. Church calendars have cycles after all, both liturgical and sacramental, and much of what we do comes round again from year to year.
This year I focused on thinning out the bookshelves, skimming the pages of seldom-used texts to make sure it was time to part with them. As I relegated a tome to the giveaway pile, I removed any cards or papers and, rather absentmindedly, put those on my desk. I finished the morning satisfied that I had made a good start.
After lunch, I nearly threw that little pile of salvaged papers into the recycling bin. If I had not looked at them all year — or for several years — why look now? But I did look and immediately opened a two-page letter from my dad, written in his own hand on his office stationery. The letter was in mint condition, the paper as white as the day it was written. Which was 28 years ago. The letter was Dad’s account of a summer day in 1986 — his day, running errands with my mom, making chili sauce with tomatoes he had “stolen” from my sister’s garden, and chasing my brother’s runaway dog through the neighborhood, Dad dressed in his usual bedtime apparel of boxer shorts and pajama top. And then there was the closing signature: “Love, Dad.”
My dad died in 1988. I don’t know why this letter moved me so, but I felt as if it just appeared and I had been given the gift of a visit with my dad that transcended time and element. In that moment, my dad, whose love formed me and forever gave me the sense of God’s own unconditional love — in that moment, my dad was with me.
This past year, we heard a remarkable eulogy at our parish. It was given by the husband of a woman whose sudden death saddened the entire community. As he walked to the ambo, the assembly was expectant. What would this quiet man who typically shied away from the parish limelight say to us? How could he speak in the midst of his own grief? But who better, really, than a beloved spouse?
John told us that when he searched for legal documents at the time of his wife’s death, he discovered a forgotten letter that he had written to her. He had placed the letter in the legal files, confident that she would find it when he died. As he read the first words of the letter, “Dear Beatrice,” we knew that we were being invited into a very personal exchange that had been intended for her eyes only. In the letter, John unequivocally stated his belief in the resurrection and in the promise of eternal life. He admitted that he had no idea what heaven would be, but he was confident that they would one day be reunited. He specifically told her to trust in that hope and to believe they would see each other again. It was a letter he had intended to console his grieving wife. Instead it became a profound statement of faith that consoled an entire community.
When a loved one dies, we often long for one more conversation, one more hug, one more loving look at the other. We wonder where they are and sometimes question our belief in eternal life. The days often feel difficult without them, and admittedly, they are. But I would suggest, and you would no doubt agree, that our beloved dead are still with us. Not in the ways they once were, or even as we would love to see them, but they are with us because they are with God.
We may have to listen carefully. We certainly have to pay attention. But they come to us in dreams and insights and in seeming coincidences. They come to us in memories of the past or in unexpected moments of conversation that are pure grace. And they come to us in letters.
In this month of November, the month when we honor the communion of saints and our faithful departed, let us pay attention a bit more to the movement of the Spirit and the presence of God’s saints in our midst. Their love for us remains with a bond that death cannot break. And their power to intercede, to lead and guide us, is testament to our belief in God’s communion of saints.
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This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Celebration. Peg Ekerdt is a pastoral associate at Visitation Church, Kansas City, Mo., where her work includes pastoral care, adult formation, marriage preparation and spiritual direction. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.