Standard Church of England Teaching

Anglican view on Death

The reality is that Anglicans believe all sorts of things! Although there is an Anglican orthodoxy, - which we will try to present here - if you asked a dozen Anglicans what they thought happened after death, you would get at least thirteen answers!

Most would start from the resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter day. Some will see that as a spiritual rather than physical resurrection, but most would point to the lengths the Gospel writers go to to emphasise the fleshliness of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Mary clings to him, embracing him. Thomas handles his wounds. He asks for something to eat. He cooks breakfast…..You might want to dismiss these as glosses designed to give credence to a far-fetched notion, but once you go down that road, there is no knowing where to stop. The Church has traditionally seen these bits of evidence as divinely inspired reminders of a key item of belief; that Jesus experienced new life in his original body.

And he promises us the same, in the way he promised the penitent crook crucified with him. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” But what of the transfiguration, when Jesus took his three closest friends up the mountain and “was transfigured before them” and then had Moses and Elijah appear with him? How can that be reconciled with a physical continuity after death? Transfiguration is itself not inconsistent with physicality. After all. Peter was concerned about sunstroke and offered to make benders for each of them to protect them from the power of the sun. He evidently saw them as physical beings. (Sure, he was so overcome he did not know what he was saying, but his reaction is nonetheless suggestive.)

Nonetheless there is a difficulty with the way the resurrected come and go. Jesus seems to pass through walls or shut doors with no problems; Moses and Elijah come and go on the mountain top. Jesus finally “ascends” with his earthly body. Can we have it both ways - a physical body such as we know now; but one that does not always follow the rules of matter? There is no easy way through this impasse. The resurrected body is the same but different - and that will be true of our bodies after death.

The church has traditionally (at least since the third century) insisted that after death we remain social creatures who enjoy each other’s company. That is what is meant by the credal statement of “the communion of saints”. It is a great pity that this credal belief is so seldom taught or talked about today. What it is saying is that after death we remain communicative, social beings, with our attention focussed on the Holy Trinity but relating to those around us. Heaven, then, is where we develop relationships that are healthy and holy.

So what does this mean for someone weeping for a loved one? It means that they still exist; they have a “life” and that we shall be reunited with them in a state of eternal blessedness. We grieve the separation from them - but we believe it is only temporary. And we believe that they are, in their present way of being, happier than they have ever been.