From “A Sermon Preached in All Souls College” (1945)
“May they rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them” — those millions among whom our friends are, those millions for whom we cannot choose but pray; because prayer is a sharing in the love of the heart of God, and the love of God is earnestly set towards the salvation of his spiritual creatures, by, through, and out of the fire that purifies them.
The arithmetic of death perplexes our brains. What can we do but throw ourselves upon the infinity of God? It is only to a finite mind that number is an obstacle, or multiplicity a distraction. Our mind is like a box of limited content, out of which one thing must be emptied before another can find a place. The universe of creatures is queuing for a turn of our attention, and no appreciable part of the queue will ever get a turn. But no queue forms before the throne of everlasting mercy, because the nature of an infinite mind is to be simply aware of everything that is….
The thought God gives to any of his creatures is not measured by the attention he can spare, but by the object for consideration they can supply. God is not divided; it is God, not a part of God, who applies himself to the falling sparrow, and to the crucified Lord. But there is more in the beloved Son than the sparrow, to be observed, and loved, and saved by God. So every soul that has passed out of this visible world, as well as every soul remaining within it, is caught and held in the unwavering beam of divine care. And we may comfort ourselves for our own inability to tell the grains of sand, or to reckon the thousands of millions of the departed.
And yet we cannot altogether escape so; for our religion is not a simple relation of every soul separately to God, it is a mystical body in which we are all members one of another. And in this mystical body it does not suffice that every soul should be embraced by the thoughts of God; it has also to be that every soul should, in its thoughts, embrace the other souls. For apart from this mutual embracing, it would be unintelligible why we should pray at all, either for the living for the departed. Such prayer is nothing but the exercising of our membership in the body of Christ. God is not content to care for us each severally, unless he can also, by his Holy Spirit, in each one of us, care through and in us for all the rest. Every one f us is to be a focus of that divine life of which the attractive power holds the body together in one.
Austin Farrer (1904-1968) was an English Anglo-Catholic priest, philosopher, and theologian, who taught theology at Oxford for decades, serving for the last eight years of his life as warden of Keble College. He was a close friend and advisor to C. S. Lewis and his sermons were greatly admired in his lifetime and published after his death.