Kathleen Rose Hacker
January 10, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Just yesterday I had the opportunity to spend some time with the 7th grade class in our school. They asked me to come in because they had questions that they wanted the pastor to answer. It felt a little like going before the firing squad, but I’ve always enjoyed working with kids as they are maturing into young adults, so I didn’t mind. They asked many wonderful questions, but one in particular sticks out in my mind today. One boy asked: “What’s heaven going to be like?” It’s a question that I’ve certainly discussed before as a pastor, and I had some thoughts ready to go. In the Book of Revelation especially, heaven is discussed in such a way as to call to mind the Garden of Eden. Other places in Scripture describe heaven as a restoration of creation to what it was before sin corrupted it, when Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden.
I was struck by that again this week because for those of us here at St. John who knew Kathy, she will always be remembered as someone who loved gardening. After visiting with her children this past week I know that she was much more than that. I heard of her dedication as a mother and how she worked tirelessly to raise you in the faith, making sure that you always made it to church, no matter how tired she was, even if that meant she might fall asleep herself during the service. It was important to her to see you there. I heard how her strength of faith, even in difficult times, served as a wonderful example for her children and grandchildren. She was a hard worker, but when she did take time for herself, there was usually sunshine involved, whether that was something special like a family vacation to sunny California when the kids were younger, or the daily desire to simply find a few minutes to lay down out in the sunshine, or, most of all, to spend time in the garden.
It’s the gardening that people here seem to remember most. I was struck this past week that as news of her death spread through the congregation even the newer members who didn’t yet know her by name knew her as the tiny blonde who was always working in the flower beds. She was active in so much around St. John. Whenever there was a big event going on around church you were sure to find her in the back helping out without need of recognition. But it was when the big events were over and the crowds went home that she showed her true colors, coming back here every week to tend to the flowerbeds out front, to clear leaves off the parking lot, to live out her love for gardening. She never missed; she knew that those flowers needed continuous attention if they were to survive. So that attention is exactly what she gave.
It is similar care and nurture that gives us hope today. For Kathy was a child of God, and just as she invested so much time in her plants and gardens, so also our Lord has invested himself in her. He planted the gift of faith in her when he washed her with the waters of Holy Baptism on July 21, 1944. But he didn’t just plant that faith and then leave it to tend itself. He has been cultivating that faith in her ever since. He has been watering it with the living water of his word of promise. He has been strengthening her faith through the gift of daily forgiveness. Just as a flower flourishes when the dead petals and bulbs are removed, so also our Lord, through his gift of forgiveness, removes the sins and guilt that cling to his children so that they may flourish in the sunshine of his love. That is what he did for Kathy for so many years. He continually came to her with his word and revealed her need for a savior, and he revealed himself to be that Savior, removing the stain of guilt and shame in order that she might flourish in him. He carefully and tenderly tended to her as his precious child, for as Jesus himself says, he is the vine and his children like Kathy are the branches, and he tends to those branches so that they bear much fruit.
And Kathy knew it. Her hope was in the Lord. She believed Jesus when he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Kathy believed that Jesus was her vine, so she continued to abide in him. She faithfully came to the services of our Lord’s house to hear the proclamation of his Word. She faithfully gathered together with other Christians in this place to pray together, to encourage and uplift each other, to sing God’s Word to each other. She faithfully came to this very altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins. She knelt at the altar rail as a humble child of God, and here she was united to Jesus himself. He lives in her. He who was dead but is now alive lived in her. He who the tomb could not hold now holds Kathy, so the tomb cannot hold her either. She remained in the vine, and she bore much fruit.
She is still in that vine, still united to Jesus. That gives us hope in the midst of grief, for our Lord is faithful. There is definitely grief today, for a dear friend, a mom, a grandma is no longer with us. There is grief, for although her health had been in decline for a while now, when her death came it came swiftly and suddenly. There is grief because death is not what our Lord intended for Kathy or for any of his creation. In this world created for life death is the ultimate corruption. But when the vinedresser saw that his garden had been infested with this deadly disease, he did not abandon it. He came down into it. He walked among us as one of us, feeling the pain and grief that we feel, dying the death we deserve so that we might be given the life that is his. For as many as have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, united to him in a death like his so that we might also be united to him in a resurrection like his.
In these promises of our Lord we find hope amid the grief. He has clothed Kathy with the garments of salvation; he has covered her with the robe of his righteousness. As the earth brings forth sprouts and the garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, our Lord planted and nurtured the gift of faith in Kathy so that it sprouted up and flourished. That gift has now been harvested, for Kathy has been taken out of the great tribulation of this world and brought into the joy of paradise, in that place where she is before the throne of God night and day, where she hungers no more, neither thirsts anymore; the scorching heat of the sun does not exhaust her, for the Lamb of God on the throne is her shepherd. He is guiding her to springs of living water, and he is personally wiping away every tear from her eyes.
Our hope is found in these promises that our Lord made to Kathy – and to all his children. In the midst of heartache and grief, don’t forget that these are our promises too. Our hope is found in the promise that all who die in the faith will be reunited in paradise. This hope leads to our prayer that our Lord would tend to our faith as intentionally has he tended to Kathy’s, as carefully as she tended to the gardens she loved so much. Our prayer is that our Lord would continue to water our faith with the living water of his word, that he would feed it with the heavenly food of his own body and blood, so that when our last hour comes we might experience the joy of deliverance. So Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem his people from all their iniquities. Thanks be to God that he has fulfilled this promise for Kathy. May he would fulfill it for us too.