Thursday of Pentecost 24 – I Thessalonians 4:13-18 

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

My parents are both gone. They are buried in a country church cemetery in rural Iowa, next to the infant daughter whom they lost before I was born. I live thousands of miles away and cannot get to their grave very often. A dear friend, a man I went to high school with, happens to be a member of that parish. He puts flowers on their graves for us and for himself. My folks were both good to him when he was young.

Paul wants us to be informed so we do not grieve like others. Sometimes, I think, people have imagined that this means Christians are not supposed to grieve at all. But that is not what Paul says. He urges us not to grieve like those who have no hope. We still grieve, but we grieve in hope. For Paul that word “hope” was stronger than it is for us. Often when we use the word “hope” we mean something which is unlikely to happen. A better translation might be “expectation.” We have laid our loved ones in a grave with an expectation which Paul articulates for us in the rest of these verses. We expect the Lord will descend with a commanding shout, amplified by arch-angelic shouts and the blast of a trumpet. That cry will not be for you and me but for those, like my parents, who lie in graves. And they shall rise from death in new life. Together, we will always be with the Lord. Their death, all death, will be undone.

That is what we expect, what we count on happening. And, as a result, our grief is tempered. We still grieve. I want to go to that grave and stand there for a moment, just to feel the absence of my parents. I hope my friend can come with me for a shared grief is a lighter for the sharing. But my grieving is tempered by hope. The smiles, love, and laughter I miss because my parents are dead will be restored to me. I am glad Paul and the Lord Jesus do not want me to be uninformed. I cannot imagine my grief without my hope.

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