Hank was one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met. We thought he was going to be my first funeral in the parish. We were wrong. Ten years later, he was my last funeral. Hank just kept going until the Lord was tired of waiting.
I never tired of talking with Hank. He had a boyish, mischievous smile, especially when letting a colorful word slip in front of his wife when I visited. He was a gifted carpenter. He built many of the furnishings in our church, but you wouldn’t have known it unless someone else told you. Hank was good for my soul.
Herb was one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met. He was a retired pastor. He had served my parish years earlier. He was the pastor when our church was built. It was the house that Herb built, for Jesus.
When I got to the parish after seminary, I worried about a retired pastor as a member. You hear some horror stories. But Herb was a delight; he was humble and helpful.
We buried Herb’s wife, Lorraine, relatively early on in my ministry. He and I grew close after that. I spent a lot of time with him. We started translating German together. He was very encouraging when I started grad study. We heard each other’s confessions more than once.
Herb’s funeral was one of my last in the parish. I still remember fighting through the tears. The hymn we sang at the end, often sung at pastor’s funerals in our circles, usually comes to mind when I think of him.
Our churches recently celebrated All Saints Day. All Saints Day has some real bangers so far as hymns go—“bangers” is what the kids say, right? This year they really hit me. These hymns resound with the joy of heaven, and yet, as you sing them, it’s hard not to think of those we’ve lost for now.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Sound familiar? Many of us have said the Apostles’ Creed thousands of times. Have you thought much about “the communion of saints” when doing so?
What a confession we make as we speak the words they spoke, as we confess that while they are not here with us now, they are still with us and will be forever. The church isn’t just the people in the pews. The church is the people on both sides of the altar—those here and there, those now and then. We are one.
We believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The cross destroys all boundaries. Life is more than today. Life is more than yesterday. Life is everlasting. While the world is full of horizons and endpoints, for Christians, there is always tomorrow, and there are people in that tomorrow waiting for us as we wait for them. And while it seems a great chasm separates us, we are with them, and they are with us, one communion of saints.
I miss Hank. I miss Herb. It’s partly their fault I tear up when we sing those “bangers” It’s not sadness, though; it’s hope. I do miss them, but I know I won’t forever. I’m guessing you have people who do the same for you when words about the then invade our now when the indescribable beauty of heaven strikes us here on earth.
With that in mind, hear the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, anxious about those who had fallen asleep before Christ’s return:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Permit me some self-indulgence. Let me close with the words of that beautiful hymn we sang at Herb’s funeral, a children’s prayer. We sang it in German, but I’ll let the English suffice. If you know German, look it up: “Müde bin ich, geh’ zur Ruh.”
Weary now, I go to rest,
Close my eyes in slumber blest.
Father, may Thy watchful eye
Guard the bed on which I lie.
Wrong I may have done today,
Heed it not, dear God, I pray.
For Thy mercy and Christ slain
Turns all wrong to right again.
May my loved ones, safe from harm,
Rest within Thy sheltering arm.
All Thy children everywhere
Shall find refuge in Thy care.
Send Thy rest to hearts in pain,
Close the weary eyes again.
God in heav’n Thy vigil keep
Grant us all a restful sleep. Amen.
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