Each week, we post reflection questions from Sunday’s sermon text for those who would like to go deeper in their study of the Word. You can find the worship service for this Sunday on our Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ide4bO25j1w.
Nov. 8, 2020
Every November on the liturgical calendar, we begin with All Saints Day (which we celebrated last week) and before the month is out we conclude the church year with Christ the King Sunday (this year it’s on the 22nd in just a couple of weeks). It’s as if this season invites us to take up the themes of resurrection, the eternal life of the saints, the reign of Christ, and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. Before the new year arrives with its Advent waiting, we get a little taste of a second Easter in the eschaton readings. We have another today, this week from Paul’s first letter to the early church at Thessalonica. May the Spirit bless our reading of the Word:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
- It’s important to keep in mind Paul’s purpose in this letter. This isn’t the Paul of Romans writing long theological discourse; this is Paul the pastor offering encouragement to these people he cares about. The church in Thessalonica has experienced deaths since Paul was last with them, and they are concerned and grieving. Paul doesn’t dismiss those feelings, even while offering hope of the resurrection. That’s important. As Christians, we live within a paradox of holding both our losses and the promise of eternal life together. How do you grieve ‘with hope’ – honoring both aspects? Are there specific practices or prayers that you have found helpful? Have you had people say things that were especially supportive or felt unsupportive in such times? What do you say or do for others in your life who experience loss?
- When you imagine a reunion with a lost loved one, who are some of the saints you most want to see? Are there things you want to say to or hear from that person?
- The image of Christ’s coming Paul gives – clouds and trumpets and angels – is one that is repeated in several Biblical texts. How is this text similar or different from what Jesus says in Matthew 24:29-44? Do passages like this make you feel hopeful, confused, afraid? Why? Keeping in mind Paul’s intent to encourage the Thessalonians, do you think he succeeds?
- A lot of attention is often given to verse 17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air…” I feel somewhat obligated to pause and point out that Presbyterians don’t believe in ‘The Rapture’ – a concept popularized by The Left Behind series. Remember Paul’s point here is actually to comfort the Thessalonians and tell them that no one will be left behind, because all will be united in Christ. The Greek word here is arpadzw, which conveys the idea of being ‘carried away’ (in Latin it’s rapere, where we get the ‘rapture’ concept). But it might be better to think of it not as literally being snatched up, but as being enraptured, enthusiastically ecstatic, overwhelmed and “caught up” the joy and awe of Christ’s coming. How do you imagine that moment will really be? How do particular beliefs about the eschaton affect our faith lives now?
- We live in between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet.’ In the resurrection of Easter, we proclaim that Christ has already overcome death and conquered sin; and at the same time, we still experience a reality that is waiting for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven which has not yet come. It can be difficult to live in the space between, holding the tension and paradox of the faith in our hearts. It is perhaps even more so when we don’t know how long this state will last. The Thessalonians expected Christ’s return to be imminent, and yet we are still waiting and praying for maranatha. What helps you remain patient and faithful? How do you balance both the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’? Is there an aspect of one or the other you feel more keenly? How do you pray about seasons of tension or waiting in your life?
Like the church in Thessalonica, may we also be encouraged by Paul’s words to us. When we have seasons when we seek hope, let us turn to the Word that “endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Grace and Peace to you all this week!
Pastor Maggie Rust