There is some indication Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonian church in response to a crisis: Some of its members had died. It may have been something rather sudden, perhaps an accident or an outbreak of persecution. The trouble could have been that these Thessalonian believers thought incorrectly that every Christian would remain alive until the return of Christ.
And so the apostle Paul was writing to the church to encourage its members in the faith.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).
The answer, in moving forward, was to love each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God – which they knew full well how to do. They were to pay attention to the family of God, to the body of Christ.
The tradition given to us from Jesus is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together as a church. And in doing this, we are not to be arrogant and rude. We are not to run ahead of each other for the first place in line.
Instead, we are to take the bread and the cup in a way that enables us to see and understand the “body” – that is, the body of Christ, or the church. In another place, Paul wrote, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).
And so we discern the church, we see each other as brothers and sisters, as we take the bread and the cup.
But the “body” is more than what we see around us on a Sunday morning. Yes, for the Thessalonian believers, the body included those members who had passed away. They, too, remained part of the body of Christ – guaranteed to be raised first (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). And the body of Christ also included believers who extended out beyond the church walls in Thessalonica. There were brothers in other towns in Macedonia, and brotherly love was due to them as well.
And so as we discern the body of Christ as a church, we gather all of these into our thoughts – our brothers and sisters who have gone before and our brothers and sisters who are distant from us. We take time to remember them, wherever we are, and to thank God for their role in building the body of Christ.
In this way, we re-member the church. We bring to together its distant parts, and we do this in remembrance of him.