But 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. … 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 4:13-18. ESV
It’s almost that time again — the running of the Boston Marathon. I am surprised at the number of people I know who will be running this year. I ran a marathon once — when I was a lot younger and several pounds lighter. For me, it was a very grueling experience. I hit the wall very early (at about 17 miles) and was not sure I could finish. In fact, I am quite sure I wouldn’t have finished except for one very special friend, Randi. She was waiting at the 20-mile mark. As I came running by (if you can even call it running at that point) and when I saw her, I stopped and declared that I was done. She calmly reminded me of how far I had come and that I only had 6 miles to go. She helped me to focus again on the finish line and what would be waiting for me there. All of a sudden, I was ready to go at it again and eventually, I finished.
We have just celebrated the highest holy day of the Christian year — Easter and the account of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the only hope for the Christian believer — that Jesus died as our atoning sacrifice to cleanse us from our sins and that He was raised again from death to reconcile us to God. This is what Christians understand to be the Gospel, the good news! If we confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, then we are united with Him in death and in resurrection. Everything is roses after this, right?
Well, not in this life. We still go through trying times. We still will have struggles in life. There are times when we feel like giving up the race (every time we hit “the wall”). So, what are we to do? The Apostle Paul gives us some advice here in these verses quoted above. The Thessalonian Christians were struggling to hold on to their hope in Christ. They were discouraged because their loved ones were dying and there was no sign that Christ was on His way to take them home. Did their loved ones miss out on Christ’s second coming? Was Jesus really coming back? Paul lays out the plan: those followers of Christ who have died will rise first, then those of us left when Christ comes again will be caught up together with the others and … here’s the best part … we will ALWAYS be with the Lord.
My friend helped me finish a marathon I thought I never could finish simply by encouraging me with her optimism and by helping me to focus on the finish line. Similarly, Christians are to help one another by reminding each other of the death and resurrection of the Son of God and what He has accomplished for us. We are to reassure each other with the promise Jesus made to come back and carry us across the finish line. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.
Kevin Leach is pastor of West Newbury Congregational Church.