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32A Wisdom 6:12-16 / 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 / Matthew 25:1-13

 

This weekend—

in this month of November—

 

the month when we Catholics

traditionally remember and

pray for the dead—

 

we come together as a parish

to remember those in our parish family

who have died this past year.

 

And in these very unusual times,

I also want us to call to mind and pray for

the many, many lives that have been lost

due to the Corona Virus pandemic. . . .

 

237,000 in the US. . .

and over 1.24 million worldwide.

 

That’s a lot of human lives.

 

Today we come and worship and pray in unity

for our beloved dead—

and for those mourning.

 

Fr. Henri Nouwen had a wonderful

reflection on dying and

on mourning the dead

that I’d like to share

 

The title itself is worth reflecting on. . . .

 

“Smiles Breaking Through Tears”

 

“Smiles Breaking Through Tears”

 

Fr. Nouwen writes:

 

Dying is a gradual diminishing . . .

and final vanishing over the horizon of life.

 

[Dying is a gradual diminishing . . .

and final vanishing over the horizon of life.]

 

When we watch a sailboat leaving port and

moving toward the horizon. . . .

 

it becomes smaller and smaller

until we can no longer see it.

 

[That’s death.]

 

But we must trust. . . .

[We must trust]—

 

that someone is standing on a faraway shore

seeing that same sailboat become

larger and larger

until it reaches its new harbor.

 

Death is a painful loss.

 

When we return to our homes after a burial,

our hearts are in grief.

 

But when we think about the One

standing at the other shore

eagerly waiting to welcome our

beloved friend into a new home,

a smile can break through our tears.

 

[But when we think about the One

standing at the other shore

eagerly waiting to welcome our

beloved friend into a new home,

a smile can break through our tears.]

 

Isn’t that a great image. . .

 

Death is like a sailboat sailing

toward the horizon until

we see it no longer. . . .

it’s gone. . .

 

But someone is standing on a far away shore

waiting for that sailboat as it docks

on some far distant land. . .

 

On this special day, I want to talk just a little bit about

the reading we just heard from

St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians!

St. Paul had already made his first missionary trip

to Cyprus and then modern-day Turkey. .

 

Now he was on trip number two. . .

a European tour in Greece—

having Silas and Timothy as companions.

 

Can you imagine walking all of those miles?

 

All in all,

St. Paul walked more than 10,000 miles.

 

That’s the equivalent of walking from

New York to Los Angeles nearly four times!

 

Talk about commitment!!!

 

Well on this second journey

St. Paul walks into Thessalonica,

a town in Northern Greece.

 

And when he got there,

Paul did his usual thing. . . .

 

he went looking for the local synagogue.

 

Thessalonica was a city with

about 200,000 inhabitants—

two-thirds the size of Lexington. . .

 

so it was big enough to have it’s own synagogue.

 

So Paul goes to the synagogue

and preaches there for three straight Sabbaths. . .

 

preaching that Jesus rose from the dead. . . .

 

preaching that Jesus was the true King.

 

And Paul had some success in Thessalonica. . .

 

a small group of converts formed a

Christian community there.

 

But three Sabbaths of St. Paul was enough

for most of the locals. . .

he had to go.

So a mob formed—

claiming that Paul was turning

their world upside down. . .

 

and indeed he was.

 

Paul was preaching heresy to the Jews—

that Jesus rose from the dead. . .

that Jesus the Messiah. . .

 

And preaching insurrection to the Gentiles—

 

preaching that it wasn’t “Lord, Caesar”—

instead—

it was “Lord, Jesus”. . .

 

Jesus was the new king.

 

So this mob was ready to charge

the house where Paul was staying. . .

 

They were going to beat him. . .

or stone him. . . .

or imprison him. . .

or run him out of town. . .

 

or a combination of all the above.

 

Those type of things happened a lot to St. Paul.

 

But St. Paul barely escaped

in the dark of the night.

 

A little later,

Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica

to see how this small Christian community

was doing.

 

And, all in all—

the church there was doing well. . .

 

but they did have some questions.

 

And one of those questions was about

what happened to their loved ones who had died.

 

All this Christian stuff was so new to them—

it was new to everyone.

 

They thought Jesus was going

to come back in their lifetime. . .

 

And when He did,

they knew that they—

they living—

would rise with Jesus. . . .

 

but what about those Christians who

had died in the meantime. . .

before Jesus came back?

 

Would they share in Christ’s victory over death?

 

Or would they miss out?

 

So Paul’s writes them

to encourage them

and answer their questions. . .

 

and he teaches them about Jesus’ victory over death. . .

 

and he comforts them about

the fate of their dead relatives and friends.

 

St. Paul tells them that the resurrection of

Jesus from the dead was not just an isolated event. . .

 

it was only the beginning.

 

Because Jesus rose from the dead. .  .

When He returns. . .

 

Jesus’ believers will be raised with him. . .

Dead or alive. . .

with the dead being raised first.

 

You know, I just love St. Paul. . .

 

He’s such an incredible witness

when he tells us about Jesus.

 

Why?

 

Well one, St. Paul had a real experience

of the Risen Jesus—

so what he teaches isn’t guesswork.

 

Two, Jesus completely changed Paul’s life—

he went from persecutor of Christians

to Jesus’s most passionate supporter.

 

And three,

he had the wounds to back it all up—

he had real street “cred”—

 

from the blisters on his feet—

to scars from the beatings

and the stonings—

 

from his ordeals in prison—

to being shipwrecked. . .

and nearly drowning. . .

 

and ultimately, ultimately from his beheading.

 

We can only thank God for

such a credible witness. . . .

 

who God—

in His great Providence—

allowed to experience the Risen Jesus—

 

So he could reassure the Thessalonians. . .

and reassure us. . .

 

that despite the fact that sin and death

still rule the world,

Jesus somehow conquered them.  . .                    (Beuchner)

 

that through Jesus—

all of us—

and all of our friends and loved ones

who have died—

stand a chance of somehow

conquering them too.                                               (Beuchner)

 

And that when our boat sails off—

sails beyond the horizon

and docks at that far distant land. . .

 

there will be a loving Savior there to greet us!!!

 

And then—

then—

smiles. . .

smiles will break through our tears!!!

 

Holy Spirit 11/07-08/20