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Oh Death, Where Is Your Sting?

First Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 96:1 AND 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13

The Lord comes to judge the earth. Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all you lands. Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For great is the LORD and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the LORD made the heavens. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them! Then shall all the trees of the forest exult. Before the LORD, for he comes; for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy.

Gospel: Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

ESV

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My last semester of graduate school I had to take a class in Pauline Literature as part of my required credits. The priest who taught it was very, um, shall we say lively? He would frequently come to class in costume dressed as Saint Paul and swinging around chains that he reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Past. His booming voice could be heard all the way down the hallway, not to mention his “Roman chains” hitting the classroom desks. Father Cassidy lived and breathed everything about Saint Paul and his writings. I definitely never saw such a lively interpretation of Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus acted out as I did that semester!

The backstory for the First Reading today is very interesting, and something I never knew before taking a class on Saint Paul. Thessalonica was a large port city in Macedonia (Northern Greece) and was one of the first Christian communities founded by Paul and his associates. This letter is actually considered the oldest of Paul’s letters and one of the oldest writings in the entire New Testament. Thessalonians is known for Paul’s teaching on the end times but it also relates to another issue arising in the community. In the First Reading, the Christian community in Thessalonica was experiencing some fear and uncertainty regarding death. They began to worry and fearful about what would happen after death. Amid growing persecution, their faith seems to have gotten rattled. Paul strongly reminds the believers “not to lose hope or mourn too much; those who have died and we who are still alive will be together again with Jesus.” (4:14-18)

He reminds them that just as Jesus’ body was raised from the dead, that the Lord will remember all those who have already passed from this life to the next. The promise that death does not have the final answer is perhaps the most radical belief of Christianity. Death for the Christian is not the end, but a beginning of the real journey. We have great hope, as Saint Paul reminds the Thessalonians, that death is not the end. This world may be done with our earthly bodies, but that is when we become most fully alive with God.

I am quite sure all of us have experienced loss and the death of close loved ones. It is normal to cry and grieve over the loss of one you love. It doesn’t matter the size, the death of those we love is painful and sad. But let us remember, if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.

Take a few minutes today and call to mind the names of close loved ones in your life who have passed from this life. Recall happy memories you shared with them. But more importantly, pray for their soul today. Offer up your morning cup of coffee or that nut job who cut you off in morning traffic for the repose of their soul. Praying and offering sacrifices for our deceased loved ones is the best way to honor, remember, and care for them.

photo by Corynne Olivia

Patty Hubbard is a wife, writer, and youth minister. When not fundraising for World Youth Day, she is learning to cook more than your average Lean Cuisine and training for her first half marathon. You can find out more about her here.

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