The Communion of Saints

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, May 24th, 2009

            And Moses said to Pharaoh, “Accept the honour of saying when I shall intercede for you, for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses that they may remain in the river only.”   (Exodus 8:9[5])

Our text is taken from the story of the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh as recorded in the book of Exodus. We remember that although Jacob and his sons were welcomed into Egypt and invited to live there as Pharaoh’s guests when Joseph was in favour, in the years that followed, Joseph’s wise leadership that saved Egypt from a terrible famine was forgotten. After a time, the Hebrews were no longer seen as guests, but as foreigners – enemies.  Without the protection of Pharaoh they were soon made into slaves.

Hundreds of years later, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and sent him to challenge the authority of the most powerful king on earth; to lead the children of Israel out of their Egyptian slavery. Pharaoh was difficult to convince, a stubborn man representing evils that are difficult to remove requiring 10 states of vastation before they are removed – the 10 plagues of Egypt which broke Pharaoh and resulted in freedom for the Hebrews.

Our text is taken from a portion of what Moses said to Pharaoh after Pharaoh asked that the second plague of frogs be removed, and was selected because of the image of the king standing at the head of his servants, his people, his nation; for through the science of correspondences, this brief passage gives us the key to understanding many things about the Lord’s Kingdom in the Heavens, the Lord’s Kingdom on earth, and their relationship to each other.

We read in our third lesson that the universal heaven represents one man, and the societies therein his members (AC 7396). This doctrine is known as that of the Grand Man, and receives a full treatment in the inter-chapter material of the Arcana Coelestia. But more to the point, we found in the lesson that the Lord’s kingdom also exists on the earth with those who are in love to the Lord and in charity toward the neighbour, and these people do not belong to any particular church or organization, but are scattered throughout the whole world. And finally, our lesson told us that all those in heaven, and those in love to the Lord and the life of charity, taken together are called a “communion.”

It is this doctrine that forms the basis of that brief and frequently misunderstood statement in our creed where we confess our belief in the “communion of angels and people.” If this idea is important enough to be included in such a brief statement as the creed, it should be clearly understood. It is our intention today to look into the doctrine of the communion of angels and men, and to see what are its implications to our daily life. In order to do so, it is necessary to take a moment to define our terms, to discover what is meant by “communion” and other closely related terms.

The word “communion” has to do with sharing thoughts and emotions, and is often used to refer to a group of persons having a common religious faith. It was interesting to discover that the “Communion of Saints” is defined as “The spiritual fellowship existing among all faithful Christians, both living and dead.” It was interesting because of the use of the word “saint,” and because the definition was very close to that which we would use to explain the New Church concept of the communion of angels and men.

Further investigation showed that although we of the New Church seem to avoid speaking or thinking about saints, the Heavenly Doctrines frequently teach and speak about saints in a very positive way! Usage in the Old and New Testaments always has to do with being “Kind,” “Pious,” “Set apart,” and “Holy.” The Heavenly doctrines use the word in a number of different ways, but with the common theme that the saints are those who acknowledge God and live the life of charity.

A few examples will make the point clear:

“Men of holiness” are those who are led by the Lord; for the Divine which proceeds from Him is the Holy itself. Hence, they who receive it in faith and also in love are called ‘saints.’ (AC 9229)

They are called ‘saints’ who live according to the truths of the Word; not that they are saints, but that the truths in them are holy;

(AR 586:3) ‘The saints’ are those who from the Lord through the Word are in Divine truths; and, abstractedly, the Divine truths of the Lord, of the Word, and thence of the Church. (AR 730)

(The saints are) those who are in truths of doctrine from the Word, and in a life according to them. (AE 695)

From this we should be able to see that although the word “saint” has been flavoured by its usage in other churches, it is in fact a word commonly used in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in the Heavenly Doctrines, and in each Testament, it carries the meaning of something or someone who is holy, someone who loves the Lord, and each day strives to live a life of charity towards the neighbour. If we think “regenerating man,” or “angel” when we hear the word “saint” we can perhaps get around the problem and arrive at the intended meaning.

In the creed, we say that we believe in the “communion of angels and people,” which is just another way of saying the “Communion of Saints” without saying the word “saint.” It was said earlier that the dictionary definition of “communion” was the intimate sharing of thoughts and emotions. If we change one word from “emotions” to “affections,” we arrive at the same definition that the Heavenly doctrines would use, and most people would understand and agree with this definition:  an intimate sharing of thoughts, experiences, and affections.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that there are many, many levels of communion, and that such communication exists both between people on earth, and also between men and spirits. To lay the foundation, let us first reflect on a communion that is possible for us to experience in this world, the special communication that exists between a husband and wife.

There is a certain communion between married partners which is implanted in both from the first covenant of marriage … as a communion of possession, in many things a communion of uses, of various necessaries of the house, and thence also of thoughts, and sometimes of secrets; there is also a communion of bed, and a communion of the love of little children (CL 277:2).

Marriage causes a miraculous transformation in people. A man and a woman begin their life together through mutual consent. With their love as a basis they get down to the business of making a home and a life together. They begin to build up a collection of common memories and experiences of trips taken, projects done, decisions made. Slowly, because of their communion, their common life, they become no longer man and woman, but husband and wife. And when new life enters the picture, when the children are born and bring with them all their tender states of celestial innocence, feedings in the middle of the night, sickness and laughter, the husband and wife slowly but surely become not only husband and wife, but also father and mother, sharing things in their marriage that no one else would ever understand or appreciate – and it binds them together. This is communion. This is an intimate sharing of thoughts and affections where through years of common experience a personal language is formed so that all that is needed is a word or a glance to communicate a whole world of meaning. This is a bond between people that is cemented by common interests, delights, and uses.

Now if that can happen between two people in the world, what kind of communion might be possible between the angels in heaven, between heaven and earth, and between the church in the heavens and the church on earth?

The Heavenly Doctrine tells us that in the Heavens there is a communion of all goods; the peace, intelligence, wisdom, and happiness of all are communicated to everyone there, and those of each are communicated to all. (AC 10723) And they teach further that there is such a conjunction of each with all in Heaven, that everyone speaks from the communion, although an Angel is not conscious of it. (AR 5)

The Heavenly Doctrine also speaks of the Communion between Earth and Heaven:

He who in faith acknowledges and in heart worships one God, is in the communion of saints on earth, and in the communion of Angels in the Heavens; they are called communions, and are so, because they are in one God, and one God is in them. (TCR 15)

            Every person is in communion with angels of heaven or with spirits of hell because he is born to become spiritual; and this is not possible unless he is in some kind of conjunction with those who are spiritual. Every person, as to his mind, is in both worlds, the natural and the spiritual; but men, angels and spirits do not know of this conjunction because men, during their life in the world, are in a natural state, and angels and spirits in a spiritual state. On account of the distinction between the natural and the spiritual they are invisible to each other. The conjunction of men with angels and spirits by means of their love’s affections is so close that without it, people on earth would no longer have conscious though – and in fact would soon die. As everyone lives continually in communion with the inhabitants of the spiritual world, therefore, when he dies, he is immediately received by those like himself, with whom he has been associated while in the world; for he then enters the company of those who are ruled by the same loves. These he greets in the same way as relatives and kinsfolk greet each other in the world. This is the meaning of what is said in the Word concerning those who die, that they are gathered to their own. It should be evident from this that a regenerate man is in communion with angels of heaven, and an unregenerate man with spirits of hell. (TCR 607)

If a husband and wife can build such a tender and powerful bond as marriage based on the common experience of the joys and sorrows of life in this world, how much deeper, how much more powerful must be the bond that is based on a common love and understanding of God – or as it is sometimes called, a “similitude of religion.”

There is peace and happiness in a home when there is agreement. That peace may actually only be a temporary truce resting on the surface of a unresolved difference, but the peace and happiness of heaven rest on agreement that reaches to the very depths of the mind, to the farthest resources of character. Such profound agreement or communion in the most essential areas of life is the basis for the foundation of heavenly societies which are organized first of all according to their understanding of and belief in God. This is why the Heavenly Doctrines teach that your place in heaven is determined by your belief in God.

While we live in the natural world, even though we are not conscious of it, we attract those spirits who are in the same spiritual state as ourselves. Our spiritual state creates a sphere that is perceived in the spiritual world, that attracts those of a like spirit who then strengthen our state. This means that if we are in an evil state, we attract more of the same evil which strengthens and encourages that evil. If we are doing good, we then attract good spirits who then strengthen that state. Everything we say, do, think, or feel has its effect in the spiritual world – which in turn has its effect on us.

But there is one essential difference between us and the spirits with us that we must remember and use to our advantage. We can be of two minds. We can want to do something evil and yet not do it because we know we should not. We are free in spiritual things. We are free to choose our spiritual companions. We can freely choose to do what is right, to attract the spheres of heaven, to feel heaven’s joy, and gain strength and resolve from the angels. We are free to begin a communion with the angels of heaven right now which will endure forever. AMEN.

First Lesson:  Exodus 8:1-15

And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. {2} “But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all your territory with frogs. {3} “So the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into your house, into your bedroom, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls. {4} “And the frogs shall come up on you, on your people, and on all your servants.”’ “ {5} Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt.’” {6} So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. {7} And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt. {8} Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” {9} And Moses said to Pharaoh, “Accept the honour of saying when I shall intercede for you, for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, that they may remain in the river only.” {10} So he said, “Tomorrow.” And he said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. {11} “And the frogs shall depart from you, from your houses, from your servants, and from your people. They shall remain in the river only.” {12} Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh. And Moses cried out to the LORD concerning the frogs which He had brought against Pharaoh. {13} So the LORD did according to the word of Moses. And the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courtyards, and out of the fields. {14} They gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. {15} But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said. Amen.

Second Lesson:  Rev. 13:1-10

Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. {2} Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. {3} And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marvelled and followed the beast. {4} So they worshipped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” {5} And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. {6} Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. {7} It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. {8} All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. {9} If anyone has an ear, let him hear. {10} He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Amen.

Third Lesson:  Heavenly Secrets (Arcana Coelestia) 7396

7396 ….Empires and kingdoms are represented in heaven as a person, and the communities within them are represented as the parts of that person’s body, the monarch being so to speak its head. The reason why they are represented in that way traces back to this: The whole of heaven represents one human being, and the communities there represent the parts of his body, in accordance with the functions they perform.

From this one may see how beautiful and delightful the representation in heaven of an empire, kingdom, or community would be if its citizens were linked to one another by charity and faith to form a body like that. Whenever possible the Lord also links communities together into that kind of body; for Divine Truth itself, which emanates from the Lord, introduces that state of order wherever that order is accepted. This is the origin of the state of order that exists in heaven. It exists on earth took, but the communities constituting it are scattered all over the earth and are made up of those who are governed by love to Him and charity towards the neighbour. But those scattered communities have been drawn together by the Lord in order that they too, like communities in heaven, may represent one human being.

These communities exist not only within the Church but also outside it; and when taken all together they are called the Lord’s Church, drawn together from the good scattered throughout all the earth. That Church is also called a communion. This communion or Church is the Lord’s kingdom on earth linked to the Lord’s kingdom in heaven, and so to the Lord Himself. Amen.

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