It is a very uncomfortable situation. You spend a great deal of time folding and unfolding your hands. You shuffle your feet. As the line in which you are standing moves forward, your heart beats a little faster and your palms begin to sweat. Suddenly, there you are, face to face with the family of the person whose funeral you are attending. The question that has been floating in your mind since you entered the building now screams at you, “WHAT SHOULD I SAY?”
Two thousand years ago some Christians in the city of Thessalonica wondered the same thing. They knew that Jesus would one day return to take believers to heaven. They looked forward to that day. But, what was the fate of their fellow Christians who had already died? Was there any hope for them? The apostle Paul answered this way, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (verse 14).
Paul explained that they should not worry about their loved ones who have fallen asleep in death. Jesus died for their sins. He not only died, he rose again. And if Jesus rose from the dead, he can certainly raise their loved ones who died in the faith. In fact, when Jesus returns on the Last Day, he will take them together with every believer with him into heaven.
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words” (verses 16-18).
There is your answer. When you are wondering what to say to a grieving family at the funeral of a fellow Christian, encourage them with these words. When you are wondering what to say to yourself at the loss of a friend or family member who has died in the faith, be encouraged by these words. And look forward to that day when you will be with them and the Lord forever.