We Do Not Grieve As If We Do Not Have Hope

The following 'Visitation and Prayer Service Sermon' is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Harold Waswick, and all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care.  To listen to the 'Funeral Sermon' CLICK HERE.

Text:  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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

Our reading from 1 Thessalonians tonight tells us that we are not to grieve as others might grieve.  Hear it once again, “…we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers [and sisters], about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

So, what does this mean?  Does this mean that we are not to grieve the loss of Harold this evening?  Does this mean that we should not cry at tomorrow’s funeral service and that we should not feel pain?  Does this mean that we should not experience sorrow and that we should not mourn at the graveside committal?  Should we toughen up and pull ourselves together and stuff our emotions in the weeks to come? Should we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? Absolutely not!  The Apostle Paul is not saying that we cannot grieve, but rather, he is saying that we can weep, that we can cry, that we can mourn the loss of Harold, but we do so without despairing grief.  In other words, we do not grieve as if death is the ultimate end, as if there is nothing beyond death. 

Now considering this, 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.  In other words, we look at the loss of Harold – the pain of death – with hope in view.  We hold our sorrow in one hand and hope in the other hand.  We mourn the loss of Harold with all of the emotions that come with death, but we grieve not as if we are uninformed and not as if we do not have hope. 

But how is this hope so powerful as to affect the way we grieve?  Keep in mind that left to itself, the word ‘hope’ is an empty word.  If you say, “I have hope!” that is fairly ambiguous.  The reason being, hope needs an object.  In other words, hope by itself is powerless; hope by itself is nothing more than a pious sounding talking point.  But rather, hope must be connected to something or someone. 

Tonight, our hope in the midst of this prayer service is in the promises of the Lord.  That is to say, the source of our hope in the midst of this prayer service is in the promises that the shed blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to forgive you, me, and Harold 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, for you, for me, and for Harold.  Our hope is anchored in the promise that a powerful trumpet will blast and dead bodies will be raised from their grave. Our hope is connected to the promise that there will be a resurrection of the body; that Christ is coming back to take you, me, and Harold home unto everlasting life. 

Unfortunately, the original hearers of tonight’s Epistle reading had some misconceptions about what happens after death.  They had 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. 

Is it any different for us today?  In the midst of death, it seems to me that every one of us looks for hope and assurance.  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 prayer services, like this, we can begin to think about our own death.  Death then brings about insecurity.  As a result, we attempt to offset this insecurity by manufacturing our own hope and assurance.  That is to say, if we are not careful we can end up placing our hope in our own perceived goodness.  We can say to ourselves, “What will be my fate when I die?  Well, I am a pretty good person.”  This is most unfortunate, for when we place our hope in ourselves deceive ourselves, for we cannot save ourselves; we cannot scrub hard enough to purge the stain of sin from our conscience.  Placing hope in our own spiritual resumes will not overcome the harshness of death.

Now, I could spend some time at this point mentioning some of the wonderful things that Harold has done and accomplished in his life.  Let me affirm to you that it is good to remember and adore these wonderful memories and workings of Harold, as you will do later this evening.  However, we must keep everything in perspective, knowing that hope does not look to these events and memories, as good as they may be.  Hope looks beyond these memories, hope looks beyond our grief right now, and it looks beyond Harold’s death to the death of Jesus.  And get this, the death of Jesus was not for Jesus Himself, it was for Harold, it was for you! Indeed, Harold shared in the death of Jesus, for he was washed clean, without spot or blemish, in baptism.  God placed His name upon Harold in his baptism.  Through faith, Harold was united with Jesus in life and in death. 

You who have ears, hear this, Harold has not been abandoned in death!  In death, Jesus came and took Harold with Him into his rest, into the realms of eternal glory.  Furthermore, Jesus will also take Harold with Him at the Resurrection of all the dead.  At the last day, Christ will come and the trumpets will sound and Harold will hear the powerful voice of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Like Lazarus, he will come forth out of his grace; alive, and with a glorified body.  All the pain of his body will be left behind as he 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 again for us!  We have hope not in our own abilities to climb to the Lord but hope that our Savior promised to meet us in death and has promised to come and take our bodies out of the graves at the last day. 

We have present hope my friends in the midst of death.  We have hope right here and right now in the midst of this prayer service because Jesus defeated hell, death, sin, and the devil.  We have hope right here and right now because Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  We have hope right here and right now because there is a future resurrection for all of 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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