Trumpets proclaim coming of Christ
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 6, 2005
Psalms 63: 2-8
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13
Angels play the trumpet. At least at Christmas they do. Over the next few weeks, as people unpack holiday decorations and start sending cards, you'll see images of puff-cheeked angels, horns in hand.
Some angels play the harp, of course. But angels with harps make us think of heaven. Angels with trumpets make us think of Christmas. Harps show up in visions in the Book of Revelation (14:2 and 15:2). Angels blow trumpets throughout chapter 8 of the Book of Revelation, one of the noisiest chapters in the Bible. They keep blowing horns in Revelation 9:13, 10:7, and 11:15.
Jesus himself says God will send out angels with a trumpet blast (Matthew 24:31), and Paul says the dead will be raised incorruptible when the last trumpet sounds (1 Corinthians 15:52).
In the Christmas Gospels, no angels blow trumpets over Bethlehem. They sing. The Bible's trumpeting angels refer to the second coming of Christ at the end of time, not his first coming in Bethlehem.
Our decorations, then, make us think of the deeper significance of these upcoming holidays. We know Jesus came once, and we believe he will come again.
The New Testament makes its earliest reference to a trumpet and an angel in the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. We hear this passage as the second reading this weekend (4:13-18). "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."
The archangel doesn't even blow the trumpet. It doesn't sound very Christmassy, does it? But it is.
The second half of this letter responds to questions Paul received. He had visited Thessalonica and set up the community there, and before leaving he turned the leadership over to a few people who were still a little green. They had questions. Paul had answers.
Judging from Paul's answer, the question that prompted this reading was probably something like this: "You told us that Jesus was coming again very soon to establish his kingdom and take us to be with him always. Sounds great. But he hasn't come yet. Meanwhile, some of our family and friends have died. We were hoping we would all go together with Jesus at the end. But now we are separated. Will we be snatched up first? Will they come later? How will we ever find one another?"
Paul tells them to relax. He does not want them to grieve like those who do not believe in resurrection. He wants to console them with his message, which has value because it is the word "of the Lord" - not his own. Paul probably learned this prayerfully in a private revelation from Christ, and he was passing it on to the others.
He sets the stage by reminding them of two key beliefs: "that Jesus died and rose," and that God will bring along with Jesus those from the community who have died. These beliefs are preliminary, and they are connected. Christians believe that Jesus rose because the tomb was empty and witnesses saw him alive. Christians also believe that the resurrection of Jesus opened the possibility of resurrection for his followers.
With these reminders, Paul answers the question about those who have already died. "We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep." Instead, the Lord Jesus will come down from heaven with a word of command, the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. "The dead in Christ will rise first," Paul says, and then "we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them." The reunion will happen.
In this passage, the trumpet announces the coming of Christ. Paul prophesies that Jesus will come at God's command. Jesus will speak with the voice of an archangel that sounds like the trumpet of God.
Just as the angels in Revelation blow their trumpets to announce the end of time, Paul predicts the return of Jesus with a voice like a trumpet to make the same message.
When you see angels and trumpets showing up over the next few weeks, remember that they proclaim the coming of Christ. Not the first coming of Christ at Bethlehem, but the second coming of Christ at the end of time. He speaks like a trumpet to get our attention, and to announce the good news of redemption.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.