1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18
AN IMMORTAL SAVIOR MEANS AN IMPERISHABLE HOPE.
In the name + of Jesus.
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about ten virgins. They were the bridal party who were to attend the bride to her wedding banquet. Their role was to wait for the groom who would come from his home in a procession to get his bride and then to bring her and all her party back to his home for the wedding banquet. The middle of the night is an unusual time for the groom to come. But even if his timing was unexpected, his arrival was worthy of celebration. The bride and her attendants all rejoiced to see this blessed union. All who entered the banquet hall enjoyed the sumptuous feast.
However, Jesus noted of the virgins, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” (Matthew 25:2) Now, we know the result of the five virgins being foolish. Despite knowing about the feast, they were shut out. And there was no admission, no matter how much they pleaded.
While there is much more we could glean from the Gospel lesson, the point I am making here is this: While they were waiting for the bridegroom, no one would have known the five foolish virgins were foolish. There was no apparent difference between them and the five wise virgins. They had been summoned by the bride. They knew about the coming of the bridegroom. They were chaste, after all they were virgins. But it was not until the groom came that they were found to be foolish. And then, it was too late. The five virgins were proved foolish because they did not have any oil, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, or faith.
It is really not much different in our world today. It does not seem like there is a remarkable difference between those who are wise for salvation and those who are foolish. Chances are, no one is amazed at you because you are a Christian. A Christian who goes to work and does his job well does not look any better than an unbeliever who does the same. A Christian accountant, surgeon, mechanic, or hockey player usually does not appear different than anyone else. It does not make you smarter, taller, or better looking. Often times even our morals don't seem different—whether good or bad. By outward appearances, the wise and the foolish, believers and unbelievers, often look the same.
It even appears the same when does comes. No matter who you are, death brings a painful separation. We know that all people die. But what we know in our heads is much more cruel when we face it in reality. Having a loved one ripped from you hurts. The finality of death and burial cannot help but produce mourning and grief. Being a Christian does not make you immune to pain or tears.
But you who are wise for salvation have a special comfort, peace, and joy when it comes to your fellow Christians who die in the faith. An immortal Savior means an imperishable hope. St. Paul wrote, “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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
The Thessalonian Christians were going through a bit of a crisis about their loved ones who had died in the Christian faith. Since they died and were buried, it was thought that they had lost out somehow on the glories of the life to come. Their bodies were put into the graves for decay, not glory. But those who die in the Lord lose nothing. They may be taken from us, but they are never lost.
When we must bury our loved ones, we cannot help but grieve. But, St. Paul reminds us, we do not grieve like people who have no hope. An immortal Savior means an imperishable hope. This hope provides comfort in times of grief, and peace when death unsettles us. What is our hope? St. Paul says: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) Jesus rescued us from damnation by enduring damnation in our place. Our sins were placed on Jesus, and he gave himself up as the holy sacrifice which atones for sins. Jesus' body was not put into the grave for decay, but for glory. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. His resurrection not only proves that his sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all of your sins, it also proves that Jesus is Lord over death and the grave. Jesus is risen, and can never die again. The grave must answer to Jesus. This is why those who die believing in Jesus are not lost. An immortal Savior means an imperishable hope.
Those who die in Christ lose nothing. They live; for their souls have gone to be with Jesus. But our Lord never created us to be just souls. We were given bodies to live in—not just on earth but also in heavenly glory. God the Son took on a human body to save us. He died and his body was buried to sanctify the grave. At his resurrection, Jesus did not shed his body. To this day and for all eternity, Jesus is fully God and fully man. Your body and blood Savior has redeemed you, soul and body. The point of death and resurrection is not to shed your humanity. Rather, it is to have your humanity exalted. Jesus will raise you and all the saints up to be the people God had originally created you to be, so that you will live without sickness and sorrow, frustration and devastation, disease or death. The Church confesses, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed). These are the things we hope for because these are the things Jesus won for us. An immortal Savior means an imperishable hope.
Now listen to what is in store for those who have died in Christ. “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16)
When Jesus comes again, he will give the signal and all who are in their graves will come out, believer and unbeliever alike. No one will be omitted—not the atheist, not those buried at sea, not those cremated, not even the likes of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, whose ashes were launched into space. Jesus is Lord of death and the grave, and at his command, all will be gathered before him. St. Paul, however, does not concern himself here with the unbelievers. He focuses on the Christian hope, which is the resurrection to life everlasting. And an immortal Savior means an imperishable hope.
On the Last Day, at the trumpet call, those who died in the Christian faith will be raised from the dead. Those who died by disease will be raised incorruptible. Those who died in an accident will be raised imperishable. Those who were weak and frail will be raised with power. Those who were put to shame for the sake of Jesus will be raised in glory. And nothing can take away from them the glorious and eternal life Jesus has promised them. Though the world may have regarded them as fools, the Holy Spirit made them wise for salvation and united them to Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. Even though they died in this faith, they live with the Lord. And they will be raised with their glorified bodies never to die again, just as it was with Jesus. No matter what anyone says about you or does to you, no matter what frustrations and hardships you have to face in this world, even in the face of death itself, nothing takes away your hope. For Jesus lives and reigns. An immortal Savior means an imperishable hope.
As he promised, Jesus is coming again. Perhaps you will taste death before he comes. Maybe you will still be alive at his coming. Either way, those who are Christ's redeemed will not miss out on anything. If you die, you will be raised up in glory with all the saints who have passed before us. If you are still alive at Jesus' coming, your body will be transformed from flawed and weak to glorious holiness. This is not spiritual babble said to make you feel better about dying. No, as St. Paul said: “This we declare to you by a word from the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15) Your hope is based on the promises of God—guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, sealed upon you through God's word and sacraments. Therefore, this hope cannot be stolen or even cheapened by death, hell, or the devil. For we have an imperishable hope, thanks to an immortal Savior.
So, what makes the saints triumphant and joyful? This: “We will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) We will be with him who is the source of life and love. We will be with him who is mercy and peace. We will be free from every form of evil, sorrow, pain, and frustration. For, we will be with Jesus. If he loved us enough to die for us when we were sinners, how much more will he delight in his saints! How great is the victory, the peace, and the life of the saints who have gone before us. And how great is our joy that we will be reunited with them and will join with Jesus at the wedding feast of the Lamb! “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) For, an immortal Savior means an imperishable hope.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.