32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.
November is a month where we remember and pray for the those who have died – both those already in Heaven and those in Purgatory who have died in God’s grace. It’s for that reason that the Church has highlighted this passage from Paul’s letters – because it reminds us of one of the most important beliefs we hold “resurrection of the dead and life of the world to come”.
Paul moves his message in three stages – and the first is the simplest, but also the most important: that by accepting and dying in Christ, we are participants in his resurrection. This is a common theme in all of Paul’s letters – but that’s because it is something so commonly forgotten. The central tenet of our faith is that we are the creation and children of a loving God, who wants us to be reconciled to him. Everything else, from the creation of Israel to the Incarnation and resurrection, are connected to that grander plan.
The second step part of Paul’s lesson is one of equality – that those who live in Christ, and those who have died in him will, in the end, be treated equally. At the time Paul was writing Gnosticism – which was the belief that the human body was in some way evil or corrupt – was rife the early church. Here, Paul is speaking against that, that God’s redemption and that Jesus’s self-sacrifice there is no distinction between those who still have a physical body, and those who don’t. Those who have died have not ‘missed their chance’; and those who are still alive aren’t unqualified either.
Finally – what is it we hope to attain? Why should the Thessalonians, and ourselves, live and die in Christ, and follow Paul’s example? Why should we not grieve the dead if they have lost life? The reason, Paul says, is we have the opportunity “…to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever.” This is something worth attaining, as we are exhorted “…with such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.”
Dead, with a purely human understanding, can be scary. But, with a Christian understanding, death is a change, not an event. Moreover, it is a necessary event in the completion of God’s plan for u – for us to be re-united with Him in Heaven. As some older Catholics may recall: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.