“Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.” — 1 Thessalonians 4:13, CEB
It would seem that I like to harp on hope, given the title of this site and yesterday’s post. Honestly, though, I think because hope is something that has gotten me through so much, it’s worth sharing and talking about. I answer questions on Quora, a website devoted to questions and answers, and I have seen so many that talk about what hope there is for our race (human) and for our world. It stands to reason, then, that we could all use a daily reminder of how to maintain hope and what hope the Christian faith offers us.
For me, the story of the resurrection of Jesus is all about hope, and not just for the end of days. As the quote above indicates, Paul is wanting his people to have hope NOW.
So now, I must confess: Easter is often one of the most frustrating holidays for me to endure.
“But, Jordan [my name], why??? It is the day Jesus rose!”
Exactly. See the verb tense? “Rose?” Easter exemplifies part of our problem as a faith. We focus either too far in the past or too far in the future. I mean, let’s be honest, if all we do on Easter is commemorate an event from 2,000 years ago as a mere corpse being re-animated… that’s not a major incentive to get involved. It’s over! Done! Likewise, if all we do is point to the future and say, “Just wait,” again we miss an opportunity to fully witness to the breadth and depth of Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus’ resurrection was not just about God coming back from the dead and thereby doing something magical and impressive. Everything Jesus does has to do with the redemption of humanity and hope for creation. The teachings of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, and, yes, the resurrection of Christ are all geared toward getting us humans into right relationship with God and with each other (Matthew 22:34-40).
How is this so? If we take a look at the Letter to the Hebrews, we find a great summary of how the crucifixion and the resurrection are meant to impact us today. The author writes of Jesus, “He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death–the devil–by dying. He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by the fear of death.” The fear of death has a lot to do with the decisions we make, especially the sinful ones. Our fear of death causes us to fear or hate each other for various reasons, causes us to betray our faith and act against God to save ourselves. This fear is the greatest enemy because it turns us into selfish puppets. The issue is not our instinct to survive, so much as what allowing that instinct to govern our every action does to the rest of creation.
In the resurrection, we find that death does not have the final word, because death is not more powerful than the One who is the source of all life: God, made incarnate in Jesus. Jesus is the incarnation of the perfect union of divinity and humanity, and as such, we see in Jesus what our lives are to look like if we want to be restored to relationship with God for the improvement of our world. The resurrection takes the brutality of the crucifixion, brutality that we see every day, and puts it in hopeful perspective, because life is found not in the avoidance of death at all costs, but in paying whatever cost is necessary to ensure love, life, and light for others in the name of God.
So when we turn to the Scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we see Paul’s practical teaching on bringing the power of the resurrection into our lives TODAY. For the Christians of Thessalonica, they were concerned and mourning for those who died before Jesus’ return (verse 13), believing it would be too late for them to experience that salvation. Paul, then, turns the resurrection into a cause for hope, saying, “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus” (verse 14). We are then treated to a beautiful vision of what this may look like in verses 15-17.
Finally, Paul encourages us to “encourage each other with these words” (verse 18). There have been, are, and will be many reasons for us to mourn. Loss of life, growing hatred and tensions, abuse, mistakes, prejudice, poverty, starvation; the list goes on and on. We should mourn. We should take time to acknowledge when a wrong has occurred. However, the trend has been to base our lives off of those wrongs, and this is a mistake. Looking to Christ, we must be able to mourn while maintaining hope. This is not a hope that just waits for the future, but it is a hope that enables us to follow in the footsteps of Christ, righting the wrongs we can, and shining the light of God into every shadow we can reach. In doing so, we cease to yield to despair and we greatly inhibit its spread.
There is hope for the future, but there is also hope for today. You are loved, and were purchased at great price, and we are all empowered and charged by the Gospel to share that love with others. If we can decide to give that a shot, I can’t help but believe that things can and will change for the better.
Peace be with you!