The Memorial Service for Judith Hersel

Audio here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friends and family of Judith: grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The peace that is yours today is the peace of Jesus, “knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also and bring us with you into His presence.” What other peace, what other hope, could there be for someone who struggled for so long under the burden of living in this body, in this creation? Judith knew the truth of Paul’s words: Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. She knew that while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened. She was burdened by multiple surgeries and procedures, burdened by diabetes, burdened by dialysis three times a week, burdened by a list of medications that went on and on. There was probably more than once that she considered how much better it might be to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

St. Paul is not the sort of Christian who would tell her to just grin and bear it. Paul said that three times he asked the Lord to take away a continual affliction, a “thorn in his flesh.” The Lord said no. But He also said, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul said that he would boast, then, of his weaknesses, because then, in Christ, he was strong. Which is another way to say that our outer nature wastes away, but our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Because there are the things we see, the things we feel, the things we experience. And then there are the things that are unseen, for which we have only a word, only a promise. What has been spoken to us through the Apostles and Prophets is for our sake.

So we do not lose heart. Judith did not lose heart. She may have experienced weakness, sickness, pain. But she did not lose heart, because she knew the one who had claimed her. She knew that the living Word of the living Jesus renewed her inwardly day by day, that the very Body and Blood of Jesus which she ate and drank was her life, and not the outward life that she could see. The things that are seen are transient, passing away, fading, disappearing. The unseen things, the things for which—at least at this point in time—we have only a promise from the living God, those are the things that are eternal. Jesus, hidden to our eyes; eternal life in the midst of death; the resurrection of the body. These are unseen, but they are eternal.

Judith knew what it was to groan in this earthly tent, being burdened. But she did not long merely to put off her body. To put off sin, yes. To put off sickness and suffering, yes. But not her body itself. That would be a longing to be unclothed. But Paul says that we long for what is mortal, what is subject to death, to be swallowed up by the true life of Christ. He says that we long to be further clothed, clothed in a body that does not betray us, or get sick, or die. God has not prepared us for death. He never intended for His creation, and especially His human creatures, to experience the tearing apart of body and soul. He created us and put His own living Spirit in us. And that’s what is restored in Christ’s own death and resurrection, into whom Judith was baptized. There, baptized into His death, buried with Him, and raised with Him, God prepared Judith for the day when sin would be put to death and she would live forever in the holiness and righteousness of Christ. And so it will be at the resurrection, when there is no more sin, no more death, no more crying, or mourning, or pain anymore. God Himself will wipe every tear from every eye, including yours.

But, of course, that day has not yet come. So we walk by faith, rather than by sight. We are of good courage here and now. We do not have nice thoughts or good wishes. We have a promise from Jesus Himself through His Apostle: This light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we wait with expectant and certain hope for the things that we do not yet see. Paul means it when he calls everything in this creation “light” and “momentary.” For as long as Judith struggled here, the Lord never left her, never forgot her, never failed to remember her in mercy. He is the Good Shepherd, and He knows His sheep. He spoke to Judith and she heard and knew Him. Now she is indeed away from the body and at home with the Lord. But the day will come when her body will be restored to her, and then we will always be with the Lord, in the midst of a creation in which sin, suffering, and death have no place. So we believe, and so we speak, every time we speak back to God His promises: He gives the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of His promise and gathers us into His Church, keeping us within the communion of saints by the forgiveness of our sins; and those who have been joined to Him in a death like His—as Judith was—will certainly be joined to Him in a resurrection like His, and then, forever, the life everlasting.

So we do not lose heart. We are of good courage. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We wait, along with the souls of all the saints, for that great and glorious day, the advent of our God and King. And He sustains us in every circumstance by His Word, by His forgiveness, and by His supper. So He did for Judith, and so He does for all who trust His Word.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/5/17

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