Eucharistic Fellowship with the Faithful Departed:
A Sermon Preached at the C.B.S. Solemn Requiem, St. Alban's, Holborn, November 9th, 1888.
By J. P. F. Davidson.
London: Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, 1888.
To the Rev. Canon Carter, M.A., Superior-General of the Confraternity of the B.S.
This Sermon, preached at his request, is, with much reverence, affectionately inscribed.
"The Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them."—Rev. vii. 17.
Though it is true that the word here rendered, “feed,” has, in the original, a wider significance, and, by its very form, embraces the fulness of the Shepherd’s care and love; still there can be no doubt, I think, that our version is right in singling out the idea of Food or Sustenance as, in this place, the main element in that significance. For it is required by the antithesis of the preceding verse—“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more .... for the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them.”
It is to divine refreshments of unearthly Food, and to the Water of Life, that the Lamb, Who is also their Shepherd, leads His redeemed ones.
The Vision before us is one of surpassing interest. Its sphere or its scenery is that of the unseen world, the Home and the Resting-place of departed souls. Like many of the visions in this Book, it represents not so much one single scene in that mysterious life, as rather a succession of scenes; or, sometimes, a blending in one view of what are really distinct stages or aspects of the life; at one moment, fixing the eye on the final glory before the Throne, at another, or rather in the same, unveiling some feature of the Intermediate State; mingling both together in one glimpse, as though we had passed already beyond the alternations and successions of time.
So it is here. The great assembly before the Throne; the Palms of the Eternal Feast-day; the loud voice of the everlasting Chant;—these, which are the great features of the perfect Beatitude, dissolve again rapidly back, in this same vision, into the white, robes of Paradise, and the Shelter from the sun and heat, and the refreshment of souls in the Presence of the Lamb; which are the well-known images of the waiting rather than the glorified Church. In a word, the vision is a complex one; disclosing, as it were, simultaneously, different stages in the life of the departed, and different features of that life.
Let me draw your attention for a few moments this morning to one deeply interesting feature in the vision, suggested by our text: viz., its Eucharistic imagery.
As we ponder thoughtfully the sacred phraseology, we can hardly fail to be struck with its Eucharistic symbols or expressions: “The Lamb,” involving, as almost always in this Book, the idea of Sacrifice; “the Lamb that was slain;” and the Food wherewith, as the [1/2] Good Shepherd, He feeds His own; the Living Food, “so that they hunger no more, neither thirst any more.” We are carried back at once, by this description, to our Lord’s own exposition of the Eucharistic mystery: “Jesus said unto them, I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” And again, “If any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever; and the Bread which I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” For the vision before us opens up, if one may so speak, these promises, as reaching onto their fulfilment; and reveals to us the souls of the Blessed, as entering into the fuller fruition of the Bread of Life; into the progressive satisfaction of every desire and longing of their spiritual being in Him, Who feeds them with Himself, and guides them onward to the fulness of the perfect Life; obliterating each remaining trace of the finished earthly conflict. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more: for the Lamb, Which is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
I would not press the imagery too far. It is, after all, not in definite human phrases, but by symbol and shadow only, that the realities of that Unseen Life are pictured to us. Yet this, I think, we may safely say—first, that such imagery shadows out some corresponding truth; and next, that the great idea or truth here conveyed to our minds is that of a real Eucharistic fellowship between our departed brethren and ourselves. If our merciful Lord “prepares a Table for us in the wilderness,” He prepares one also within the Veil, furnished yet more amply with the “Angels’ Food.” And round the Altar, alike on earth and in Paradise, rises the same unceasing chant of the Adorable Sacrifice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” Both here and there the Divine Food is the same; the great Eucharist is the same; the All-sustaining Presence is the same; save only that they have passed into the inner courts of the Temple, while we tarry for awhile without; and already from their spiritual eye the cloud of mystery is lifting; and they begin to see Him Whom they worship, “even as He is.”
Let us pause then, my brothers and sisters, to-day, and in this solemn hour, to dwell a little on this blessed Fellowship. For this surely is the great thought that possesses us, as we celebrate on this occasion our Requiem Eucharist; viz., our unbroken union in this Holy Mystery with those who have passed within the veil. This is the great bond that binds us in one: this Adorable Sacrifice, this Living Food, this Presence of the Lamb. “The Bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ,” i.e., the [2/3] medium of inter-communion between all the members of the whole mystical Body; of the fellowship of all with Christ and with one another: bringing into mysterious contact the visible and the invisible? Yet, surely; “that they all may be one” the unity of the Divine Life: “I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.” To this Eucharistic Union then, beloved, let me now invite your attention for a little.
And first: Observe the Bond of the Passion.
For the adorable Sacrifice, which we offer at the earthly Altar, outreaches, in its living efficacy, the limits of this militant state, and manifests its virtue in the spiritual world. Under the shadow of the Cross the spirits rest in Paradise, even as the troubled souls of men rest here on earth: only with a fuller, deeper, serener rest. The triumphs, the virtues, the healing and life-giving powers of the Passion are extended or prolonged into that unseen sphere of life: making partakers of its fruits, not only the faithful on earth, but also those within the veil. We may inter, I think, thus much from the fact, recorded by S. Peter, that our Blessed Lord, after being put to death in the flesh, went and preached unto “the spirits in prison;” carrying into the unseen world, not only the proclamation of His victory over death, but also the powers of His Passion:” preaching the Gospel to them that were dead.” For this, like other great facts in our Lord’s Life and Work, is no mere historic event, to be isolated from its issues, as something past and gone. It is the germ of a perpetual ministry. It unfolds a continuous law. As a message of the Son of man, “Whose words pass not away,” it bears upon it the character of perpetuity. Under, of course, altered conditions, and limited by the requirements of the Divine love and the Divine justice, and also by the exigencies of a spiritual state of being, that great fact involves and illustrates an abiding ministry of the Gospel of Jesus,—of the cleansing, healing, ‘life-giving virtues of His Passion,—to the spirits of men in the Intermediate State. In a certain, though a different and even a higher sense, His words, which promise the perpetuity of His Presence to His militant Church on earth, hold good also of the Church that waits in Paradise: “Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end.”
But further; the suggestiveness of this great fact is enhanced by other incidents of the unseen Life. We are confirmed in this inference by such glimpses as are given to us of its mysteries in the Book of Revelation; and especially by the aspects of the Passion, [3/4] as it is there represented to us. Let me mention two of those aspects:—
(i) “The white Robe” that is “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” is spoken of distinctly as a gift or a grace of the State of Waiting. It is given to the “Souls under the Altar,” in answer to their loud cry, not only as a token of the Divine favour, but as a communication of the purifying virtue of the Blood of the Lamb. For that “Fine linen, clean and white, is the righteousness of saints.” And the Blood of the Lamb alone gives it its perfect whiteness. And they are bidden to wait till the great consummation, and not to weary or complain of their waiting. For that Season should not be fruitless or unblessed. It should be the time for putting on the robe of righteousness, the raiment of the Purified; clothed with which they should enter in to the “Marriage supper of the Lamb,” when the number of the Elect was full.
(2) And secondly: The song of the redeemed within the veil is a song of the Passion. This is especially noteworthy. It is not on earth alone that the Church commemorates the Sacrifice of the Lamb. “The Lamb that was slain,” is even more especially, and more fully, the Object of the adoration of the Church at rest, and of the Church Triumphant. The song of the Passion is still heard; its echoes are still ringing in the Courts of Paradise; and its sound will reach on, even to the Throne: till Angels as well as Saints, yea, and the whole redeemed Creation take it up as the Chorus of the Everlasting Hymn. “Every creature which is in Heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And what does this prolonging of the song of the Passion signify? Not surely, not only, not chiefly, the record of a past redemption; but the living, enduring, ever-effectual virtues of the Blood of Christ.
We are not alone, then, beloved, to-day; when we gather round the Altar of our Requiem Eucharist. “Our Fellowship, our Communion here is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ,” and in Him, with all the members of His Body Mystical: our brethren within the veil as well as those on earth. “And the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” For the bond of the Passion unites us in one.
But to pass on to another Bond of this Eucharistic union: the Bond of the Living Food. “We being many,” writes [4/5] S. Paul, “are one Bread, and one Body”: for we are all partakers of that “One Bread.” These words, spoken primarily of the Visible Church, cover, in their full extent, the area of the whole Church, invisible as well as visible. For from the Apostle’s mind the Church within the veil is never absent. When he bows his knees in prayer, it is before Him “of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” And the same idea pervades that saying of S. Ignatius to the Ephesians: “Breaking one Bread, which is the medium of immortality, our antidote that we should not die, but live for ever in Jesus Christ.” The Living Food, the Bread of Life, is the common heritage, the perpetual sustenance of the whole Body Mystical, “in heaven and in earth.” And from the very first, as you will recollect, our Blessed Lord associates this Living Bread with the Eternal Life, and points onward to its undying efficacy in the Eternal World: “He that eateth of this Bread shall live for ever.” It cannot indeed be otherwise. For spiritual food must be the nutriment of the spiritual nature. Yes: within the veil, and through the long reach of that intervening life, and on, even to the Resurrection-morning, this Eucharistic Food is the food of souls, assimilating the human nature more and more to the Divine, and fashioning it unto the likeness of “the Glorious Body” of the Lord. And thus our Lord’s words, as you will remember,—when He speaks of this Spiritual Food of His most Precious Body and Blood,—include this great interval between Death and the Resurrection, and look on even to the Last Day, when the spiritual manhood shall be fully formed: “Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the Last Day.” “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them” He, Who feeds us here on earth in this mystery of Communion, feeds them also. And we are all partakers of that One Living Bread. The Bond of the Living Food unites us in one.
There is, no doubt, a great difficulty in the conception of this mystery, inevitable in the very partial knowledge we have of the conditions of life in the Intermediate State.
How this shall be we know not. What is the process of the mysterious change into the Divine “Image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord,” we can but faintly guess at. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” And the difficulty is, no doubt, increased by the fact of the temporary separation of the two parts of our nature,—the body and the spirit—in that State; making the human nature incomplete. Still, out from this cloud of mystery, there break forth glimpses here and there of what shall be; indications, too, not only of the issue, but, to a certain extent, of [5/6] the process also. If, as S. Paul tells us, the “natural body” is to be developed into the “spiritual body,” the progressive stages of that development consist, we may suppose, of a gradual preparation, in the region of man’s spiritual being, for that final change; “From glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
For our Lord Himself, the Second Adam, is a Life-giving Spirit. By His quickening energy the earthly is transformed into the heavenly, and the image of His own incorruptible Manhood is stamped upon His elect. “According to His mighty working He shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious Body.” And this, in some way, by communications of Himself, as the Life-giving, the Life-making, the Life-communicating Spirit. He Who feeds the soul here on earth with the spiritual food of His most precious Body and Blood, and assimilates it to Himself, carries on the process there; no more, indeed, sacramentally, but by direct communications of Himself; no more “through a glass darkly, but face to face,” until the Divine image is fully stamped upon the perfected human nature, and at length “this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality.” May we not thus discern, in the Blessed Sacrament, so to speak, the unseen link, or medium of communication between “the natural body and the spiritual body,” and trace (as far as in so great a mystery may be granted us) the process of the transformation to the quickening virtue of this Divine communion? “For the Lamb, Which is in the midst of the Throne, shall feed them”—with the food of immortality: “and shall guide them unto the fountains of the waters of life.”
But one thought more: As we dwell to-day upon the Intermediate State, and the fuller blessedness of communion there, one point must not be overlooked. I mean this—that it is the spiritual part of man’s nature which, in that state, is, more especially, the sphere of the Divine communications. Whatever appertains to the spirit of man—its powers and properties—these are being exercised and perfected. Memory and Intelligence and Love, and that Power which we call the Spiritual Faculty, whereby man apprehends God;—in this distinctly spiritual region of our being is the work of purification and illumination progressing. Here, again, how strangely we traverse the sacred mystery of the Eucharist! One of its special gifts on earth is the gift of spiritual illumination, and the unseen Lord is “made known in the breaking of the Bread.” “The Life which is in Him is the Light of men.” “One Communion alone,” says a devout writer, “sometimes opens the eyes more [6/7] with respect to matters of faith than all the discourses and instructions of men.” And no wonder. For Sacraments, by their very nature, blending with the outward sign the inward spiritual grace, touch, indeed, the material on one side, but the spiritual on the other; bridging over the interval between the two; bringing together the visible and the invisible. How great, then, how intense shall be that Light in the spiritual world, where, so to speak, the spiritual element of Sacraments has full and undisputed scope: has the field wholly to itself; and the Life-giving Spirit of our Redeeming Lord energizes in the spirits of men, not through outward veils, but by direct spiritual contact! the Life, in its very essence, becoming the Light of men! And so, I suppose, we may see, dimly and in shadow, in those words which follow immediately upon our text, a reference to this progressive spiritual illumination of the faithful departed: “He shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life.” It is remarkable that the word which S. John here uses for “lead,” or “guide,” is the very same which is used in his Gospel to describe the illumination of the Spirit. “He shall guide you into all the truth.” And not only so; but the other expression also, “fountains,” or “rivers” of “living water,” he directly interprets, in his Gospel, as descriptive of the full flow of the energies of the Spirit in men’s souls: “This spake He of the Spirit, Which they that believe on Him should receive.” May we not, then, discern, under these images, a revelation of the progressive work of the Holy Ghost within the veil, as He dwells in, and purifies, and illuminates, the whole mystical Body, distributing, as He wills, to its separate parts, in the various stages of its Being? Yes, surely; only He, the blessed Spirit, Who here quickens and enlightens the soul, there leads it onward to the very “fountains” to the eternal sources of Life and Light. There, “the River of the Water of Life” is seen, not through the medium of earthly mists and shadows, but “clear as crystal, proceeding out of the Throne of God, and of the Lamb.” There, the Holy Ghost, by Whose operation, in the earthly Eucharist, the Divine Presence is dimly and in part made known, shall reveal the Beatific Vision without cloud or dimness, until the soul “shall see God, even as He is.” Here, then, my brothers and sisters m Christ, we have one great consolation concerning our departed brethren, whom we commemorate to-day; in the fact of this great development of the faculties of their spiritual nature. What mysteries are being revealed to the illuminated spiritual eye, which here on earth so often baffled and perplexed them! The strange things of our human lot; the inequalities and perplexities of life; the shadows which obscured (if they could not take away) the Faith; the meaning of suffering and of desolation of spirit; the dark disappointments of [7/8] many an earthly Eucharist; all that enveloped in such thick darkness the purpose and the wisdom, and even the love of God; and more than all, the mystery of His own Personal Being, which was wont so often here to stir, in the depths of their souls, that longing and all but complaining cry, “When shall I come to appear before the Presence of God?” All these things are receiving their interpretation now, as the spiritual faculty expands, in that sevenfold light of the Spirit, and is made able to comprehend all mysteries. Yes now, O dear departed ones, ye enter into the True Light; ye are being guided onward to the very Fountain of Light, “in Whom is no darkness at all.” And now ye understand “what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive:”—“those things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. For God reveals them unto you by His Spirit.”
But to sum up: We have touched to-day upon two of the bonds of union, which, in the Holy Eucharist, bind together the whole mystical Body of Christ: the bond of the Adorable Sacrifice, and the bond of the Living Food. And these two combine in a third and central bond, viz.; the Bond of the Presence of the Lamb. For here, beloved, at the Altar we meet together, under the shadow of that Presence. And the Lamb, “Who sitteth on the Throne,” and Who is present at the earthly Altar also, “shall spread His tabernacle” over us. Here we all gather: those yet toiling in the flesh, and those who have entered into rest; they, from their unseen resting-place within the veil; we, from our various scenes of toil and strife and suffering here, but all together; all in one; all gathered at the Feet of our Adorable Lord.
May the One Spirit, indeed, unite, and inspire, and purify us all! “until the Day breaks and the shadows flee away;” and in the Light of the Resurrection-morning both we and they “behold, with open face, the Glory of the Lord.”