Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

Role of Departed Faithful in Our Church

by Rev. Dr. Joseph Cheeran

Reference: Luke 19: 11-27

According to our Church Calendar, the two Sundays before the beginning of the Great Lent are designated as the Sundays remembering all the departed priests and all the departed faithful respectively. The reason for including the laity and priests in the liturgy, faith and the calendar is because they are integral part of God’s plan for salvation of the mankind. Christ’s salvation plans does not have any boundaries. It’s beyond regional and seasonal boundaries. The sacrifice on the cross was meant for the whole creation.

Just like the first statement in the Nicene Creed, the salvation plan of Christ, who is the Creator and ‘the maker of heaven and earth, visible and invisible’, includes the visible and invisible planes. The organs coexist actively in the body of Church (whose head is Christ). Similarly, the departed, currently living and the future creations also coexist in the body of Christ. Not only the Christians, but also many of the modern religions conduct several rituals including fasting and almsgiving, remembering and praying for the salvation of the departed souls.

1. The departed were not abandoned in the Old Testament period either. The Jewish Church considers the great fathers of the tribes, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the symbols of the heavenly Kingdom. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, we see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Christ sees Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Heavenly Kingdom. (Luke 13:28) This must be seen in the light of the Jewish culture. In Egypt, at the time of his death, Joseph entrusts a mission to his descendants (“you shall carry up my bones from hence”: Genesis 50:25). This indicates that the souls are alive after death.

When the Jewish State of Israel was formed, the Jewish settlers in Mattancherry (near Ernakulam in Kerala) took with them sacks full of bones of their departed ones on their return journey to their homeland. This shows their traditional faith in the departed souls beyond doubt.

2. In the New Testament also, in the references about the departed souls, we can see the live nature of the souls. The theme of the story of Lazarus itself is the active nature of the souls. Even when the body was rotten, Lazarus answers the call of his creator-(“Lazarus, come out”). Jesus states that Lazarus was asleep. Jesus spoke about eternal life and eternal kingdom. This indicates life beyond time and space. St. Paul compares resurrection to a sprouting grain. (1 Cor. 15: 34-53). When the wheat grain falls in the ground and gets rotten, a new one sprouts up. The testament of St. Peter regarding the souls is powerful enough to clear any doubts; In 1 Peter 3:19 we read that Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison”. Again in 1 Peter 4:6, it’s unmistakably written, “..Gospel was preached also to them that are dead..”

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we see that the rich man who is dead prays for his living family members. If the person who is dead prays for the living, we the living have a greater duty indeed to pray for the departed. The departed are the roots of our culture. They hold us firm on the ground like the roots of a large tree.

3. When we remember the departed faithful, we need to think about the faithful who continue the journey from birth until death. The parable of the talents reminds us that the talents we possess have an owner. The message of the parable of talents is clearly depicted in the Bible verse ‘you got nothing that’s not given’. Resources are not private properties; rather they are talents that are supposed to be dispensed according to the wishes of the giver. Life is the first talent from which other talents originate. We are stewards of resources like health, beauty, talents and good opportunities etc, which are supposed to be utilized for the benefit of others. We should have the attitude that we are the stewards of the universe that consists of our brethren. Talents are not supposed to be buried under the ground. Instead, from the proper utilization of the talents, a just system should evolve. In order to maintain a balanced society, proper utilization of our resources are essential.

4. The time to conduct the audit to determine the profit and loss of trade is not determined by the trader, but by the owner of the resources. Death is uncertain, like the timing in the game of musical chair. This uncertainty is hanging over our head always as a reality. We need to be vigilant because the auditor who can’t be bribed will audit us anytime. Our time, talents, resources etc are our commodities for trade. Be diligent about faithfulness, hard work and dedication in the utilization of your talents.

What gives us the courage to face death is the sense of awareness that our duties are fulfilled in a timely manner. Jesus embraced his death by uttering, ‘everything is fulfilled’. ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’, he said. Let’s all be inspired by His confident words.

Conclusion: Death is certain. In order to face death with courage, we need honesty and integrity, and a sense of stewardship in the utilization of our talents. God will reward us eternally. Let this message help us evaluate our assets and enable us to be blessed.

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