November 12, 2017 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Epistle reading. “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.” Here ends the text.
There’s something I call the hope of Hollywood. Maybe you’ve seen it on TV or at the movies. A young child has just lost his father or mother or grandparent. He’s crying and grieving that he’s separated from them. A well meaning adult tries to comfort the child with these words. “You know, they’re not really dead as long as we remember them. They still live on in our thoughts and memories.” And the child says, “Really? Is that true.” And the adult says, “Sure it is. You just keep remembering them and you’ll always be together.” Somehow these words are supposed to comfort the child.
But this hope of Hollywood is really no hope at all. And these words are really not comforting. Think about it. What if we don’t remember them? Will they cease to live on? What happens when we die? We won’t be around to remember them. Do they then perish from existence? And who will remember us? For how long? Is this how we will live on? In someone else’s memories. That’s not really living and that’s not really being together. This false hope isn’t based on knowledge or truth but on ignorance. It totally ignores our sin and how it separates us. It totally ignores God and how he truly brings us back together. You see,
OUR SIN SEPARATES US, BUT JESUS CHRIST BRINGS US BACK TOGETHER.
In our Epistle lesson, the apostle Paul was separated from the church in the city of Thessalonica. He had been preaching there for three weeks. He was winning converts of Jews and Gentiles. But some of the Jews became jealous. They persecuted this new church and so Paul had to flee for his life. This sin of jealousy and persecution separated Paul from the Thessalonians. And so he could only write to them in letters.
But the Thessalonians were also separated. During their separation from Paul, some of their loved ones had died. Sin had separated them for the wages of sin is death. They grieved about this separation. They grieved about three things.
First they grieved about their fellow believer who died. Death is the separation of the body and the soul. Sin had brought this death which separates body and soul. They grieved that their loved one would never be whole again, that their body and soul would never be together again. You’ve seen this. You go to the funeral of your loved one. Before the casket is closed, you see their body. This is the same body that you’ve hugged or kissed or held hands with. This is your loved one. But it’s not your loved one. They can no longer look at you, tell you what their thinking, or hold your hand. Their soul has departed. Will they ever be whole again, body and soul, or will they be forever separated?
Second, the Thessalonians grieved that they were separated from their loved one. When Jesus returned, would he only come for those who still lived? Would those believers who died be left behind? Would they ever see them again? Will you ever see your grandparents, your parents, or your husband or wife again after they die? Or are they just a memory? Will you be forever separated?
Finally, the Thessalonians grieved that their loved ones would be separated from God. When Adam and Eve sinned, God told them that they would now die, that they would return to dust. He banished them from the garden. They were separated from God. Did the death of their loved one because of their sin mean that God had banished them. Were they now separated from God? What will happen when we die? Will we be forever separated from God?
Paul writes to the Thessalonians to answer these questions. He says, “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.” Paul didn’t want them to be ignorant, like the pagans or Hollywood. He knew they grieved the death of their loved ones, but he didn’t want them to grieve like those who had no hope or only false hope. He wanted them to know the truth. And so he tells them clearly what will happen on the Last Day when Jesus comes again. He doesn’t tell them a parable or an apocalyptic vision, but he uses plain words. He says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Paul tells them the basis for their hope. On the cross, Jesus was separated from his loved ones, his disciples. On the cross Jesus was separated from his Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” On the cross Jesus was separated in body and soul. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then he gave up the ghost. But at his resurrection Jesus was reunited in body and soul. For forty days he was reunited with his disciples. Upon his ascension into heaven, he was reunited with his Father. And since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we will be reunited as well. Since Jesus died for our sin which separates us, since Jesus rose from death which separates us, through this same Jesus, God will bring us together again.
On the Last Day, Jesus will bring with him the souls of the departed saints. Paul refers to those saints who have died as those who have fallen asleep. And for the Christian death really is like sleep. When you sleep, your body is at rest, but your mind can still be working. You dream. You experience emotions of anxiety and fear. You command your body to run, to get away, but it just lies there. You feel the joy of flying, but your body is still in bed. Both body and mind exist, but they’re not connected. So at the time of death, your body and soul separate. They both still exist but they’re not connected. Your body rests in the ground but your soul immediately enjoys the bliss of being with Jesus in heaven. Just like when Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” His soul would. But his body would be buried in the ground.
On the Last Day Jesus will come. He will bring with him our souls and wake up our bodies. Just like he did for Jairus’s daughter. “She is not dead, but only asleep.” Just like he did for Lazarus. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.” And Jesus did. He raised them both. In the same way Jesus will wake us from the dead. He will bring our body and soul together again. So death is not something we need fear. We aren’t afraid to put our heads down on our pillows at night and go to sleep. We know we’ll wake up again to a new day. And so also we need not fear putting our heads down on the pillows of death and falling asleep. Jesus will wake up our bodies to a glorious eternal day.
And there will be a certain order to this. It’ll be age before beauty. The ones who are yet alive when the Lord comes will not precede those who sleep. “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.” Jesus will give a cry of command that cannot be ignored. Like “Lazarus come out!” The trumpet of God will sound like a bugler playing revelry. The whole camp awakens and comes to life. The dead in Christ, believers in him, will rise first. No more separation of body and soul. The two will be together forever.
But also there’ll be no more separation of those who are awake and those who are asleep. No more separation between the saints in heaven and saints on earth. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds.” After the dead in Christ rise first, the ones who are alive will be caught up together with them. We will see our loved ones, our fellow believers again. Just like one of those family reunions when we get to see relatives we haven’t seen in years. No more separation. We’ll be together forever.
And finally, we’ll no longer be separated from our Lord. We will meet the Lord in the air and so we’ll be together with the Lord forever. We won’t just dream about flying, we’ll actually fly in body and soul. We’ll fly to meet Jesus. We’ll be together with him.
Now these are words of hope, words of encouragement. Not “I’m sorry about your loved one.” Not “They’ll still live on in our minds.” But “We’ll live on with them in body and soul. We’ll live together with them and together with the Lord.” Encourage one another with these words.
You see, that’s what Jesus does. Sin separates. By death sin separates body and soul. Sin separates us from our loved ones. Sin separates us from our God. But Jesus brings together again. He brings our body and soul back together. He brings us together with our loved ones. He brings us together with God.
Yes we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus who died and rose again for us. Jesus brings us together forever. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.