The communion of saints, the spiritual unity of all people in Christ, whether on earth or in heaven, is not a doctrine that is often seen to have great practical import. For Martin Luther (1483-1546), however, this is not the case. In this selection, drawn from a sermon on preparing to die from 2 Kings 6:8-17, the reformer speaks of the comfort, support, and confidence that the cloud of witnesses can provide. He uses the experience of Elisha as an example, teaching that it was the communion of saints in heaven who surrounded him as a mass of horses and chariots of fire to give confidence and protection from the invading Syrians.


In the hour of his death no Christian should doubt that they are not alone. They can be certain, as the sacraments point out, that a great many eyes are on them: first, the eyes of God and of Christ himself, for the Christian believes his words and clings to his sacraments; then also, the eyes of the dear angels, of the saints and of all Christians. There is no doubt, as the sacrament of the altar indicates, that all of these in a body run to him as one of their own, help them overcome sin, death and hell, and bear all things with him. In that hour the word of love and the communion of saints are seriously and mightily active. Christians must see this for themselves and have no doubt regarding it, for then they will be bold in death. The one who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable sacrament of the body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised and pledged the communion, help, love, comfort and support of all the saints in all times of need. If you believe in the signs and words of God, his eyes rest on you, as he says in Psalm 32,“Firmabo, etc., my eyes will constantly be on you lest you perish.” If God looks on you, all the angels, saints and all creatures will fix their eyes on you. And if you remain in that faith, all of them will uphold you with their hands. And when your soul leaves your body, they will be on hand to receive it, and you cannot perish. This is borne out in the person of Elisha, who according to 2 Kings 6 said to his servant, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This he said although enemies had surrounded them and they could see nothing but these. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and they were surrounded by a huge mass of horses and chariots of fire. The same is true of everyone who trusts God.

1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, eds. Derek Cooper and Martin Lohrmann. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT vol. 5, p. 430.