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9 God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. 11 Therefore comfort each other and strengthen one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)
In the Name + Jesus. AMEN. We can give all the reasons we want for what God means to us. We can explain God’s existence to family and friends who have their own ideas about God-stuff. We can even give God the all clear to be God. But what we just cannot seem to do is bring ourselves to think of God the way He really is. As He is in Jesus of Nazareth. As He is in the manger. As He is on the donkey. As He is on the cross. A God like this does not wait for us to make up our minds about Him. He comes into our earthly confinement, enfleshed in our flesh, from dust to dust for us.
This is our God. This is our Savior. This One, bodied and bloodied, risen from the grave, highest heaven, peace and glory. God, hidden in Him who weeps over Jerusalem. The One who comes at midnight. The One who comes as Bridegroom. The One who comes as Judge. The lamp of faith lights our way from judgment day to festival day. Those without that light remain in darkness.
Those whom we have buried this last year we have buried in the confidence that they had with them lamps of faith. They’ve gotten to the heavenly feast ahead of us. In Thessalonica they were thinking that the faithful departed would only come in second place. They were so gung-ho about Jesus’ return, some were so excited about Jesus coming again, that they gave up doing their work. In their Advent-enthusiasm they felt sorry for those who had died before Jesus returned. Would those who died before Jesus returned be left behind or even left out?
St. Paul begins, “But I would not have you to be ignorant,” which is his way of saying, “Now, just calm down and let the facts sink in.” Fact number one is Jesus died and rose again. That makes all the difference. Second, He didn’t do it for Himself. He did it for all of you. “Even so,” says St. Paul, the consequences are drawn from Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those who have fallen asleep did so “through Jesus.” “Through Jesus” means Jesus gives them a Jesus-death. So you don’t need to be full of worry about them. If theirs is a Jesus-death then it is not death that finally wipes them out or separates them from Him. If anything they are closer in than you are. We don’t need to get lost in imagining what death and resurrection is about. We have the apostle’s clear words that he draws from Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection FOR YOU. Jesus’ drawing you through death that is His kind of death. Through Jesus, with Him. And there is a word from the Lord that says where there is such falling asleep through Jesus. Those who are with Him. There isn’t anything left out, not even one particle of dust is left behind or comes in second. Through Jesus, with Him. Then you won’t go wrong.
Then the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s voice, and with the sound of God’s trumpet. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
First words: Jesus died and rose again FOR YOU. The one who IS coming IS the one who has come.
Last words: ALWAYS with the Lord.
It is a constant temptation of little faith to try to imagine God’s plans. If we can figure out the when and the where then we have God tied up with our calculations. We can predict where and when He is going to show up and surprise us. When we have God figured out then we figure out how really repetitive He is, or at least that He’s a possible embarrassment to the way we have taken things in hand to try to run them.
But, let’s get to the important question. The question you all wonder about. Will your dog be with you in heaven? Remember here Martin Luther’s letter to his little son Hans. In the letter Martin tells of all the fun playmates and orchards in heaven. You are all little Hanses before the words that tell you of the fruition of God’s promises. The promises that are yours who enjoy a Jesus-death. With him God will bring you together with those who haven’t died to be with the Lord always. Jesus-life, Jesus-death, Jesus-resurrection, Jesus-joy.
In this hope receive the love our Lord gives in His beloving you, little you, a speck of dust on a speck of a universe. No cooking up your own reasons and explanations. No embarrassment, just this Lord who will bring you through death as His death. He can be relied on to make the necessary arrangements for what you cannot calculate or even think. You are given some happy hints, but the center, the heart of it all, you do know and rejoice in. God has not destined you for furious anger and fiery judgment. If you want a day of divine anger and judgment you can have it if you insist. Nobody gets whipped into heaven. But God has not destined His baptized beloved for wrath. You are given to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died FOR YOU. So whether you wake or sleep you live with Him. Through Jesus, with Him, worded, watered, bodied and bloodied, begifted… with the Lord always.
“Comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). AMEN.