But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as other do who have no hope…For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 16-18)
Hope. How is your hope? What’s keeping you going? Pressing on? Slugging through? Christian hope is not the same as well wishing: “boy, I hope the Panthers will win today.” It is assurance and confidence that the one who promised something will in fact bring it to completion. So when the One who promises something is God, it is sure and certain, and we are called to hear and deep inside anticipate, wait, and hope.
The end of the Church Year, this week and next week, has us hearing about endings: endings of life, endings of this created order. While there is something incredibly frightening about these endings (and it must be so as both happen as a result of God’s judgment against sin!) our Lord says that we do not face these ending as ones who have no hope.
Yet, because there is something incredibly frightening about these endings, the most common thing to do is ignore and avoid hearing and talking about it. Yet, running away from things that cause you fear (like death and judgment) never gets you further away from facing it. So, we face these endings in our Lord’s Word, today. It’s a practice run. As we face the endings, our Lord who is present among us right now gives us an amazing vision. Right past the very thing that frightens us, are beautiful, precious promises that are sure and certain and plant into us hope.
To put it positively, though, to ignore the fear, to look the other way, is also to ignore the promises of hope regarding new beginnings after those fearful endings. To ignore death is to also ignore all the beautiful promises regarding death, it’s defeated, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” “those who are asleep,” the resurrection of the dead, etc. To ignore God’s judgment when the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, and with the sound of the trumpet of God is to ignore an amazingly beautiful promise from Jesus, “Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).” Your baptism was a judgment. You died and now live with Christ. God promised that there is an unbreakable fellowship with Him, united with Christ, so that fellowship will not be broken on the Day of Judgment.
So, pressing on, keeping going, we look through the tomorrows and seeing the sure and certain promises – we don’t grieve as ones who have no hope. We will see those who died in Christ again. We are not left to travel this road alone. Death itself is a sleep for us. One of the pictures this brings out is one of those times you were a little child, traveling in the car and you fell asleep, oblivious to the dangers and challenges of the road, and waking up in your own bed.
We don’t grieve as ones who have no hope. We don’t get sick, have heart attacks or strokes, get cancer in this body as ones who have no hope. We don’t raise children or grandchildren as ones who have no hope. We don’t go to work, bear with the sins of family and friends, encounter financial trouble, forgive others, receive just consequences for our own sins, we don’t keep trying to live a holy life, we don’t suffer, press on, look to tomorrow or reflect on yesterday as ones who have no hope. We are Christians – Christ’s ones.
In all this, we see how necessary it is to receive hope, as it is not something we can conjure up in ourselves. So, we all gather today, and face one direction for the service: we face east. For as lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. It’s also the same direction many of the dead in Christ who are buried out in our graveyard are facing. Hope comes from facing the One who will come again – who died and rose again and whom God will bring with Him all those who have fallen asleep (1 Thess. 4:14). From this direction, the One who will come with a cry of command in the end, comes right now with His Words of hope – I am with you now to the end of the age, lift up your hearts as one who has the hope and receive from the east His body and His blood to fill you with hope, so that you don’t travel the rest of the day or week or life as one who has no hope.
See Jesus from the east. See Him as He faces His end, His death. He faces the judgment for every doubt you have, every bit of life and word from you that has not proclaimed the hope that you have within, every act of rebellion, cruelty, lust, greed, and envy. See Him risen from the dead, free from the sin He bore. See Him ascended and sitting at God the Father almighty, praying for you, pleading for you, “Father, fill them with hope. You are faithful to them. Help them keep going, keep living in this body.” The Father hears. Nothing can separate us.
So look through death, sin, and judgment and hear the promises of Jesus. Amen.