Sorrow With Hope
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope,” I Thessalonians 4:13 NKJV
In my thirty-two years of ministry, I have spoken in close to two hundred and fifty funerals. Most of these were connected to our church, either members or relatives of members. Most of them were with people I knew personally. Many were very close friends. But I have had a few funerals with people I didn’t know very well. In fact, I have done a few funerals for complete strangers.
I have done funerals for infants, children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged people, and the elderly. I have preached funerals for unexpected deaths. I have also preached funerals for people who were under hospice care and knew they were dying. Death at any age and for any reason still causes us to have sorrow.
I have spoken in funerals for my Grandpa Bolding, an uncle, two aunts, a cousin, a great niece, my dad, my mom, and my brother Ron. The hardest funeral I preached was for my dad due to the emotions involved.
The one constant in all these funerals was the fact that there is hope even in sorrow. For the Christian believer, we are sad our loved one has passed, but we also have hope in the resurrection and that we will see our loved ones again. When we grieve, we grieve with hope.
Paul explains this in his letter to the Thessalonians, particularly in chapter 4:13-18. The early church taught that Jesus would return and set up His Kingdom on earth. Many years have passed, and many believers have died. The question Paul is answering is what happens to those who have died. Paul uses Jesus’ words to describe death as sleep. The believer who has died, like someone asleep, will wake up in resurrection.
Because of the resurrection, we then have hope. This hope is a confident expectation. Since we have this confident expectation of reuniting with our loved ones, we should not sorrow like those who have no hope. The Message translation sums up Paul’s argument this way:
13 And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don't want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word.
When I am called to be with a family that has experienced death, it soon becomes apparent that some have hope and some do not. At the funeral home, at the visitation, at the funeral, and in their conversation, you can sense those who have hope and those who don't.
My role as a pastor is to point those who are left behind to where this hope comes from. For the believer it is a reminder of the hope in the resurrection. For the unbeliever it is an invitation to them to find this hope in the Resurrected Christ. It is my prayer that we are a church made up of people who sorrow but with hope and point others who sorrow without hope to that hope.
I love you and it’s a privilege to be your pastor.