Life in the early church I can imagine was confusing. Chaos abounded. Stories traveled fast of Christ’s resurrection. As the news spread to Gentiles and Jews alike many questions began to arise. Who was in? Who is out? Much of Paul’s writings deal with this reality. There was another question though that hung in the minds of believers: “When was the Lord coming back?”
Many thought the answer to that was, “Very soon.” But as time passed and the catacombs began to fill up, the harsh reality that the church needed some structure and order also began. Folks also needed to be reassured in the resurrection. Our 1 Thessalonians 4 passage provides some of this reassurance.
“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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. “
Paul goes on to declare that the coming of the Lord will not leave out those of us who are still alive, but that the trumpet will sound and all the dead shall be raised first, and then we who are alive will be swept up in the clouds together to meet them. It is a wonderful picture of togetherness that is painted. Paul is trying to reassure the chaotic 1st Century Church that all will be well, it will just not be happening the way they had first intended.
Many had thought Christ would come back very shortly, in their minds complete his Messianic role, and crush the Roman empire. That did not happen. Others thought he would come back to destroy the temple. Once some of those 1st generation believers died and did not come back to life, the Christian community looked in hope to the future.
We have said goodbye to way too many music icons recently. Just a couple days ago Papa Wemba, a legend in the field of Rumba, and this news on the heals of Prince. I also read this morning of a friend who moved his mother from assisted living into nursing care this weekend. Aging is one thing. Watching others age and die is another. This getting old isn’t for the faint of heart. In the midst of these tough weeks, let it also also be one of hope, for the saints of the church that go before us remind us that Christ’s message continues, and that we are not called to live in the present only, but to live into the future.
May your day be filled with renewal and hope, as we look to a future day when all of us will get swept up in something so unimaginably glorious, that the whole world comes to a halt.