We'll hold a funeral service this next week for my dear parishioner. We'll commune with him tomorrow around the table of our Lord. At the funeral, we'll pray for him. Tomorrow, we'll praise God with him.
For many who live, ecclesiastically, where I lived in years past, this all sounds strange--very strange. The person's dead. Why would you pray for him? What do you mean we'll praise God with him? commune with him?
Our protestant limitations in American Christianity (at least in the protestant sections--actually, probably in much of the catholic sections too) really do us no favors in understanding the Church of Jesus Christ. Broadly speaking, it tends to be thought of as all those who have accepted Jesus into their heart. That, of course, is just not the definition given in the Holy Scriptures. The Church is all those who are "in" Jesus (whether they remember saying the sinner's prayer is really besides the point). This getting into Jesus is by grace through faith and the operation of the Holy Ghost through Word and Sacrament (all that to say that I won't be getting into this stuff, I'm not trying to argue soteriology here).
If we remember that "all" those in Christ are in his Church, then we realize that when we worship with the whole Church, we worship with those that have gone before. Thus, we commune with our departed brother tomorrow at Christ's table, where all the Church communes.
Why do we pray for those who have gone before? Because our prayers do not just have to do with earthly things. We often pray for spiritual growth in Christ for each other here on earth. Why do we presume that such growth ceases to happen because we are departed from our bodies? Being without our bodies may mean that we are free of the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, but it doesn't mean that we have nothing else to learn. Unless we are like God when we die, which the Holy Scriptures seem to oppose, we still have much to learn. After all, Adam and Eve prior to the fall had much to learn--and they were without sin.
So, we pray for our brother at his funeral this week and thereafter. After all, he is a member of Christ's Church, and we are to pray for the Church--both here on earth and in the heavenlies.