Last Saturday we had the opportunity to do family file work at the temple. We did initiatories followed by an endowment session. As my husband and I are the only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that were or ever probably will be, the family history aka genealogy task lays with us. The temple rites are a symbolic rescue of deceased ancestors who do not have a way to help themselves progress beyond this life. In a way it is similar to the Catholic masses of intentions said on behalf of loved ones beyond the veil in purgatory. Both Catholic and Mormon temple rituals must be done by the living in order to help the departed progress. It is a mystery (in the Catholic use of that word) that the dead need the living even though they are not part of this physical world. Their spirits are stranded at some point along the way and are brought home to their Creator, God, by efficacious rituals.
Our temple work takes quite a while to complete for each individual yet God commissions us, or I should say, the entire church is commissioned, to perform the appropriate rituals in order to unite families across the chasm of time and space. For Catholics, ancestors’ purgatorial experience is characterized as personally challenging with restitution affixed to certain mortal sins. Prayers and masses said on behalf of the dead are believed to relieve the duration and perhaps severity of repentance.
LDS do not have purgatory per se, but ancestors are believed to be taught and able to repent in some fashion after death yet cannot progress without the necessary ordinances being made available along their journey. To be clear, post mortal ordinances are required for those who did not personally obtain them in mortality. No additional prayers or rituals have been revealed to be required. Yet, some ancestors will not be in a ‘paradise’ after this life as their rejection of the gospel, their personal choices to sin without repentance, their disobedience , sent them to spirit prison where one last attempt is made to teach, convert and call to repentance. Still, be it temple work or mass of intention, there is a lovely outreach across the veil which ties into the Dunkirk experience.
Recently we watched the film Dunkirk at the IMAX. I really enjoyed this movie for a variety of reasons , which will not be addressed here. Although Dunkirk was a historical event highlighting the horrors of war, I pictured the mission of bringing countrymen home to England as perhaps filled with spiritual meaning. The ‘living” civilians set with the task of crossing the English Channel to rescue the ‘dead’ or ‘would be dead’ soldiers. This resonated with temple work in the living not only perform ordinances but first must seek out ancestor’s vital information then submitting and performing the necessary ordinances considered salvific.
The ancestors stuck on the Dunkirk beach those without the keys to be released from their prison and gain fullest admission into God’s presence. For those departed who were not valiant after mortality they initially land in spirit prison. Hazards in the form of lack of personal repentance, spiritual knowledge or acceptance of the Savior’s gospel keep them pinned at a supernatural beach. Similar to the action of some British soldiers, those who inhabit spirit prison may have despaired, committed atrocities against others to gain advantage, deceived and lied, believing that they would not be held accountable. On the other hand, spiritual ‘paradise’ is a place for those who were heroic, compassionate, valued honor and duty, but they still need rescuers to get them all the way ‘home’. English rescue boats and temple work come for both the heroic as well as the non-valiant.
Across the sea came boats big and small, all with the singular goal of bringing home the troops. These rescuers faced their own obstacles and made very dear sacrifices to reach the stranded. Not all survived the journey, as not all of us living will be able to find our ancestors and complete all the necessary work during our own lifetime.
At Dunkirk, the enemy did everything in its power to prevent successful rescue by attacking mercilessly from air, land, and sea. Older men and boys risked life and limb in their private vessels to rescue their compatriots symbolized intergenerational outreach. “Turn heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal 4: 6)) This reminds me of temple work that traverses time and space similar to the timeline arc in the film wherein land takes place over a week, sea –one day, air—one hour. As the timelines merge at the climax of the film, we see a convergence of perspectives before they again diverge in reverse order in terms of timeline. Perhaps this is how our omnipresent God operates in past, present, and future simultaneously. Anyways, in operation Dunkirk, as in the temple, both ends of humanity (living and dead) struggle to unite individual families and harvest the family of mankind while the adversary attacked by land, sea and air to thwart this rescue plan of salvific temple work. In all of this, we know the ending from the beginning in terms of victory in salvation and Dunkirk history.