We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters. 1 Thes 4:13
We recall from two weeks ago that we began reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians as the new and final sequence of Second Readings for Sunday Masses for this liturgical year. With the intervention of All Saints last Sunday, there was an interruption to this sequence, but this weekend we pick it back up again. Given the early nature of this letter among the many letters Paul composed, we find among the themes of the letter the theme of the priority of anticipating Christ’s second coming.
The Second Coming of Christ, his parousia (Greek for both “arrival” as well as “presence”), is a subject that is highlighted in the opening weeks of Advent, but which we find emphasized in the early preaching and writings of the Church in general. There was an intense expectation by the apostles and the early Church that Christ would return in glory within their own lifetimes. Christ was coming, and coming soon, perhaps today or tomorrow. Hence, the intensity with which Paul and others preached and strove to spread the Gospel message to as many as possible before it was too late.
When we believe that “the end” is near, we understandably tend to stop procrastinating, to sober up, and to focus on the things that really matter. This passage from First Thessalonians was invariably used as the first reading at funeral Masses before the 1970s liturgical changes brought about the possibility of selecting other readings. However, this reading still remains one of the several options of New Testament texts than can be used for funerals and for a good reason. As Paul himself indicates at the end of the passage: “Therefore, console one another with these words.” This November of 2020, a year that will surely live in infamy, as we pray daily for the dead, it is a prime opportunity while hearing Paul’s words to sober up and to reexamine our priorities. Christ is still coming, we know not when, and it would be a tragedy (the only true tragedy) not to be ready.