Struggling with theology – preparing for All Souls

I’ve hit one of those moments when as a fairly rooky Lay Minister not having a Vicar leaves me with less options of who to ask tricky questions of. So, for any of you theological or ‘vicar types’ out there, if you could bless me with a few moments of wisdom I’d appreciate it:

Since I’ve been involved with a few funerals recently, I’m leading and giving a short talk at our All Souls service on Sunday afternoon (31st October) to which we have invited all those we know who have been bereaved and/or for whom ministers in the parish have led funeral services.

I don’t have a theological problem with this at all and I know that pastorally it is very helpful (having been on the receiving end elsewhere in other times). We’re using a format of service used locally for a few years, and haven’t changed much as a Vacancy is not a time to fiddling with stuff un-necessarily.

I was left to chose readings (Biblical) and a (non-Scriptural) reflection and to write a short talk. I felt the service wanted to have elements of comfort and hope within it, and offer the specifically Christian hope that we would like to think that all people who approach a church for a funeral might believe in. I chose Lamentations 3:17-26 and 31-33 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-end from the options that presented themselves through Common Worship Pastoral Services and our diocesan training course.

I’ve got some ideas about how to say something that a few might find helpful, and as I’ve worked on the whole thing, I’ve also developed some ideas on liturgy I might use another year should I be asked to do this again. But I’ve sort of hit a conundrum and I don’t even know if it’s a problem.

I would naturally agree with Michael Perham (‘Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy’) when he says

All the Christian dead are with the Lord and all of us with them are bound together in one communion and fellowship.

These ‘Christian dead’ are the ‘dead in Christ’ of 1 Thess 4 v16, yes? They are in the words of funeral prayers I’ve used recently those for whom

Lord of all, we praise you
for all who have entered into their rest
and reached the promised land where you are seen face to face…

We also read in 1 Thess 4:14 that God will ‘bring with Jesus those who have fallen sleep with him’

But we’ve also prayed at many funerals something along the lines of

Above all, we rejoice at your gracious promise
to all your servants, living and departed,
that we shall rise again at the coming of Christ.

Is this one of those Biblical paradox things that I should understand as ‘both – and’, and therefore that our dear departed are both with Christ already, and also to be raised from the dead to be with Christ at his second coming? Or have I missed something obvious? Or am I worrying un-necessarily?



  1. Do the dead in Christ sleep until the day of resurrection or are they with him now? The New Testament seems to cheerfully allow both possibilities. Personally I think that when we are dead, we are dead. But our memory is held safe by God, until the day when he re-creates us in the image of his Son.


  2. I think this is one of those occasions where theological paradox or “holy fudge” is the best we can do. There is a traditional NT understanding of what happens after our death, particularly based on Paul’s epistles, but it’s not quite the same as the Johannine version… and anyway, we don’t know and can’t know! So pastorally, what is the good news we can proclaim on such an occasion? Do the varieties of theological hypothesis matter, or do we have something to proclaim that is both true to the gospel and gives hope/comfort to those who have gathered to remember?
    If we don’t – then better not to preach! If we do have something to say , particularly to those who may not come inside a church on any other occasion in the year, it’s more likely to be about God’s love not being confined by linear time/including those who are in this world and those who have died – and not worrying too much about precise details of this.
    If anything I’ll come down on the side of both- and… mainly because I think that worrying about the order in which events might happpen after death is all a bit of waste of time as there may be no “order” to events after death – time is no more! But for me the important question is “what is the good news for those who have gathered to remember?”, and “how can we make sure we allow space for God in ths worship?”.


  3. Maybe the God who created time (& space) isn’t limited by our necessarily restricted concepts of “now”and “then”? My hunch is that at death we leave the constraints of time and space behind us. The Eternal becomes eternally present to us and to all his servants.


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