African American poet James Weldon Johnson depicted Death as God’s servant in his poem “Go Down Death: A Funeral Sermon.” In the poem, a woman was dying, and God summoned Death to liberate her soul and bring her to heaven to be in His presence. The pastoral voice in the poem admonishes the rest of us: “Weep not—weep not, / She is not dead; / She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.”
Death is not the end! Those of us who trust Jesus as our Savior will one day be resurrected to spend eternity with Him! Our faith is founded upon His resurrection (v. 14). This is not a warm, fuzzy, abstract truth. Jesus rose from the dead—literally and bodily— and so will we. When He returns, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Sleep here is a euphemism or metaphor for death, a comparison implying a future awakening.
The Thessalonians apparently thought they had to be alive when Christ returned in order to go to heaven. Perhaps they thought—or were tempted to think—that believers who died were gone forever and had missed their chance. In this they would have been influenced by their culture, which did not believe in an afterlife. Death had to be grieved without hope (v. 13).
Christians, on the other hand, believe that death entered the world through sin, both of which have been conquered by our Lord and Savior. The hope of resurrection is at the heart of our faith (1 Cor. 15:12–20)! We grieve, but not without hope, and in truth, the sorrow is not for those who are “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8) but for those of us who remain behind and are missing them.
>> In what specific ways is Christian grief over death different from that of the world? You might reflect on funeral services you’ve attended in church versus secular contexts.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). We who love you pray for those who do not know you. Loving heavenly Father, use their despair to drive them to you and give them the hope of salvation.