That You May Not Grieve As Others Do

The following is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Sylvia Colby and to all who mourn comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in His loving care.

Sylvia Colby
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) from this morning says that we are not to grieve as others might grieve.  The reason why we do not grieve as other people might grieve is because we have something called hope.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul says in our text, “…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.”

So, does this mean that we are not to grieve the loss of Sylvia?  Does this mean that we should not cry at funerals and that we should not feel pain?  Does this mean that we shouldn’t experience sorrow and that we should not mourn?  Should we toughen up and pull ourselves together and stuff our emotions? Should we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? Absolutely not!  The Epistle lesson is saying that we can weep, that we can cry, that we can mourn for the loss of Sylvia, but we do so without despairing grief.  In other words, we do not grieve as if this is the ultimate end, as if there is nothing beyond death. 

The reason why our grieving as Christians is different than other people is that we have something called hope; hope that lies in the midst of our grief.  We look at the loss of Sylvia, the pain of death, with hope in view.  We hold our sorrow in one hand and hope in the other hand.  In other words, we mourn the loss of Sylvia with all of the emotions that come with loss, but we grieve not as if we are uniformed and not as if we do not have hope. 

But how is this hope able to do such things?  Keep in mind that left to itself, the word ‘hope’ is a rather empty word.  If you say, “I have hope!” that is fairly ambiguous.  The reason being, hope needs an object.  In other words, what is the source of our hope?  Our source of hope right here and right now is in the promises of God.  It is in the promises that the shed blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to forgive us of all of our sins.  It is in the promises that Jesus is righteous and that we are holy because we wear Christ’s righteousness like a robe.  Our hope is in the promises that Jesus is coming back.  Our hope is anchored in the promise that a powerful trumpet will blast and penetrate to our dead bodies.  Our hope is connected to the promise that there will be a resurrection of the body; that Christ is coming back to take us home unto everlasting life. 

Unfortunately, the original hearers of the Epistle text, that we read earlier, had some misconceptions about what happens after death.  There was doubt and uncertainty.  Some were worried that when they died that there was no hope that they were out of the reach of Christ.  There was a lack of hope and what we could say was misplaced hope. 

Is it any different for us today?  In the midst of death it seems to me that every one of us looks for hope.  Death has a way of doing that.  Unfortunately, we can end up in despair when our hope fails to be placed where it should or when our hope is connected to hopeless things.  Yes, even the best well-intentioned Christians sin when they place their hope in the wrong places.  For example, you and I can place our hope in our very own accomplishments.  We can place our hope on our own accumulated worth.  Thus, when we attend funerals, like this, we can begin to think about our own death.  Death then brings about insecurity.  Thus we attempt to offset this insecurity with hope and assurance.  But if not careful we can end up placing our hope in our own perceived goodness.  “What will be my fate when I die?  Well, I am a pretty good person.”  It is most unfortunate when we place our hope in the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I’ for we cannot save ourselves; we cannot scrub hard enough to purge the stain of sin from our conscience.  Furthermore, we self-deceive ourselves when our hope is placed in our own spiritual resumes, resumes that surely will not overcome the harshness of death.

Now, I could spend some time at this point mentioning some of the wonderful things that Sylvia has done and accomplished in her life.  Let me affirm you that it is good to remember and adore these wonderful memories and workings of Sylvia.  However, for the little time that I got to know Sylvia, I am convinced that her hope was not in what she did and did not do.  I am convinced that her ultimate hope was not in herself, but it was outside of herself.  Her hope was in Christ Jesus.  Sylvia’s hope was in the shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins.  Two weeks ago she wept as she received the body and blood of Christ given and shed for her, a sinner; body and blood that gifted her forgiveness.   Yes, she had hope in something that was unsinkable.  Her hope was not in herself, it was the same hope that the Apostle Paul speaks of, hope in Christ Jesus—her Lord and your Lord. 

My friends, hope looks outside of us and it looks beyond death to the death of Jesus.  And get this, the death of Jesus was not for Himself, it was for Sylvia, it was for you! Indeed, Sylvia shared in the death of Jesus; she was washed clean, without spot or blemish.  God placed His name upon her in her baptism.  Through faith she was united with Him in life and in death.  You who have ears, hear this, she was not abandoned at death!  In death Jesus came and took her with Him into her rest, into the realms of eternal glory.  Furthermore, Jesus will also take her with Him at the Resurrection of all the dead.  At the last day, Christ will come and the trumpets will sound and Sylvia will hear the beautiful and powerful voice of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Like Lazarus, she will come forth from her grave, alive, and with a glorified body.  All the pain of her body will be left behind as she will be clothed in splendor and holiness and never ending life.  

My friends, we do not grieve like others, for we have hope.  Furthermore our hope is not like others because our hope is not in ourselves, but in a Savior who came and will come for us!  We have hope not in our abilities to climb but in the descent of our Savior to you and me, a Savior that comes to meet us in our death! 

We have present hope my friends in the midst of death.  We have hope right here and right now in the midst of this funeral as we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus defeated hell, death, sin, and the devil.  We have hope right here and right now as we believe, teach, and confess, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; that there is a future resurrection for us who are in Christ Jesus. 

Now, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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