"And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
A couple of years ago, Shaun and I had a really bad year. We lost our youngest baby followed closely by the sudden and unexpected death of my uncle. On the heels of that, we lost Shaun's grandpa. And then, as if that wasn't enough, we lost Shaun's best friend and father, Bruce. It was a horrific year for us. We lost four amazing people that we cared about deeply. We said goodbye too many times. We struggled through all of it in a fog. It felt like we were thrust into a raging stormy ocean. We were being tossed about and pushed under water. It was so hard to keep our heads above that water and not feel like we were drowning. We couldn't see the edge of the storm. We had no idea when it would end or if it would end. All we knew was the searing pain of loss.
The one and only thing that kept us going through it all was Jesus' promise, repeated here by Paul. I'm going to share it again to really drive it home:
"Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus."
I can't imagine what our lives would be like without the knowledge that we will see all of these people again and that they are in God's care. I can't possibly understand how anyone who doesn't believe these words with their entire being could go on living a good life after all of the loss we experienced four years ago. I know that heaven is for real and that we will be reunited with all of our loved ones one day. I have the promise of the Master to back it up:
" And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us." (1 Thessalonians 4:15)
Paul goes on to explain further:
"The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
We've all lost someone. Many of us have lost a lot more than one someone in our lives. We know that death is part of our lives here on earth because we live in an imperfect, sin-filled place. When God allowed death to enter the world, I don't think it was actually a punishment but a mercy extended to us. Can you imagine living here on earth for all eternity? Struggling through life, through the muck and the mess that we all create? Because I can't. One day we will all die. We will all be mourned.
I'm not going to pretend that I "get" all of this or that it's an easy thing to talk about. I can't even pretend to have a lot to say about it. It's an actual struggle to come up with many words for this post that will do it justice or make any sense at all. I just can't seem to come up with anything else that even closely compares to what Paul has already said on the matter. The words of the Bible really stand on their own in this case.
And I'm not alone in this thinking, I'm sure. I googled various commentaries on these verses. One of the commentaries that I clicked on was a mere three paragraphs. Paul is very black and white here. These verses don't NEED further interpretation.
I'm going to wrap things up here and just pray for us:
Dear Lord, we have all suffered through the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives. Many of us have lost a lot of people that were close to us. Comfort us today, Lord, as we remember them. Help us to remember that we will see our loved ones again. Thank you for the gift of your son and for always being right by our side no matter what. We love you, God. Amen.