In Luke 1 6 we find the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. One of the implications of this parable is that if the departed ones are in a state of life and loving concern, how much more; the faithful departed would have it!
A believer’s (baptized person’s) life should be in ‘the newness of life’, unhindered by any departure from the world. That is why, 51. Paul again assures the Christians that they have passed death and now they are alive to God: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” Rom. 6:11.
Hence, to a baptized Christian, according to the Bible, the departure from the world makes not much difference, and it means no hindrance to the newness of life.
Let us see what 51. Paul means by “those who are asleep.” 1 Thess. 4:13, Also see Jn.11:11; 1 Cor. 15:51. Does it mean an inactive state of the departed? “Wake” and “sleep” were two terms used by 51. Paul has to signify the state of the living and the departed respectively. But in both the stages Paul clearly envisaged a life with Christ for a Christian … “that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him” 1 Thess. 5:10. Hence “sleep” (death) is also meant to live with Jesus. Moreover, we know from ordinary experience that even in ordinary experience that even in ordinary sleep, we are ‘active’ in many respects: our physiological systems are functioning and we may be seeing dreams – Hence in no way, sleep signifies a silence or inactive state. The word “rest” Rev. 6:11, 14:13 is also to be taken in this sense.
In 1 Cor.15: 36, 37 St. Paul compares death and resurrection with the death and sprouting of the grain of wheat. Here also, the death and transformation of wheat in the soil is a very vital process. Hence, this image also supports the vitality and transformation of the faithful departed.
In 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6, Peter speaks about the preaching of our Lord to the departed souls. This clearly testifies to the fact that the departed souls are in such a state that they have the chance and possibility of correction.
Luke 23:43 Jesus says to the repented thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” after the departure from the body. This is to be considered as nothing but an active state.
On the Mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus. Mathew 17:3 regarding His death at Jerusalem. This implies that the departed Moses and Elijah were in such a state where there was the possibility for an active involvement in the incarnation mission.
Some people use 17th verse to object to the practice of praying for the departed. This reads, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence.” Actually here the term ‘the dead’ is used to signify the gentile nations mentioned in verse 2. The Psalmist is comparing them with believers along with him in verses 17 and 18. Verse 18 reads: “but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Compared to the gentiles who are dead spiritually, people of Israel are praising the Lord ‘forever’ (even if departed from this world). Also we should bear in mind that our belief in the living state of the departed is not based on the O.T. but on the N.T. more specifically on the death and resurrection of our Lord and on the experience of the Church. Of course, O.T. does give signs and suggestions to the N.T. faith, as is seen in Ps. 115:17, 18.
To sum up, the Biblical references are numerous to support the active state of the faithful departed in the Church. If they are in the Church, as members of the Church, what should be our mutual responsibility? It is first and foremost our mutual prayer. Hence, we are obliged to pray for the faithful departed. Consider the following facts also.
In Ephe. 6:18 and 1 Tim.2:1 St. Paul is reminding of the necessity of prayer for the whole faithful. Can we say that St. Paul exempted the departed from “the faithful”?
2 Tim. 1:16-18, is a solemn remembrance of a departed Christian named Onesiphorus. In Verse 18, St. Paul is praying for him, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day.” The prayer form is clearer in the Greek original.
The ancient Christian practice of receiving baptism on behalf of the departed 1 Cor. 15:29, Hermas Sim.IX) is also justifying the fact that our prayerful actions on their behalf are not in vain.
According to Philippians 1 :4, 1 Cor. 1 :8, 1 Thess.5:23, the faithful are in the process of growth and purification till the day of Judgement. The criterion for the last Judgment will not be the life on earth alone, but the entire life till the Judgment. Hence there is the relevance for our prayer on behalf of them while they are also praying for themselves and us.