A couple years ago I heard from a close friend of the death of a mutual friend of ours from college. She had died in a car accident, a freak occurrence no one could've ever seen coming.
When I first heard of my friend's death I found myself experiencing a moment of loss and shock. While we weren't close friends, I really enjoyed my time knowing this young lady in college, and the knowledge that our world no longer enjoys her presence was a blow to me. I found myself understanding why many people in such a situation can question, in an accident that seems so senseless and purposeless, where was God? What hope is there in a world where death can come so quickly and unexpectedly? Where, in this tragedy, is there room to hope?
Well today I would like to remind everyone that there is hope in this darkness. In fact, there is hope that has power to change the way we grieve.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.". Paul says that the church is not to grieve as those who have no hope. Maybe you've noticed this already in your time with those who mourn for lost Christian brothers and sisters, I truly hope so. You've seen grieving Christians, oh most assuredly you have. We mourn today with those who mourn, and we grieve the loss of a true sister and friend. But we grieve in a way that we believe is peculiar to us as Christians. You see we grieve while also holding tight to hope.
How is this kind of grieving possible? Why are Christians capable of grieving in a way that is so different from those who have no hope? Paul answers that question in the very next verse, "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."
Christ’s death and resurrection give us hope because they change the way we look at the world. When we look at the world through the lens of the fact that our God is infinitely loving and infinitely powerful, we can have faith even in our sorrow that he cares for us. We can have faith in this because we do not have a God who is impassive and unemotional, but rather one who has known our pain and sorrow. Jesus felt the pain of sickness and sadness. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, likely died when Jesus was between the ages of 14 and 30, so he knows how it feels to lose a parent. Jesus knew physical pain and sorrow, he wept at death and the knowledge of the pain others would bear, he lost friends, and eventually he lost his own life.
But because of Jesus’ death we can now know that there is hope. Because he didn’t just die, he rose again! This is what we celebrate every Easter! Paul uses the term those who have “fallen asleep” to refer to those who have died after putting their faith in Christ. I think this is a magnificent way of reminding us that to the Christian, death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a marvelous eternity.
Because Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection, the promise of an experience in which we will someday share, because of this the Apostle Paul finds it possible to say, “O death, where is your victory, O death where is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through Jesus Christ.” With this ultimate victory in sight, we can know that our sadness and sorrow will not last forever.
Ironically, we see the bible’s full assurance in this temporary nature of suffering in a book called Lamentations. Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah as he looked out over the smoking ruins of Jerusalem after the city had been conquered by Babylon and her people carried off in chains. Much of the book feels the way we do this morning, as we are full of mourning and questions as to the ultimate plan of God which would allow for such sadness. But in that dejection and hurt, the prophet says,(Lamentations). Even in his heartbreak, Jeremiah, because of the mercy and love of his God, could confidently assert that the grief would not last forever, that though God cause grief, he will have compassion… according to the abundance of his love. This means that not only can we know that our pain will be temporary, but that God’s love is permanent and ultimate. Jeremiah had hope because he knew the character of the God he worshiped.
And today we can have hope because we know the character of that same God we worship. A god in the Father who loved us so much that he sent his only son to die for us. A god in Jesus who gave up heaven, perfect peace and joy, to live a life of conflict and pain with us on earth. Who went to the cross willingly and humbly. Who died to make us new.
It is because of this, Christ’s character, that we are able to grieve in a way that is different from those who have no hope. If there is one thing that we walk away from here with today it should be this. Today, we feel surrounded by darkness as we mourn our loss. We feel the sting of pain, grieving, and sorrow.
But because of the love of God, who sent his son to die for us, and through whose power that son was raised again from the dead, there is hope in the darkness. There is hope in our pain. There is hope in our grieving. There is hope in our sorrow. There is hope because we hope in the resurrection, we hope to see one another again someday in a world made new by God. A world where we will no longer feel the pain of loss, of grieving, of sorrow. A world whose glory Paul, a man who knew suffering, said made him think of present suffering as not even worth comparing to that glory. I find this promise all the more comforting today, because if this present suffering is not even worth comparing with the glory God has in store for us, oh what glory that must be.
So let us look forward as we leave here today to that place of peace and joy where we believe my young friend is at this very moment experiencing the true joy of being in the presence of the God who loves us more than anything we can imagine. If you do not know that love today, it is there for you, in the loving arms of Jesus Christ, scarred by the nails he bore to restore your relationship with him and to give you hope.