I was moved as we prayed together in the basilica, our husbands underneath in the crypt, in conclave discerning who God was calling to be the next archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America. We, the bishops' wives, began to sing together, and I was keenly aware of the company of saints represented all around us in the beautiful stained glass windows, in the paintings, in the plaster reliefs and carvings.
This decision of the ACNA leadership was being made in a transcendent company of historic and Christian saints who are even now alive around the throne of God entering into perfect worship and the intercessions of Jesus on our behalf. I had a divine sense of the company of heaven underneath us, buried, around us in the windows, and above us in the dome, their prayers, their sacrifices, their hidden deeds, supporting us beyond their own earthly lives in a holy protection. Their lives remind us that giving all in this life is worth it. Their sufferings remind us that this too is passing--the eternal weight of glory is now theirs. As I looked into the windows, the light from heaven shone through them into this moment of time, this darkening time in our country and our world.
The older I get the more aware I become of the veil that hides us from the unseen realities. It seems less like a wall and more truly like a veil with stirrings behind it, a soft covering that keeps it all a mystery yet to be disclosed. Though at certain moments I can see more than at others, I carry a constant awareness of life on the other side of that veil. This expands my vision of my life. I am living in the company of angels, those who have died in Christ and so are living, and all creation that praises the Lord and waits with me for the ultimate redemption.
If those who have died in Christ are most fully alive, then certainly they are living in a kingdom that we share with Christ. And the angels...ahh, the angels. They are all around us. We are simply not allowed and are unable to lift the veil. At times, God lifts it, for reasons I do not know, but when he does, it is a glimpse that reminds us of our eternal lives that extend beyond us. I am often reminded of Elisha surrounded by Syrian horses and chariots. His servant was distressed, "Alas, my master, what shall we do?" [Elisha] said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed, "O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see." And it says in 2 Kings 6: "So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."
This awareness of the cosmic company, this cloud of witnesses, replaces fear with the assurance of ultimate victory. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. It also makes us more aware of the company we keep here on this earth--the global company...God's kingdom that is alive and growing all over the world. I carry in my heart everyday my fellow brothers and sisters that are suffering because they know they are first of all citizens of heaven. They suffer for being followers of Jesus. I pray for them to be faithful, not to be discouraged, and to forgive their enemies because we need them to shine into the darkness of the world and also illuminate our darkness. Their faithfulness has cosmic implications.
I know some of you who are reading this live in places where you suffer for the Gospel. Please pray for us in America. We desperately need your prayers, and we hardly know how to pray. The Holy Spirit will guide you. Suffice it to say that true Christians will be called upon to stand, and the day is growing dark.
When we come to church it should not be simply to have some individualized experience of worship or to be fed some deep thoughts from the Bible for the week. We should be stepping into an eternal light, swept into the expansive and cosmic world in which we take our places with the heavenly hosts in worship. At the communion table, we are joining hands with all who claim Christ and heaven as their place of true belonging, those who are already there, and those of us yet to join them. At the altar, we intersect together outside of time, or in eternal time, as the veil of worship that surrounds God is expanded to include us all. This enables us to live our Christian lives, not alone, but in community.
In those moments of worship, I am pulled up by those beyond this world, and I am propped up and able to stand when those around me stand firmly. As I looked at the stained glass windows, I felt the blessing of these faithful lives shining down on me, calling me not to waver, calling me up into that cross that was lifted high. We need this cosmic fellowship to live our small lives in the grand scheme where they belong, to live in this time and God's time. We cannot live our lives in the fullness for which they were created without living with roots planted in our ultimate home with the full company of heaven.
Lord, open our eyes that we may see the company we keep.
images are of the St. Vincent Archabbey Basilica, courtesy of Flickr