Someone recently sent me an email following the funeral of a loved one: “People keep telling te she is in heaven. But doesn’t the Apostles’ Creed say “he will come to judge the living and the dead”? And Matthew 25:32-46, 2 Timothy 4:1, Matthew 16:27 imply we won’t be judged until Jesus returns.”
The struggle for those of us still on this side of the mystery of life after death long to know, and maybe even more, long for hope. After some time in prayer, I shared the following thoughts. They are not exhaustive, and they are not “the answer.” But it seemed to help….
Your question is a good one, and one. I have not been ignoring you, but I have needed to find more than two or three minutes of time in which to write a reply. Even at that, this will be far from in-depth or complete.
You are right that the Apostles Creed says that “he will come to judge the living (or the quick, in older versions) and the dead. One can only presume that the end of the age, whenever that might be, will come at a time when some have, obviously, passed from this earthly life, and some have not. It seems reasonable to me that the final judgment is something entirely unique unto itself. Recall with me, that Scripture gives witness to some type of life beyond this earthly one apart from the final judgment – recall the recognizable presence of Elijah and Moses on that mount at the Transfiguration. Recall also the account of Lazarus (the other one, not Jesus’ friend and brother of Martha and Mary) in Luke’s gospel (Luke 16:19ff) who was seen in a place of comfort while the rich and rather despotic soul longed from him to reach across the abyss with a finger of cool water.
One of the traditional prayers at the time of death, you can find it in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 464) before the burial liturgies, begins, “Depart out of this world O Christian soul, in the name of God the Father who created you, …, may your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the paradise of God. At the Commendation, the prayer goes, “…receive her/him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.” (BCP pp. 483,499)
The witness of the faith, can in some ways be found in a single simple phrase that is in the proper preface of for the departed (which is part of the Eucharistic Prayer if using I, II, A or B) which says: “… For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”
Now, I think I know you well enough that you’d like a bit of a biblical witness beyond what I cited above. So, I invite you think, ponder and pray on this. In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them, so that where he is, there they may be also.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this from Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. My friend, here is what I believe. Whatever the difficulties were that your [loved one] may have experienced in her final time of this earthly journey, she is healed now, and that healing is one that is complete – in any way she may have needed healing, seen or unseen, known to her, to others, or only to God, that healing has been made manifest.
I hope in some small way this helps. I look forward to seeing you when I return.
God’s peace enfold you,
I am grateful to the inquirer for the permission to share this interchange. I have intentionally taken out any references that might identify the person or the person’s loved one. SSH+