A time of loss in the death of a loved one leaves an emptiness, a void occasioned by their absence. When remembering departed family and friends, as when visiting their place of rest in a cemetery or mausoleum, there are tinges of sadness which linger and questions which crowd into the corners of our hearts and minds!
These dimensions of grief do not go unrecognized in the lessons and reflections offered in the sacred scriptures. In the Epistle to t he Thessalonians, Saint Paul is eager to respond to this reality. And so he writes, "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope..." (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
His counsel is rooted in the conviction that for a person of faith, there is a hope, a hope that particular way for the one burdened by grief, who wrestles with the loss and emptiness from the death of a loved one.
Christian hope has two dimensions There follows in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 the foundation, the source of this hope: "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."
There is, on the one hand, the promise that "God will bring with him (Christ) those who have gone before us, who have fallen asleep." This is the hope of Resurrection, the mysterious restoration of our whole being;, bod and soul, by virtue of the power of the Resurrection of Christ. How? When? In what manner, or what will the realization of this be? Here we encounter among the most profound of mysteries of Christian faith.
We are left to ponder this, to explore this mystery. But always it remains a mystery. We fo not exhaust its depth or fullness. Throughout our entire earthly journey we remain only on its surface, faintly apprehending its meaning and fullness.
And also Christian hope means participating in the life of God, the gift of "eternal life". This is the second aspect of our Christian hope. This is something already available for the Christian in the present, even while its fullness awaits us in the age to come.
We find assurance of this in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John: "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, he does not come unto judgment but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
Here, too, we stand before a mystery. Eternal life might be thought of in terms of it being "everlasting". But the measure of eternal life is not its duration but its quality. It is indestructible. It is the eternal present of being with being with God. It possesses an enduring quality as to relationship. First and foremost, this means our relationship with God: "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
And this quality of being indestructible, enduring, genuine, may then extend to all of our relationships, all of our endeavors and purposes and pursuits. But this is not as we would not imagine, or choose, or design. It is the character of eternal life that it is as God designs and designates.
And this is that hope that is available to us. This is the counsel, the endowment from which we may draw, "that you may not grieve as others do who have not hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13).