By Jane Williams
A Reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 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. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This section of the letter to the Thessalonians has probably received more attention than all of the rest of the letter put together. It is also apposite for Advent, looking as it does to the Lord’s return. Paul expects that he and many of the recipients of this letter will be alive to see this culminating, glorious event: in verses 15 and 17 he talks about “we who are alive.” But not all who heard and accepted Paul’s preaching are still alive, and this has clearly caused some consternation in the community. They had received the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and the conquest of death, but still death stalks the earth, and parts people from those they love.
Paul reassures them that nothing has gone wrong; the resurrection of Jesus is still the pattern for us, the source of hope and trust. Jesus died and rose, and the Christian dead will do the same, because those who are the Lord’s cannot be separated from him; we are destined “to be with the Lord forever.” Death has no power to separate God’s people from each other in Jesus Christ.
Eight times in these few verses Paul mentions “Jesus,” “Christ” or “the Lord.” He is the one in whom we trust, and it is “the Lord himself” who holds the end times in his hands, which is why we can hope and trust. This is no impersonal force at work, and although it is awe-inspiring, with the call of the angels and the sound of God’s trumpet, nonetheless, the one at the center of it all is the Lord. The Advent themes of death, judgment, heaven, and hell are rightly sobering, but at their heart is our trusted Lord.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St. Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Gasabo (Rwanda) and the Most Rev. Laurent Mbanda
Diocese of Edinburgh (Scotland) and the Rt. Rev. John Armes
Diocese of West Texas and the Rt. Rev. David M. Reed