In Memoriam + Joseph Frank Hofer+
St. Luke 24:44-53
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If heaven were obtained by being nice, gentle, humble, and kind, then I suspect that Joe would be a shoe in. But of course, that is not how heaven is obtained. The Kingdom of God does not judge according to the virtues of men. If it did, then even the best of men, even Joe, would be found wanting. Justice is a harsh mistress. If Thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
The Kingdom of God – thanks be to God! – is unjust. It demands the life of the Innocent Son in order to save the lives of hateful rebels. Christianity was a hope fitted well to Joe’s humility. He confessed his sins. He hoped for God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is not an imaginary figure. He is historical. He lived in the time of Pontius Pilate. He is incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary, bone of our bones, one of us, meat for Hell’s roasting fires. He has suffered, lost loved ones, been mocked by soldiers and priests, rejected by family and friends, betrayed by disciples, crucified, an executed as though He were a phoney King of the Jews. But He is also the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. He is the Living God and He is risen from the dead, the Victor.
The most shocking thing of the Resurrection is not that the Living God would overcome and defeat death, but God’s patience and mercy in all of it. He is not angry. He does not hold a grudge. He walks into the upper room and His disciples are reasonably afraid because they all failed Him and because He died for what they did. But He comes speaking peace and breathing out His Spirit. He has reconciled them to His Father by His Blood. He has fulfilled His Father’s will. He has won them. He is not angry for loves them and has obtained for them what He wanted for them: forgiveness.
No doubt you are aware that Joe died on the eve of Memorial Day and also that today would have been his 93rd birthday. You may not be quite as aware that yesterday was 40 days since our observation of Easter. 40 days after the Resurrection Christ ascended into heaven. He took His disciples to Bethany, lifted up his pierced hands, and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He rose into the air and was engulfed by a cloud so that they could behold Him no more with their eyes. Among the appearances of our risen Lord those forty days, this was distinct. As at the other times, He apparently came forth suddenly from the invisible world; but not, as on former occasions, did He then suddenly vanish from sight, as if He might shortly return as He had done before. This time He withdrew in a different way. They watched as He rose up into the air. Thus He indicated that He was no more with them. Those occasional and supernatural appearances which they had enjoyed since the Resurrection were now at an end. They would not see Him that way anymore.
Yet, they were not sad; for we read— “And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”
They rejoiced because even though their eyes might not see Him, they would now enjoy His blessed presence forever. His ascension was not simply the physical movement from earth to heaven. Rather it indicated a change of state. His humiliation was over. No longer does He deny Himself, as a Man, His Divine rights and powers. He is still a Man, still one of us, but now that He has made atonement for our sins, ransomed us from death, appeased His Fathers wrath, and answered for all our transgressions, as a Man, He now fully exercises all His Divine attributes. It is finished and He is no longer confined by physical space. He is risen and He is not subject to hunger or pain. He will never die again. He is glorified as a Man. Thus He opens up heaven for all humanity. He has purchased our way out of Hell by His death. He has ended death’s claim by His resurrection. And He has paved the way and opened the gates of heaven with His ascension.
That is why the apostles have great joy. They have the Christ, in His sacramental presence, closer than they had had Him in His humiliation. For He is glorified and exalted. They have the Scriptures opened to them and the gift and promise of the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Memorial Day and birthdays celebrate good things. We do well to remember both Joe’s comrades and his enemies who died in war and thank God that Joe made it back alive. We do well to give thanks for his nearly 93 years, for his kindness, his generosity, his humility, humor, and love. But the holiday that can give and sustain lasting comfort this week is neither Memorial Day or birthdays, it is Ascension. Christ has paved the way for Joe and called him home. Christ has fulfilled His promise.
God be praised. He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.