In Memoriam +Earl Hazelett 1916-2013+
St. John 3:1-18
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is something in us that wants to be logical. It tells us that Earl’s death was no surprise and his passing was a mercy. He kept his mind. He was free of pain. When he finally died, he died quickly and as easily as anyone might. He had, as Kirk says, a good run.
Then why are we so sad? How is it that his death has surprised us? Why is it so hard to believe that he is really gone?
It is because even as there is something logical in us that tries to tell us it is simply a fact of life, there is also something in us that knows the soul is immortal and death is unnatural. We were created to live. Death, even a relatively peaceful-seeming death after a long life, is always violent and is always evil. Death is the last enemy.
The first enemy is sin and unbelief. That enemy was defeated in Earl when he was baptized, born of water and Spirit. Sin and unbelief were replaced with good works and faith. Earl was made a Christian. He was given the engagement ring of Christ with God’s own Name upon him, but that Baptism was baptism into Christ’s death. No one gets out of this alive and no one gets to sit the fence in this war. The Bridegroom was lifted up from the earth. He was forsaken by the Father, counted as the very image of the serpent that deceived Eve. He was marked and killed as a sinner among sinners so that Earl would be forgiven and pardoned of all crimes. That is how God loves the world: He gave His only begotten Son as a Sacrifice and Substitute so that whoever believes in Him, whoever is born again in water and Spirit, would not perish but would have eternal life. And yet, at the same time, the student is not above the teacher. To be a Christian, to be Baptized into His Name, is to also go the way of the cross.
So the first enemy is unbelief and the first good work is trust in Christ, faith in His name. Faith is the essential gift of the Holy Spirit. It receives the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection. It overcomes the first enemy, but that victory starts a war. From the moment of Baptism, the Christian finds himself under constant attack from the devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh. The life of faith is not some calm Nirvana, a heightened state of awareness of good in the world, rather it is a life and death struggle for it shows Adam and Eve they need clothing and protection, it makes them aware of evil and danger. To be at peace with God is to be at war with the devil. There are moments of respite in the war, times of great tranquility and joy, to be sure, but there are also defeats and regrets and even treason. Still, the outcome is certain. The Lord has already won. The devil is defeated with a single sentence: I am Baptized. I belong to Christ. He has already bought and won me. The battles are used by the Lord to chasten His children, to keep them close to Himself.
The last enemy is death. It comes at the end, after a lifetime of dying. Through Holy Baptism, through His Word, through the Absolution, and through the Holy Communion, the Lord forgives the sins of His children in real time, here on earth. He removes guilt. He declares sinners to be righteous. Yet the act isn’t fully complete until the last enemy is overcome. The forgiveness is real but it is known only by faith. The period from Baptism to death, what we call life, is the engagement period. It is a time of promise and of waiting. Death begins the wedding ceremony while he Resurrection on the last day is the consummation. That is what the Lord calls life. The only way we get there is through death, death to self and death to the world. But that can only happen in Christ’s death. Thanks be to God: Baptism is baptism into Christ’s death. And the last enemy to be overcome, the final death to this world, is the passing through death which dlivers so full that the Spirit Himself to exclaims: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.”
That is why it hurts. But that is also why we do not despair. By grace in Christ, Earl has overcome the last enemy. Blessed is he. You have not, not yet. He has gone the way of Jesus Christ. Even as Jesus was separated body and soul on the cross, so Earl has been separated. The Lord’s soul went to His Father and His body went to the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea to await the resurrection on Easter. Earl’s soul has gone to the Father. His body will go to the earth to wait for the resurrection on the last day. He is now free of all pain, sorrow, and regret. He did have a good run here on earth. He lived a noble life. He made a good confession. He left an honorable legacy. But it was not a life free of pain. In his last days, he was desperately lonely for his beloved Lucille even as he cherished his time with you. But now he has been relieved. He is not lonely. He has no regrets, no longing for his lost youth. Now he has not just his Lucille, but he also has Jesus and all the saints. He has the Lamb that was slain and yet lives. He has His Lord and has found his true home. He is free of sin and has overcome the last enemy.
Now he waits. He is not yet complete. The finale is not simply bodiless, faceless souls floating in heaven. The finale is a new heaven and a new earth, paradise restored. Earl waits for the resurrection, for the return of his body. He waits for his perfected and glorified body, free of all sin, to be reunited with his soul. He waits also for you. For the Church of Jesus Christ is one. Earl is now perfectly conformed to His Father’s will. So he waits, eagerly, for the time when the separations on earth for the sake of doctrine come to an end, for the time when the Church will be as She was ever meant to be: one in Christ. And he waits likewise for the end of the separation between the Church Triumphant, that is the saints in glory whom he has now joined, and the Church Militant, that is you, the saints still on earth, still fighting the good fight. That division is also unnatural. Neither will it last. The Church will be one.
Kirk is right. Earl had a good run. But such a statement might be a bit misleading, because that run, this earthly life, was really just the warm-up. The time soon comes when Earl’s short legs will easily match the strides of his lanky grandchildren. The truly good run is yet to come, on the new earth, in the resurrection. And that is going to be fun: to run, full speed, no fear, no weariness, no impediments, the way we ran when we were children. We will run upon the earth with Earl and not go tired or fall or hurt. I am with Job on this: to think of it cause my heart also to faint within me.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.