Today we gather to remember Alvin Edwin Heeren and to grieve his loss. Today we gather to hear a great mystery. Today we gather to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Alvin and I arrived at Plymouth Manor on the same day this past February. I had just arrived in town and Alvin had just suffered a stroke. It's fair to say that I was more glad to be there than he was. I think it was really tough on him. But he was always willing to join the group of us who gathered to sing hymns, confess our sins, pray, read scripture and receive Holy Communion. There were days when I had to wake him during the service so that he could receive the bread and wine, but he was there.
And then a while back, I was told that the prognosis for Alvin wasn't good, that he didn't have too much longer to live. Upon hearing that, I fully expected that he would be downcast when I saw him next. Gladys, Ida and I met in the room with Alvin and, lo and behold, he was as happy as a lark. I had never seen such a sparkle in his eye. He continued come for worship and communion and each time he had that sparkle in his eye and a grin. I was happy to see so much more life in him. But it seemed a mystery to me. The coming of death seemed to bring life into Alvin.
On Thursday morning, I received a call from Plymouth Manor informing me that Alvin had taken a turn for the worse. Gladys and Ida were in the room with Alvin when I arrived. Before coming, a scripture had flashed across my mind and as I saw Alvin in bed, having trouble breathing, it seemed that this was the very word that needed to be spoken. "May I share something with you?" I asked. Opening the Bible to Galatians I read, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Alvin was letting go of life, and yet by faith, we knew that before us on that bed, was Jesus Christ himself, living in Alvin. Here was a great mystery. How can it be that Christ lives in us? How does this happen and what does it mean? There is an answer to this mystery, though it remains a mystery.
Many, many years ago, as a very young child, Alvin Heeren died. In this very church, Christ Lutheran, he was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And in those words he was joined to the death of Jesus Christ. And this was very good news and the people rejoiced. Now how can this be, that the death of young Alvin might bring joy? Here is the answer, according to St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." The people that day rightly rejoiced because Alvin had been given a promise, the promise of life eternal and they rejoiced that day because through death Jesus Christ came to live in Alvin.
On a day like today, it seems far too much to rejoice while we still grieve. How can we rejoice when one we loved so dearly has died? Even so, even so, we rejoice. And surely this is a mystery too. Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, you gave your Son to this world that he might suffer and die and through his death, kill death. He became sin and was crucified so that sin itself would be crucified. He was given over to the power of the Devil and so broke the Devil's power. And you raised him up victorious over sin, death and the Devil. Father, it is a mystery to us how victory can be gained through defeat. It is a mystery how life can come through death. It is a mystery how the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us. And yet this is so. This is the very thing that you reveal to us in scripture. It is the very promise that you give to us in baptism. For all the baptized who have gathered here today, strengthen in us faith in your promises. Assure us that it is not us who live, but Christ who lives in us. Amen.