Monday, December 6, 2010

Saturday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Vv. 13-14 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

Arguably, this may be the most important passage in the whole of the Bible about death. Clearly the Thessalonians were troubled by it. They mourned their dead. They were unsure what happened to them. At this point in time the pressing question was probably, “What happens to those who die before the Lord comes again?”

It’s important to note here that Paul does not say, “Do not grieve.” No one could ask that of us, although I have found over the years that many people try to stamp out grief as quickly as possible. “There, there. Don’t cry,” an aunt told 11 year old me when my grandmother died. She meant well, but I needed to cry (even more, I needed someone to talk to me, but that’s another story). We need to teach our children that grief is OK, sadness is OK. We also, of course, need to teach them about hope. There is a qualitative difference between grief with hope and grief without hope. That is what Paul is telling the Thessalonians.

While I’m on this topic let me say a word about closure (which, I know, many of you have heard about before from me). I do not believe in “closure,” in fact, I think it is a terrible thing to try to foist on someone. Obviously, because of our hope, our grief matures over time, and if it doesn’t we need to seek some help (in which there is no shame whatsoever). But one of the glories of Christian faith is that we don’t ever have to let go of relationship with anybody. We call it the communion of saints. Does our relationship change with someone after they have died? Of course. Does it end? Absolutely not. Is it OK to feel occasional sadness or grief even years after their death? Of course it is. I’m 49 years old and still occasionally shed a tear or two for my grandmother, whom I still miss very much. But I know she is still with me “with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” when we gather at the Altar. Therein lies my hope, which ever keeps me from despair.

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