Let us pray: Dear Savior, today our thoughts go toward heaven and all our loved ones who have preceded us there. What a huge blessing to know that their souls rest secure in Your love. What a huge blessing to know that we’re going to be reunited there with them through the power of Your resurrection. What a blessing to have the emptiness of death replaced in our lives with the fullness of heavenly joy. Lord, today accept our Thanksgiving for it all. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST THE LORD OF GLORY!
TEXT: I Thess. 4: 13-18
Dearly Beloved By Christ Who Are Awaiting Glory:
In the more modern church year calendar, this day is known as: Saint’s Triumphant Sunday. One of the current customs for this day is to recall all the members who died during the previous 12 months, to recount their names, and then to number them as new saints along with the old. It provides a glorious symmetry for those of us left here in time.—Our loved ones may be physically gone, but they are not forgotten, and soon we will join them amid that glorious chorus of praise in heaven. But, meanwhile, we’ll have to be content to sing our hymns of glory with them antiphonally. That is, we sing from here on earth; they sing from heaven, and God gets to enjoy it from both sides at the same time!
This past year our congregation was blessed not to send any new saints to reign with Jesus in glory. We had no funerals. We had no tearful funeral services. Meanwhile we did have various infant baptisms where little ones were given their future sainthood papers—signed, sealed and delivered to them by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Well, since all of us look forward to heavenly sainthood, and since today’s lesson further instructs us as to the what and how of it, let’s briefly review Paul’s holy words.
Did you ever notice that when opinion polls about an afterlife hit the news, the vast majority of respondents really believe in an afterlife? Likewise, most say they believe in heaven while few acknowledge the reality of hell. The rational behind all that should be obvious: we humans like “good news” and shy away from negative news impacting us. However, when death strikes our family, no amount of “happy talk” and make-believe reality will cushion the emotional blow. At such times we need facts, answers that are true, and the comfort that only Divine truth can bring. Well, that’s exactly what St. Paul provides us in our text. Listen to his opening words to his fellow saints in Thessalonika: “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.”
Here Paul likens a believer’s death to sleep. It is a long respite for the body from which eventually both the body and the spirit will arise totally refreshed! Try telling that to the non-believer who has just lost his wife, or whose child lies lifeless in a casket? They may say: “He or she looks very peaceful. They almost look as if they were asleep.” But inwardly, such souls are churning and being ripped apart because they have no certainty of any reunion, ever. And “ever” is a very, very long time.
However, you and I don’t have to live under that black cloud of uncertainty! Listen to how Paul goes on: “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.” Most often the word “hope” means some unrealized and perhaps never-realized possibility. My friends, that’s not what Christian hope means at all. No, for us Christian hope means certainty. It means beyond any doubt. It means fact. It means reality that we just haven’t yet fully seen. Christ arose from the dead. He is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. And just as He promised to return visibly at the end of times, so He will bring with Him all those glorious saints who are sleeping in their graves. It is on the basis of this truth that we Christians are the most confident of all people inhabiting planet earth!
How will all this exactly occur? “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.”
Christians will arise before any unbeliever comes forth from their grave. Christians are the first-fruits of God and the ultimate fruits of the resurrection. Saints are saints because Christ has made them holy. He has put His righteousness upon them. He has clothed them with eternal forgiveness. He has wrapped them in His grace. And He has sealed their lives through the Spirit by giving them the gift of faith to grasp all these blessings. Of course He’ll want His saints to be reunited with their bodies first and to experience resurrected bliss without any more delays!
“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.”
The word pictures here are fascinating. I can picture a whole army of saints floating in the air and amid the clouds, clustering around Christ. I can see the faithful believers who remained alive at the end times then joining this army and the entire avalanche of saints progressing into heaven amid angelic choirs, heavenly trumpets, and the iridescent walls of the heavenly mansions. Moreover, I don’t have to just dream about this, or “hope” for it, no; it will be and is my reality and your reality! Wow! Talk about an “upper!” So, when Paul ends by saying: “Encourage each other with these words” he means just that—give courage to each other by focusing on the One and Only Source of never-ending strength, Jesus Christ. Amen