Committal Homily (1 Thessalonians 4)
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. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Today we join together to bury a loved one. But St. Paul encourages us to have hope. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers … that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” He doesn’t tell us not to grieve. Death brings grief. He tells us to grieve with hope.
How do you grieve with hope? We look to the great saints who have gone before us. The “cloud of witnesses” that surround us. Especially the martyrs. Those who knew their death was coming. Knowing it is for their faith that they were being put to death. One of my favorite examples is St. Polycarp, the second century bishop of Smyrna. When he was commanded to renounce his faith in Christ, he replied, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Whether it is a long time or a short time in the Kingdom, Polycarp’s statement remains.
We also look to the Shepherd’s promises. We have no “want”s in this life because He is our Life. He is our all in all. With Him, there is nothing we lack. With Him, there is nothing more we need. “He satisfies our longing hearts” with His death and resurrection. He died our death, taking away its power. Now, the grave is no different than a cradle. A place to take a nap.
Therefore Paul speaks about the dead as being “those who sleep.” They are merely asleep because Jesus will “awaken them.” That is the great Day we look forward to. The Day when Jesus comes back with an angelic host, the archangel’s trumpet and the cry of command. The command for all who are asleep to wake up. The command for us to meet Him in the air. Then, we will be with the Lord and with our loved ones who have died in the faith forever.
“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” The Last Day and all that has been revealed about it is to bring comfort and peace and encouragement. This won’t be the last time we see our loved one. When we place these earthly remains into the grave, it is not the end. They are laid to their rest, but they will awaken. We have our Shepherd’s promise for that. This is our hope in Christ. Death has no more dominion over us because Jesus has died our death. He has given us His resurrection. Amen.