Death calls for action, not platitudes

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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)

“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18). The preceding verses (4:11-17) about the return of Christ, entry into eternal life and reunion with those who have died in the past can be dismissed as a myth created to cushion grief.

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Bishop William Hobart Hare’s body awaits Christ’s return. Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls

Except that the words “encourage one another,” in Greek, mean something like “come alongside one another to encourage, advocate, counsel and comfort.” They are not pious words to create an emotional band aid, but the recognition that loss and grief are real, should not be borne without help, and are an injury to the soul requiring the spiritual equivalent of physical therapy after major surgery.

The verse is not saying, “There, there. So and so is in heaven. So get over it and have closure.” It is saying, “We are all suffering horribly under the power of sin and death. Let’s help one another keep going toward the hope that is in Jesus.”

It isn’t just comfort, it is a call to hard work with a promise of great reward.

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