I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
“We do not grieve as those who have no hope,”
writes Paul to the Thessalonians. Yet we still grieve. Elsewhere, Paul calls death “the final enemy.” And when that enemy touches your life - snatching from your loving grasp those whom you love - you grieve. Grief is normal. Grief is natural.
Randy Jones, my Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor, used to teach us often about “Grief work”. And having myself engaged in over an hour of grief work with a member of another church just recently, I affirm that for griever and pastor, that is just how it feels. It is hard, tough work.
“The hour of lead” is how Emily Dickinson named grief.
And it isn’t just in the few days afterward. Grief goes on. The way I figure it, in our congregation, on any given , over 80% of us are in grief over someone. That’s why we weep at the funerals of near strangers. That’s why we avoid funeral homes. Grief keeps coming back at odd times, grabbing us from behind, and throwing us into deep sadness.
Loss has so many tentacles that hold us in their grip. Personally, any time that I read in the paper, see a television show or movies that includes the suffering or death of a young child I am frequently moved to tears which harkens back to the death from cancer of my three year old daughter, Melanie.
Paul says that we grieve. Yet, we do not grieve “as those who have no hope.” Hope for what”
Here’s what Christians hope. We hope that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, shall raise us as well. We hope that just as Christ ventured forth from the realm of death into life, so shall He take us along with Him.
Our hope is not unfounded, not wishful thinking. Our hope for the future is based upon what we know of Christ Jesus in the present. In “Romans” 8, Paul says that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. If our experience with Christ Jesus has taught us one thing, it is that our God longs to be with us, will do almost anything to be near us, will go to any lengths to have us.
That is the story that we recite and celebrate every here at St. Andrew’s. In the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets, the Law, the Commandments, the psalms; in Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection, God sought us.
When Jesus was resurrected, what did He do, first thing after He was raised? He came back to us, to His disciples who had betrayed Him.
That is the basis of our hope. We are confident that the God who has gone to such extraordinary lengths to be close to us in life, shall not cease those efforts in death. Therefore, we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
We believe that the same God who so pursued us, and reached out to us, and sought us all the days of our lives shall not cease to pursue us, reach out to us and seek us even in death.
Our hope is not in some vague and wishful immortality of the soul, or the expectation of some eternal spark that just goes on and on, or in reincarnation, or any other assumption that we possess within ourselves immortality.
Our hope is that the love of God is stronger than the devastation of death; that ultimately, nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. God, having gone to such great lengths to save us and have us in life, will continue to demand us even in death. That is why we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
This is the hope that we experience here in worship at St. Andrew’s. Having experienced, on so many Sundays, Jesus’ coming to us, being really present to us in Word and Sacrament, we hope for and count on His presence with us forever.
Our hope is not that we are immortal, not that some eternal spark lives on in us, surviving death. Our hope is that we will, by the work and will of God, be with Jesus forever. Death, the final enemy has been defeated.
So think of Sundays as dress rehearsals for eternal life. Think of our experiences of worship as our way of loving Jesus now, so that we might love Him forever, and praise God for all eternity.
“Because I live, you shall live,” Christ Jesus tells His followers in the Gospel according to John. That’s why we have hope. Encourage one another with these words.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.