"Are you part of the body?". This question was kind of a running joke in youth group because it sounded all creepy & cult-like. But what does it actually mean to be a part of "The Body"? And, are we speaking only of living, breathing human beings who walk this earth or the entire spectrum of saints past & present- even the communion of saints? Are those who died 2,000 years ago, 200 years ago or 20 minutes ago still part of The Body? The Catholic says yes, and apparently so does God.
God said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"... (note the present tense) Therefore, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:32 [ESV]
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him." 1 Thess. 5:9-10 [ESV]
Then there's the Transfiguration. Both Moses & Elijah were present with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-3) Were they figments of the imagination? Mere ghosts? James & John saw them & Peter was so overwhelmed that He was ready to put up tents for everyone. Now that would have been some camp out! The point is, these are examples of saints who experienced the sleep of death & yet "live". Moses died an old man & Elijah was taken into heaven alive. His "death", like Enoch, was death in the sense that it was a separation from the confines of this earth. I imagine Mary experienced something similar upon her own assumption (Assuming, of course, that tradition bears the truth). Are Moses, Elijah, Enoch & Mary still part of The Body? I would venture to say they are every bit a part of The Body as they were when they were clothed in flesh & blood thousands of years ago.
But what purpose can they serve from the other side? Perhaps that's where the understanding of intercession comes in- they may not be able to enjoy physical union along side us in this world, but they can intercede for the members of The Body that remain here. The "dead" are not cut off from The Body anymore than we are not cut off from Christ just because He is seated at the right hand of God. Even He intercedes to the Father for us. In fact, He lives to make intercession for us.
If there is a communion of saints, awake or asleep (that is, technically alive or dead), are we treating with disrespect those who have left this earth before us? They are dead & gone... at best, sleeping & awaiting the day of Christ's return, right? Maybe. But what if they're truly alive & still able to function as members of this Body? Are we overlooking the potential spiritual contributions of our dearly departed brothers & sisters?