Hope and Grief Living Together – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
On December 1, 1975, just after nightfall, I received the phone call from Folkston, GA Momma had died. An 8.6 magnitude earthquake rocked my world followed by an otherworldly tsunami. I was 15 and I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Surviving this seemed impossible.
Events like Momma’s death affect all people regardless of one’s relationship with Jesus. They are painful. The pain of death is universal. How we handle that pain is not. I am often troubled in the world of church how often we equate expressing the pain as being contrary to true faith. I reject that notion. When a person is stabbed, they scream; saved or not.
As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, (Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) he had to deal with two very powerful realities:
The return of Jesus was not as immediate as some had believed.
Those who died before Jesus’ return were considered lost.
Death was real for the early believers, just as it is for us. What we think about death and the life to come is the repository for our hope.
Frequently, this text is used to say that grief is a demonstration of having no hope. Paul’s comparison is not grief versus no grief. Rather, it is hope versus no hope. Key elements of this theme are also captured in 1 Corinthians 15: (Read the chapter! It is awesome!)
The timing of Jesus’ return does not alter the eternal hope given when one accepts the Christ.
Death is already a defeated foe.
There will be a family reunion of believers (queue the O’Jays singing “Family Reunion”).
I love old school music. I especially love vinyl records. One of the biggest fears for a vinyl record was for the record to get a scratch. With a scratch, the needle (stylus, for you audiophiles) would get stuck in the same place on the record causing the record to skip. You would have to give the needle a little nudge so the music would continue. If the scratch was large enough, the needle would have to be nudged a few times during the course of a single play. Sometimes you would have to buy a new vinyl if the record was too badly scratched. Unlike vinyls, death doesn’t give us the option of buying a new reality. So we are encouraged that when our life (the vinyl record) is marred by death (scratched), hope (the nudge) helps our lives get back on track.
November marked the 40th anniversary of Momma’s death. Since she died, I often think about the wound of her absence. But this time it felt different. I couldn’t remember the sound of Momma’s voice. This pain hit my heart as I prepared Resurrection for worship service. I shared this personal moment with my church family as I was not sure I could lead the service. They prayed and encouraged me. Even with a heavy heart, I continued to lead worship. Why? I had the hope that I will see Momma again for a little family reunion.