From the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, Now may Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Life in heaven and on earth for the Christian is a life of healing and hope.
A professor of Old Testament in seminary possessed a very dry wit and used humorous comments to keep his class engaged. Let’s face it, trudging through the books of the Law or those really long books of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea) can be deadly and lead to a class of heads nodding off to sleep. This is true even for those who want to study the Old Testament, let alone for those who are required to study it. This professor, who was also a priest, said that one of the prooftexts that he uses as his basis for pastoral care is this passage from Jeremiah Chapter 12, Verse 5: If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan? In other words, his response to people who came to him seeking words of comfort and solace where these: If you think it’s bad now, just wait! That was his attempt at keeping his class entertained with humor. It’s not the most helpful thing to say when someone is in need of reassuring or caring words. Can you imagine saying that to someone about to undergo a very serious operation or in the midst of a personal crisis? Oh, don’t worry, if you think this is bad, just wait! Not the best bedside manner for a pastor.
A better approach for a pastor would be to direct the troubled or wearied Christian toward the love and freely given grace of God. This is at the heart of the bodily Resurrection taught and witnessed to by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus gives a great lesson to the Sadducees in the Gospel for today about how the Resurrection is our hope for both the future and for our lives even now. When we look at this challenge the Sadducees are presenting to Jesus we can learn what a great hope we have because of His Bodily Resurrection. From Saint Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians we can also learn what a gift of strength we have in the Resurrection to make it through tough times in our lives now.
In our Gospel passage today we get a word about how good our ultimate end and purpose is. We learn from Jesus that life in heaven is so far beyond the condition of our lives here in the world, that it is difficult to imagine what joy there is. The Sadducees were so bent on teaching that there is not a resurrection of the dead, that they come up with this very literal example to try to stump Jesus. In the example, seven brothers die after doing their duty of taking this one woman as their wife. When the woman dies and goes to heaven, whose wife will she be? Jesus immediately teaches that marriage is not needed in heaven. The relations we have here are necessary but are not necessary in heaven. Jesus says, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. The eternal life with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit unites us so perfectly with God and each other that the marital relations are not considered because they are not necessary.
That kind of unity is what we are moving toward when we’re on our way to heaven. The next life, in other words, is far superior to this life. I love the words of the proper preface when a requiem is said, …for to Thy faithful people O Lord, life is changed, not ended. We move through this life to the life of perfection. Again, things will not always be the same for us, they will get better and especially in the hereafter.
We have this principle of God’s love for us lived out when we hear and read the lessons from the Eucharistic lectionary in our Prayer Book. As we approach the end of the Church Year and head into the season of Advent we will find that the Sunday lessons will take a definite trajectory to heaven. We will hear about the true temple of worship before the Throne of God and know that Christ the King is ruling from the throne of God His Father. So you see, we are left at the end of the Church Year where we should be and that is with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in heaven.
It’s true for the end of our lives that things not only get better, but they become perfected. It’s also true for the Christian now in light of the power of the bodily Resurrection. Our lives in this world with the Holy Ghost operating in us, and for us, gives a real purpose and direction to our lives. We can know this power of the Resurrection even now while we are in this world. It is part of the love of God to make us in such a way to live under His grace even now. God made human life, and all life for that matter, to want to live, to want to get better, to strive for grow. We see it all around us and we see it in us. In nature we see tremendous strength of the roots of the trees pushing the bricks of the sidewalk up so they can grow bigger and stronger. We see even the thinnest piece of grass attempting to live even between cracks in the bricks, seemingly pushing God-ward. We know it’s true that our bodies are made in such a way to heal themselves because we are intended and made for life. There’s something about human life that is intended to remain alive and growing. That is really because of the love of God.
This gives us great hope. We know our ultimate end and purpose and simply knowing our true end should give us hope that we will someday be there with the God who loves us. This direction and purpose for our lives in this world gives us hope. We have a direction and purpose for our lives in this world. We have a source of encouragement and strength now. As Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians: To this he called you through our Gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, Brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. Now may Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
What do we do in times of confusion, or sadness, or when the weight of even day-to-day pressures seem overwhelming? The first thing is to remember there is a direction and purpose to our lives. We are hoping for a future where all our cares and concerns are behind us. We are given hope in the knowledge that the Holy Ghost is moving us forward and the way things are now are not the way things will always be. The advice of Saint Paul is very well taken. We don’t have to look for a source of strength, we have it in God’s grace. We don’t have to reinvent what the Church teaches. We have the source of all teaching for the Christian in the Bodily Resurrection. We don’t have to redo or reinvent the tradition of the Church. We should, according to Saint Paul, Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by (us), either by word of mouth or by letter.
In times of trouble or sorrow or confusion about what this world has handed to you, rely on your church family, on your prayer life and those praying for you. Avail yourself of the grace offered to you in the Word written and the Eucharist. Let your family and friends in the Church support you. As practicing Christians, we will be comforted.
In the life of the Christian, in both the immediate circumstances and the ultimate end and purpose for the Christian, it is true that things do get better. The way things are now is not the way things are going to be forever. We are intended to grow more and more into a life with Jesus and a life with him is a life that will be better and better in both good times and in times of suffering. We are to ultimately spend our eternal life with him in perfect unity with God the Holy Trinity. What a joy that is to be. We will be strengthened. We will come closer and closer to the full knowledge and love of the Lord now, and join him at His heavenly Throne.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.