“Grieve Not as Those Who Have No Hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Louise lived a good, long life. Eighty-seven years is an above-average lifespan. And yet death always comes as a bit of a shock. True, Louise was not in good health these past few years, her heart was weak, and she was in the hospital just a couple of weeks ago. And yet–and yet her death still jolts us. That familiar face, that familiar voice–we won’t have Louise around anymore. And that hurts us. We will miss her.
And so we grieve. We feel the loss. Particularly for Louise’s immediate family, her death may mean some major changes in our life, transitions and adjustments we must now make. For Louise’s friends, for Louise’s fellow members here at St. Matthew’s–and she was a member here for many years–we too will miss her. I know I will miss her gentle spirit. I was able to visit with Louise a couple of weeks ago when she was in the hospital. She greeted me warmly, and she was receptive to hearing the word of God and grateful for the prayers of the church. Louise’s body may have been weak, but her spirit was strong, her faith was strong. There was no doubt she knew Christ Jesus her Savior.
A dear sister in the Lord, a dear mother and friend–Louise will be missed. We grieve her loss. And yet–and yet, in the words of Paul to the Thessalonians, we “do not grieve as others who have no hope.” Yes, we grieve, but at the same time we know the hope we have in Christ, the same hope Louise had and in which she died. And so my message to you today is the same as Paul told the Thessalonians: “Grieve Not as Those Who Have No Hope.”
This hope comforts us; it gives us strength to carry on. The hope we have in Christ gives us strength and courage to face our own mortality, for we too will surely die. The clock is ticking. The day is coming when our time here will come to an end. Our old ticker will finally give out. So how do we face that prospect with courage and hope?
Our hope is in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead and the eternal life that he gives us. Our courage comes from knowing the good things that are in store for us, all of us who know and trust in Christ. Jesus takes the sting and the fear and the power out of death. Christ has disarmed death, defeated it decisively. He did this by way of his own death on our behalf. Let me explain.
Death always comes as an alien intruder. Human beings were not meant to die. Even what we consider a good long life, say, of eighty-seven years–this is but a brief moment when compared to what should have been. And our years, however long or short they may be, are full of trouble, hurt, conflict, disease, loss and grief, and finally death. This is not the way it was supposed to be. No, God our Creator created us to live life in abundance, in beauty and harmony, in joyous communion with him and with one another.
But we went and messed it all up. We thought we knew better than the God who made us. Man still thinks this way. This sin is evident in the world around us. The headlines blare the news every day of how we mess things up and hurt one another, going against our Creator’s beautiful design. But it’s not just people “out there.” It’s us, too. You know it. I know it. I see this sinful tendency in myself, and, if you’re honest, you see it in the way that you live. And Louise was no different. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And death comes as the result. It is the curse that has come upon sinful mankind. But that is why Christ came, to undo the curse, to rescue us poor sinners who could not save ourselves. Jesus did this by becoming one of us, sharing our humanity and bearing our burden. He took the heavy load of our sin and guilt to the cross, there taking the judgment in our place.
Having done this, having won the victory over sin and death, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father. The good news of Christ our Savior has gone out into all the world, and all who trust in him receive the forgiveness and the eternal life he won for us. “All who believe and are baptized shall see the Lord’s salvation.” This is true for Louise. This is true for you, dear Christian. Christ is your righteousness and your hope. Christ is your everlasting life.
Yes, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from heaven to do the will of his Father–which means, Christ came down from heaven to give life to the world. Here is Jesus’ promise to you: Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him has eternal life, and, Jesus says, “I will raise him up on the last day.” You who trust in Christ–you have eternal life right now. That means death has no power over you. Death cannot separate you from your Lord Jesus Christ. You are safe with your Lord forever. Death does not change that. And Christ will raise you up, raise your body, on the last day.
Christ takes the sting and the terror out of death. That is why, when we talk about the death of Christians, we say that they have “fallen asleep” in the Lord. That’s because sleep is something you get up from. And we will be getting up! When Christ comes again on the last day, the trumpet will sound, and Christ will call us out of our graves, and we will rise to meet him. The return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting in a restored creation, once again all of us at peace and harmony with God and with one another–this is our great hope. Louise now rests in peace, her soul alive with the Lord, her body awaiting the day of resurrection, when it will be raised new and glorious and strong, no longer subject to the weakness and woes of this life.
So grieve not for Louise. She is safe and secure with her Lord, delivered from this vale of tears. And grieve not her loss–at least grieve not as those who have no hope. You do have hope, fellow Christians, and that puts your grief into perspective. For we have a Savior who will deliver us from eternal judgment and who will give us eternal life, life in his presence, life forever with the whole family of God. Christ is coming again, and we look forward to that day. If we are still around on the day when he returns–fine, great, wonderful, hallelujah! If we fall asleep before he returns, like Louise did–well, same thing, fine, great, wonderful, hallelujah! We are at no loss, for we too will rise to meet our Lord. Either way, we win. Because our Lord Jesus has won the victory for us, and he shares that victory with us.
Grieve not as those who have no hope. Indeed, dear friends, we have the greatest hope of all. Our hope is in Christ. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” God will bring our sister Louise with Christ, and he will bring us too. Our Lord will raise us up on the last day. “And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”