All Saints' Day is a good time for us to rethink clearly what is revealed to us in the Bible about the after-life. There is much confused and murky thinking on this matter even among traditional Christians.
At the moment of physical death, there is a separation of soul and body. The body is said to “fall asleep in the Lord, waiting for its final resurrection. The soul continues to be conscious. If it is a Christian soul, it is permitted to have sweet fellowship with Christ and all His vast throng of redeemed people. These redeemed souls are waiting in an “intermediate state” between their previous earthly life and their eventual resurrection. This intermediate state is sometimes called Paradise or even Heaven. It is a temporary, not a final, condition.
The is no basis for supposing that souls in this intermediate state suffer any kind of penalties whatever, for sins committed while on earth in the body. The term purgatory is therefore to be avoided as misleading. Many believe that souls in the intermediate state continue to grow spiritually and our Prayer Book seems to teach it. St Paul may hint at this when he writes, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you may perform it until [bring it to completion at] the day of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 1: 6). What is certain is that all the faithful departed, and our own loved ones who died in the Lord, are happy and blessed with Christ. God grant that we may join them when He calls us.
At the “Last Day,” when Christ shall come again and bring history to its close, all mankind will be raised up. Our bodies will be reconstituted and made glorious, just as His body was raised up on the first Easter. We will see, touch, and hear each other again. This will be in “the new heaven and the new earth,” the new creation already underway but not complete until Christ comes. While this is mysterious to us and most details not yet revealed, we simply must think of our own resurrection as realistically and graphically as we think of His.
In the meantime, while we wait for Christ's coming, we delight in the assurance that all the faithful departed, both the “heroes of the faith” and obscure mediocre Christians, are tightly bound in one great fellowship of the saints. That is what we celebrate today. LKW