1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSV)
Verse 13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. Verse 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. Verse 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. Verse 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Verse 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Verse 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
My wife died recently, and this passage holds great comfort for me. During her illness and as she approached death, we repeatedly claimed this promise. We recalled the words of her baptism, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever”. This passage offers us a vivid description of our resurrection on the last day. However, I also remember Donald Juel, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary and later at Princeton, who when was asked about his view as he was facing his own death from cancer, said he opted for Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.” Don opted for the “today” version. Whether you wait for the trumpet’s call or imagine being immediately raised up, the promise is clear, we will be with the Lord forever.
Dear Lord, we claim the promise made to us at baptism, including the forever part. In Jesus name, Amen.