1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Yesterday there were two deaths in the community that affected our congregation and its people.
Frank Brower was active here for several years, working especially with the youth.
Paul Smith attended here for many years, serving as an usher and in several other ways.
In the last 24 hours I have visited with the families of both of these men, helping them to navigate through the process of planning memorial services that will be appropiate to the memories of each of them. And one thing has really struck me – something that I have seen before, and that I believe I will always see when dealing with the families of a Christian who has died: there is a qualitative difference between the way that they grieve and the way that the families of non-Christians grieve.
It’s not that those who have passed on will be missed less by the Christians families. And it’s not that the pain of separation is any less. The family relationships in the Christian families are at least as strong, often much more so, in the Christian families.
I believe that the only explanation is that which Paul is referring to in the Scripture above. We do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope, becuase we, as Christians, DO have a strong hope. And the source of that hope is not just some religious idea that Jesus tried to put into our heads 2000 years ago. Instead, there is a deep and settled understanding that when our loved ones die, that they have not stopped existing. We know that they are now in the presence of the Lord whom they served and whose they have been. And the reason that we can know this with such certainty is that Jesus Himself made that journey through the gates of death and into the arms of God, and then returned to reassure us that it really was exactly as He had told us.
We also know that saying goodbye here in this world isn’t the end of the relationship with those we love. We will see them again, whether we pass through those same gates ourselves in just a short few years, or whether Jesus will return in the meantime, bringing with Him those who have gone before and receiving all of us who are left to Himself. And we have good evidence, both in the Bible and in the personal experience of those who have passed on before us, that we WIL