Good afternoon, I’m Fr. Jason Emerson. This afternoon we are beginning a three-week study of some passages of scripture from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. The texts we’ll be exploring are also the epistle readings for the Sundays during the remainder of November. My intention is to give you a couple of brief thoughts each week to encourage your own reflections. Today I’m going share some background information about the letter in general, then discuss chapter 4 verses 13-18, the reading for this coming Sunday, November 12th.
Commonly dated between 49-51 this letter is both the earliest piece of writing included in the New Testament and the earliest of Paul’s letters that we have. Paul is regarded as the primary writer, though he is writing on behalf of his missionary team: Silvanus, Timothy, and himself. It is a safe assumption that Silvanus and Timothy not only agreed with Paul but presumably also taught the same thing. Therefore we are getting some of the earliest of Christian thought in general and Paul’s theology in particular. So, we can call this letter embryonic Pauline theology. Remember that description, embryonic Pauline theology, it will return later.
Now let’s focus on chapter 4 verses 13-18. This is the passage appointed from the lectionary for this coming Sunday, Nov. 12th. We are reading the end of the chapter and almost the end of the book. There are only five chapters in the book; so, my first encouragement to you is to read the whole letter. You can read it in a half hour or less, and it will give you a feel for how this passage fits into the logic of the whole letter.
So, the passage…
"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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For 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. For 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. Then 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 forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words." ~ http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp28_RCL.html#nt1
This passage obviously deals with what we commonly call the second coming of Christ or the end times. It’s one of the most challenging concepts of Christian theology, and sadly one of the most prominent. There is a lot of wonderment about the end times in culture, but on measure very little in scripture. Nonetheless, Paul gives a very detailed description of the Resurrection of the Dead.
Obviously, what Paul describes has not happened yet, and I am even willing to say I do not believe the Resurrection of the dead will happen the way Paul describes. I think it is important for us not to get caught up in the details of the Resurrection instead of Paul’s intentions of encouragement and hope. We need to keep our eyes on the forest, not the trees.
Remember this is early Christian thinking, early and embryonic Pauline thought. It was a common thought amongst the earliest of Christians that Jesus would return before the end of their lifetime. Obviously, as of Paul’s writing, this hasn’t happened and so they must through prayer and faith grow in their understanding and theology. Years later when Paul writes to the Philippians from a jail cell where he assumed his own death was imminent, he writes that in death he will be “with Christ,” implying something different than in his letter to the Thessalonians. It is safe to say, Paul’s theology matures over time.
Therefore, our theology, generally speaking, should mature over time. The point of this passage is hope and encouragement. Like Paul writes later in the Letter to the Romans the point is that no matter what happens to us, even death, we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So, I encourage you to take some time and ask yourself where you find Hope and Encouragement, where do you see evidence of God’s presence in your life right now? Paul’s last line is that we are to encourage each other. So, I’ll close by encouraging you to be encouraging to each other. Find creative and joyful ways to assure somebody today and every day that they can not be separated from God’s love. I’ll see you next week online, if not Sunday morning. Until then, may you always know, “God loves you, no matter what.”
Here's the video: