13 Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died [or fallen asleep] so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus. 15 What we are saying is a message from the Lord: we who are alive and still around at the Lord’s coming definitely won’t go ahead of those who have died.
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
From the beginning of the faith, Christians believed that the Jesus who came once in the incarnation was not gone forever, but would return to earth. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, Luke had not yet written Acts, but he traveled with Paul (cf. “we” in Acts 16:10). Believers must have regularly repeated the message he recorded in Acts 1. The Thessalonians’ question was not “Will Jesus return?” but rather, “When he does, will those who have died miss out?”
Lord Jesus, the Psalmist wrote about your presence in “the valley of the shadow of death.” Thank you for facing that valley before me, so that I can trust you when it casts its shadow over my life. Amen.
* Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (The New Testament for Everyone) . Westminster John Knox Press, p. 124. Kindle Edition.
As a pastor, I’ve officiated funerals for those who identify as Christian as well as those who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves in that way. Funerals are never easy, especially for the family who is experiencing deep loss. But the atmosphere is markedly different, and oddly made easier, if we are honoring someone whose faith was evident through their life. I’ve found myself thinking, and sometimes even sharing: “It is easy to honor them. Their life showed us who God was.”
In funerals like these, there is no mourning “like others who don’t have any hope.” The promise of lasting life and (re)union with God are what gets lifted up. For someone who believes, they trust that their last breath on earth is followed by their first breath in heaven. Within the bad news of death, these promises are good news…not just for the one who has passed on, but for all of us.
On the other hand, I have seen people get overwhelmed or even stuck in grief, often because they see death as the final word—as the true end. For them, it is extremely final. When I’ve officiated funerals for those who identify as non-religious or nominally religious, it is harder. It’s harder only because hope isn’t clear. Although I may believe the promises that are lifted up in the service, it doesn’t necessarily mean they do too.
When I’ve had the opportunity to sit at the bedside and speak with someone who knows they are dying, those moments reveal that no matter how you identify, hope seems to take over. I’ve yet to meet someone who knows they are in their last days who doesn’t want to pray.
This tells me that ultimately hope draws us in. May we mourn like those who have hope so that even in the worst news, the good news of the gospel is still present. Perhaps even more strongly than before. May we embrace hope in knowing that death doesn’t get the final word, that victory belongs to Jesus, and thus, to us as well.
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