send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died[a] so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.[b] 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died[c] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.
5 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters,[d] we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.
4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.[e] 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 7 Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce
I wonder if you ever think about life after death, or for that matter Jesus coming again? Its not something we like to talk about is it? And yet we have so much to give us hope that we should be not only talking about it but encouraging one another as Paul urges. It is striking to me that although we rarely want to talk about it both the bible and the lectionary talk quite a lot about ‘The coming of the Lord.’ Think back to some of those heavy-going days in advent when all the readings are of judgement and the second coming, or indeed again in lent we can often find it as a theme. But what if it wasn’t something we avoided like the plague?
I suspect one of the reasons we scantly pass by is that now death so rarely touches our lives, whereas in Paul’s time it was all around, with no medical care, no food if harvests failed, accident, arrest and a hostile occupying power, death was very much nearer to Paul and his comrades, which meant they thought and spoke about it much more and in turn were much more prepared. This is one of few passages in the bible which deals not just with the return of Jesus but also with what happens to those who have died and to those still living on his return.
For the early Christians Jesus’ immanent return was expected, anticipated even, and yet as it says, he will come ‘like a thief in the night.’ In other words, no one knows when that might be, and so we are always to be prepared for we just don’t know when our time will come.
Here Paul is being pastoral though. Not focusing on our own mortality but on giving hope to those who mourn. Don’t grieve like people with no hope – instead let faith give hope, we believe Jesus died and rose again, and so too do we believe as a result that all who die in faith will rise with Christ. That Jesus has command over the living and the dead. There is hope, ‘together, with them we will meet the Lord… therefore encourage one another.’ This is not the desolation and nothingness that death is often portrayed as, but a meeting once more, a resurrection hope for us all the chance to reunited with those we love and the chance to be reunited with those we love, and meet with Christ in worship. Its amazing – but we only ever really talk about it at funerals, and that’s a shame because few of us are in a place to have hope in those dark moments.
Paul goes on to talk about preparing ourselves. Being ready and preparing ourselves. Now that could sound either morbid, or a kind ‘big brother is watching you’ sort of a statement, but I think it needs to be taken in the context of what he says next. For you are ‘children of Light, not of darkness.’ In other words we are to remember who God has made us to be. We don’t live a life worthy of Christs calling, loving one another, loving our neighbour and loving God because we fear death and the consequences of judgement. No we do these things because we know that we are loved by God and because we are sue of our calling to be children of God into the life beyond. We live as children of light because of our hope in God rather than our fear of God. It is for this reason that we are to encourage one another.
So next time we go into advent and all is talk of the last days, or you are afraid, or sad as you remember loved ones, remember too this passage to the Thessalonians, encourage one another, be children of light and hope.
Gracious God, take from us
any anxiety we might face
as this day, with its baggage,
opens the door and enters in.
May we see opportunities
that yesterday were missed,
blessings in the little things
we might normally walk past;
time enough to set aside
a space to read your Word,
say a prayer, sing a song,
strengthen faith and know
you’re there, always there,
whatever this new day might bring.
(Prayer from Faith and Worship website c/o Jon Birch)